Preparing for Jesus

Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

A theme that we see already developing early in this gospel account is one of humility. Jesus came into this world not with pomp and wealth, but in poverty. We see this too in those who are around Jesus – in Mary and Joseph, common people, and in the visitation of the shepherds. The wise men were rich and wise, but even they visited Jesus and His family in their humble dwelling place, they did not disapprove of coming to a poor family in a poor place.

It is clear that Jesus and the Father are not concerned about earthly wealth and grand possessions or worldly fame. The Father and the Son see deeper than that. They are interested in people's hearts. It is the inside of a person that concerns our Lord. We make all kinds of judgments about people we see and know, and way too often our judgments may rest on what they wear, what they own, the positions they hold, and so on. But Jesus looks at the heart.

When Samuel was sent by God to Jesse, to see Jesse’s son and anoint a man to be king, one son came out and it was Eliab. Samuel was impressed with how Elaib looked and thought: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him" (1 Samuel 16:6). This is the instruction that God gave to Samuel.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Jesus was born into simpleness. And now, today we see that even the one who first ministered on behalf of Jesus, he too was a simple man, a common man, a poor man. It was not John the Baptist's stature or his wealth or position that attracted people, it was instead that he was indwelled by the Holy Spirit and was faithfully preaching the message that God had given him to preach. God most often uses the simple, those willing to step aside and consider themselves lowly while exalting Christ.

I want to speak briefly about who this man was and how he presented himself, and secondly to speak about this simple message.

Here is what we know about John. We know from verse 1 that he was preaching in the wilderness of Judea. He was not in the city center or in the fashionable suburbs, no, he was in the wilderness. We know from verse 4 that he wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey – a strange diet. I’m glad he had the honey, I’m thinking it made the locusts more tolerable! Honey makes most things taste better!

This John is a unique man. In John’s gospel chapter 1 verse 22, someone asked John who he was. How he describes himself there and what we see in Matthew help us to see the humility of this servant of our Lord.

In John 1, John the Baptist answers in verse 23. And it is here where I want you to grasp the humility of this man, this messenger, this man who had such a following at this point, with people coming out into the wilderness to see him, who was famous and popular. Look at what he says of himself in John’s gospel: “I am ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord.” Do you see that? In Matthew 3:2 we see the quote from Isaiah 40: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”

Both gospels refer to Isaiah 40, but in John he precedes it with “I am a voice.” I am a voice, just a voice. John does not say, "I am John the Baptist, priest, son of Zechariah, of the lineage of Levi and Aaron, appointed by God as His special messenger." He does not say, "I am the one whom God filled with His Spirit before I was even born. I am the one prophesied of, I am the one chosen by God to present the Christ." He does not say, "I am the one whom these people follow, the last of the prophets before the Christ." He could have. All of those things are true. He could have put those in the delegation in their place and exalted himself in their eyes. He had that opportunity.

But no, look at his response. He says “I am a voice.” What is he saying? He is saying, "I am nobody! I am nobody special, I am just a voice!" Even Christ calls John a burning and shining lamp, Christ Jesus exalts John! But this humble servant never exalts himself. That is not why he came, he did not come to exalt himself. He came to exalt Jesus. Therefore he says, “I am a voice.” That is it, just a voice.

John was what every true preacher and teacher and every other believer ought to be: only a voice, a pointer to the King. The last thing that he wanted men to do was to look at him; he wanted them to forget him and see only the King.

Scripture tells us that we have been bought with a price, we are not our own. If we can only stop trying to lift up ourselves. In how many small ways do you try to make others think that you are an important person? Sit back and listen to almost any conversation, and what you will hear is people trying to outdo one another. “Oh yeah, I have done that.” Or, “Oh you have that, well look what I have.” Or we speak negatively about others in order to make ourselves look better. If we would only spend so much time lifting up our Lord in other people's minds!

I have often prayed that I will be transparent as I preach. That people will not focus on me, but on the message. I pray the same for you, that others will see Christ in you as you share the gospel message. My desire is the same for our church, that people will come here and not get hung up on personalities or persuasiveness of individuals, but that those who come will be pointed to the King. My desire is that our church will point many to our Lord and that no one here would desire to be lifted up in the eyes of men. John is a great example for us. His humility is evident as he fulfills what God created him to do.

Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” From whom do you desire honor? May God take from us the awful sin of a desire to receive honor from men at the expense of honoring our God.

