Prepare the Way of the Lord with REPENTANCE!
O LORD God, as I enter into Your presence this Advent season may Your Spirit prepare my heart for Jesus’ coming! May He lead me to repent of my sins, to walk humbly before You, and to rejoice in You always as my Savior and my Lord. Yes, be with me as I worship this day. Amen.
The words of Zacharias
John the Baptizer came as prophesied of old “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Many wondered whether John might be the promised Savior, but John pointed them ahead to the One who would baptize them “with the Holy Spirit!”
Text: Isaiah 40:3-4
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.”
In Christ Jesus, who is the focus of our Advent prayers and preparations, dear fellow redeemed:
After Jesus’ ascension as the disciples stood looking up at the cloud into which He had disappeared, two angels appeared to them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Just as an angel had been sent by God to announce Jesus’ first advent in Bethlehem as a newly born infant (cf. Luke 2:9-12), so these angels announced a future second advent of Jesus as Lord and as Judge—an advent for which those disciples of Jesus and all future disciples of Jesus should prepare.
Our text this evening which will serve as the basis for our three mid-week Advent meditations is a prescription for preparation. In it Isaiah speaks prophetically of the coming of John the Baptizer and the nature of his ministry of preparation for the advent of Jesus. As we were told in our Scripture reading earlier: “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). John the Baptizer was unaware that Jesus’ advent would be two-fold—one to fulfill His role as promised Savior and a second as appointed Judge. In both cases, however, preparation would be the same—let us, therefore, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD with repentance!
But what is the nature of genuine repentance? That is an important question in this “never-have-to-say-you-are-sorry” world in which we live. Isaiah uses very descriptive language to reveal that nature. He states: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God…the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.'”
Note, first of all, that the voice speaks of preparing the way “of the LORD,” not of a way “to the LORD.” Every religion apart from Christianity reveals a pathway of works by which the sinner is obligated to make his or her way back to God. The Christian faith, as revealed in the Bible, recognizes that it is impossible for the sinner to atone for sin irrespective of what he or she may or may not do. God’s Word makes it very clear: “By the deeds of the laws no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20a). The voice speaks of the way by which the LORD Himself will come to rescue us! We are urged, therefore, to prepare for His coming!
In ancient times when kings were soon to arrive in any given location, they would send out advance word that they were coming. The local populations, out of respect for the king (many of whom proclaimed their supposed deity), would go out and prepare the actual roadway upon which the king would be traveling. They would straighten the road as much as possible. They would remove any rocks or debris that could possibly trip a royal steed or cause a rough ride for a royal chariot. Great effort was taken to both recognize and honor their approaching sovereign.
In the same way the voice cries out that we prepare the way spiritually for the arrival of our sovereign Savior. By nature we live in a wilderness of sin…a wilderness sadly of our own making! The apostle Paul writes of our natural condition and says: “At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). The apostle Peter describes us as having lived in darkness and without mercy (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). But all that changes when God the Holy Spirit leads us to repentance. It is through such repentance that the “crooked places” and the “rough places” in our hearts are removed, and the way to a renewed relationship with God is secured.
Genuine repentance begins many times, especially in the case of an unbeliever, with fear. They have done something wrong. They face the wrath of God and perhaps also that of man. They find themselves unable to escape, to make amends, or in any other possible way to rescue themselves through their own efforts. They are confronted by their own inability and the inevitable consequences of their sins. The Holy Spirit can and does use such fear to bring sinners to an understanding of their responsibility to God, and their absolute need to humble themselves before Him. That knowledge can, does, and should lead to a genuine sorrow over sin and the fact that by that sin we have offended God. It was just such a knowledge that led the penitent David to confess, after having committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the death of her husband: “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight” (Ps. 51:3-4). It is that knowledge and sorrow that the Holy Spirit uses to impress upon us an understanding of our need for help outside ourselves—help from God Himself and His appointed Savior. It is such an understanding that leads us ultimately to the foot of the cross, where we can behold the love of God demonstrated in a way otherwise inconceivable. Paul writes: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are ultimately led to acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and then as the Lord of our lives. It is then through that faith in the blood and merits of Jesus Christ that we prepare the way of the LORD! The law of God brings us to our knees, and His gospel lifts up our eyes and hearts to the gift of eternal salvation!
My dear friends, we are in danger as a society of losing any sense of need for repentance. In our post-modern culture, where the concept of absolute truth is ridiculed and the thought of any absolute moral code is rejected, people are taught that there is really nothing for which they need repent! It is interesting to note that the official motto of Harvard was for over 150 years “Truth (Veritas) for Christ (Christo) and the Church (Ecclesiae)” [adopted in 1692]. It was then changed to simply “Truth (Veritas) [changed in 1843]. Today the vast majority of its professors do not believe in any truth beyond that which is subjective and personal. Recently Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, wrote the following in an article for a national magazine:
”This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization."
Repentance—a turning away in sorrow from sin and a turning to a heavenly Father who has loved us and sent His Son to save us—is the way in which we or anyone else can PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! If we, as individuals or as a society, fail to preach the law, or even worse suggest there is no such thing as divine law, then we are well down the path to chaos.
I have been reading C.S. Lewis’ book, The Abolition of Man. In it he addresses the modern tendency to discount God and the Bible as revealed truth from God. He points out that to remove the concepts of God and a divine truth that reveals moral absolutes and to refuse to instruct the next generation is to create “men without chests (that is, without hearts that are grounded in faith and in the love of God) and expect of them virtue and enterprise.” He goes on to say something very timely within our current society: “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” (The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, p. 35)
C.S. Lewis expressed serious and legitimate concerns about the state of public morality without an understanding of God’s existence and a divinely instituted standard of morality, but those concerns pale in comparison to the spiritual consequences of such a denial. Luke records the Great Commission with these words: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Lk. 24:47). If Satan can convince people that there is no such thing as sin, because there is no God and are no moral absolutes, then there is no need of repentance…the very means by which we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s appointed Judge at the end of time. This undermines our entire mission as a church and will, if left unchallenged, lead to the destruction of countless souls!
My dear friends, may we this Advent Season PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD with repentance, acknowledging our sins with sorrow and receiving the blessings of what God in His love has accomplished for us through Jesus, our Savior and our God! May we then share those blessings with others as the Spirit of God enables us! Amen.