When the time came for Jesus to begin His earthly ministry, God sent a man ahead of Him to prepare the way.
His name was John. From other sources we learn that he was a cousin of Jesus. His father, Zacharius, was a member of the faithful remnant of priests in the Temple who were looking for Messiah. He was born to Zacharius and his mother Elizabeth in the later years of their lives—a miraculous birth. When Mary learned of her pregnancy, she visited Elizabeth and the Spirit of God filled the older woman when the child within her leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice. When both boys were grown into men, their lives would intersect in the waters of the Jordan River.

John the Forerunner
Jesus grew up in the north, in Galilee, separated from the apostasy and appeasement in the south in Jerusalem. John grew up in the south, an eyewitness to the sins of the nation and her leadership. He was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. This equipped him with an awareness of the spiritual aspects of life. The sins of the nation and the wickedness of the entrenched leadership in the Temple propelled him to the desert. He abandoned the accepted norms of dress, preferring simple camel’s hair and a leather belt to cover his body. He fasted from a normal diet, preferring locusts and wild honey. The Spirit within him compelled him to speak, to cry out to an apostate nation to return to God. Repentance became his message, simple and direct with no ornamental soft pedaling. He waded into the Jordan River inviting those convicted by his message to join him there and plunge beneath the water as a public act of contrition. With no publicity, and no organization, people came and repented and were baptized.

His words spoken in the desert were repeated in the city to the discomfort of the political leaders. He was quoted in the Temple to the disturbance of the scribes and priests in their various sects and divisions. His call for repentance was heard by hungry souls and by angry men who saw him as a threat to their precious hold on power.

John’s message began with repentance of sin but went well beyond that. His was a call to preparation for what God was about to do. He quoted the prophet Isaiah who predicted that the glory of the Lord would be revealed and they would see it. How this must have stirred the souls of the faithful remnant who were longing for Messiah and how it must have alarmed those whose hope was in the status quo. Something new was about to happen—get ready for it! Their God who was so active in their history was on the move in their day. Repentance meant more than being sorry for sins. It meant bringing down mountains of pride, building up valleys of apathy, straightening crooked roads of evil conduct, and smoothing out rough paths of carelessness. It meant changing the way you lived and thought. It meant opening up to the ways of God and putting away the ways of the flesh. It meant a new time was upon them, not one of God’s wrath, but one of God’s blessing and they could be a part of it if they chose to be.

Isaiah and John still speak today through the pages of Scripture. Repentance is still the start of a new life in God.

Matthew 3:1-6
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord ; Make His paths straight.'” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Isaiah 40:1-9
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. “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.” 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; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

Lord Jesus, the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist still sound in my heart. I must prepare for the days ahead. Help me bring down the mountains in my mind that exalt themselves against Your plan for my life. I want to build up the deep valleys of my ignorance of Your Word and Your ways. Lord, my ways are often rough; smooth them, Lord. Holy Spirit where the road I have taken causes me to veer off the path, straighten me up! Lord, I want to see Your glory revealed to all. Make my life Your highway through this desert! Amen and Amen.

Just As I Am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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