John was humble, but I want you to see too that he was also a laborer for the kingdom. When John finally tells the priests and Levites who he is, he is quoting from a portion of Isaiah chapter 40. And I want you to see more of the context there.

Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. 2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.” 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; 5 The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

John is saying, "I am only a voice encouraging men to prepare for the Lord." We see from Isaiah the picture of a road being built or repaired in preparation for a visit from the King. The road is to be made straight, the valleys must be raised up and the mountains brought low. The crooked places made straight and the rough places made smooth.

We don't have much in the way of mountains or valleys here, but think about a place like Colorado. I'm just amazed that roads can even be built through the various mountain ranges there. Mountains were literally brought low and valleys raised with bridges. I can’t imagine the labor involved in accomplishing such a task. It must have taken many years and millions of dollars.

John was preaching in the wilderness, which symbolized the barrenness of the Jewish nation. He knew that their religion was hollow and empty, so he urged them to repentance. It is every person's responsibility to repent and believe. John came to announce the coming of Jesus and to urge people to prepare themselves in this way for His coming. It made no difference if he was talking to a poor sinner or a religious leader, his message was the same: repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Shouldn’t we follow John's example? A humble laborer for the kingdom of God. The greatest saints of God in every age of the church have always been those of John the Baptist's spirit. In gifts, and knowledge, and in general character they have often differed widely. But in one respect they have always been alike: they have been clothed in humility. Peter, quoting from Proverbs, reminds us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” But the great saints of old have not sought their own honor. They have thought little of themselves. They have been ever willing to decrease if Christ might increase, to be nothing if Christ might be all. We cannot practice honest religion until we cast away all high thoughts of ourselves. This is a grace above all for which we must seek.

And it is when we become humble that we can then honorably serve Christ in His kingdom. It is then that we can be a voice calling for repentance, proclaiming that the Christ has come and urging others to seek Him. Are you proclaiming Christ to those around you?

What exactly is the message that John proclaimed? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent means to turn around, change direction. It is a change of mind that leads to change in action. Biblical repentance is always a change from sinful heart attitudes and actions to righteous attitudes and actions. The repentance that John was preaching, then, was really a call to conversion. This repentance would be a completely different life, a changed life that would be so significant that it could be summarized as conversion.

This would have been significant given that he was primarily preaching to Jews, most of whom would have thought that because of their Jewish heritage there was nothing to convert to. But they too needed to repent, they too needed a changed life. This is the same message that Jesus preached.

Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In Mark 6 Jesus gave His disciples instruction to go out and minister, and the message of repentance was included.

Mark 6:7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.

Jesus did not come to advance the status quo in anyone’s life. He did not come with good news that no change would be needed in our life or anyone else’s. He did not come to affirm that what we are doing and how we think is right on target. He came and preached repentance, change, heart change, newness of life, and as we see God directed John the Baptist to kick off this message, then it continued with the disciples of Jesus, and it should continue today as we speak truth regarding Christ, the gospel, and salvation.

As an outward sign of repentance John was baptizing in the Jordan River. That the Jews were submitting to baptism was really a big deal. Baptism was not a part of Jewish tradition. There was a baptism-like washing for Gentiles who converted to Judaism, but the Jews never had a need for baptism, so this was very new in this sense.

Being baptized was in essence an admission that one was an outsider from God’s family, and baptism demonstrated entering into His family. This would have been an amazing thing for a Jew to do. So those being baptized knew that their heritage was not enough to save them, but they too needed to repent, be changed, and turn to God from the heart. Their baptism was a public statement of repentance and of faith.

John proclaimed Christ and repentance in the wilderness. Are you proclaiming Christ in your world? Among your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members? Are you urging them to repentance? Have you told them of Jesus? Each of us go out into a spiritually bankrupt world. That is our desert. My prayer is that we will be a people not satisfied with a weekly church meeting alone, but that we will practice our faith, that we will live the Christian life, not just talk about it, that we will actively make a difference in our community by sharing the gospel, sharing the love of Christ. That God might break our hearts, that we might see others as God does – as men, women, and children who need the truth, who need a Savior. That's my prayer. And that God might use us as a means to satisfy their need.

May we be as John: humble servants proclaiming the good news of Christ and His kingdom. Not a people proclaiming ourselves but a people proclaiming Christ Jesus – that He has come, that He changes lives, and that He will rule for all eternity.

Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.