And John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Luke 3:3-4, ESV)
People are crooked, our souls twisted. This is ancient biblical wisdom, but thoughtful people from many different backgrounds have acknowledged it. If you need proof, some of the greatest evils in human history have been perpetrated by those who denied it, who thought human being are perfectible. Think Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. But it’s not just the villains of history. Crookedness is part of the human condition we all share.
The Biblical story tells us it wasn’t meant to be like this. Crookedness is not part of God’s character, and it’s not part of how He made us. God’s Word tells us in the beginning, “God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But it didn’t take long for us to turn our backs on God, and go our own crooked way. God loves walking straight roads, and thankfully for us, He’s never given up on straightening us out.
John the Baptist was sent ahead of Jesus to make a straight path in us. Jesus would come into our world to walk right into our lives. The straight path John proclaimed was not in the wilderness of Judea, but in us. Straightening Christ’s path, preparing His way, means getting us straightened out. Christ’s goal is to live in us and remake our souls as He intended from the beginning.
In the wilderness, John heard the Word of the Lord, and gave us two commands: prepare the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight. The way is through humanity; the paths are you and me. John’s announcement is clear that this preparation is something we’re supposed to do. To think it will be done for us without effort is a misunderstanding of God’s grace. God enlists us to work for His Kingdom, and work it is. He calls us to clear the boulders and rock slides from our hearts, to clear the dead branches from His way, to drain our inner swamps.
This straightening is for Christ first, but for our benefit as well. Crooked deeds feel good when we do them, but not afterward, and there is always the afterward. Straight as measured by God’s unbending ruler is the only way that stands the test over the long journey – what Eugene Peterson memorably called a long obedience in the same direction. Our society treats sin as a joke, but the laughter is hollow. Crooked thrills don’t last. But for millennia believers have found an exponentially greater joy that comes through following God’s way.
John confronts us with a simple choice: spend your energy on laboring the crooked way, or give your strength to preparing the way of the Lord. It’s what we’re made for. It’s God’s way, it’s who God is, and He intends it for us. Do you yearn to know Christ more deeply, to experience His joy for fully this Christmas? Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Come, Lord Jesus! Help me to prepare the way. Strengthen me by your Holy Spirit to do the hard work to clearing out the rocks and debris of my sin. Show me how you are at work in me and in the world, so that I might serve you better. Reveal yourself to me in your written Word. Amen.