Prepare the Way
Lord, make me a burning and a shining light like John the Baptist.
Read MATTHEW 3:1–12
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
How might we “prepare the way for the Lord” (3) in the coming year?
Christmas is over, the wrapping paper is discarded, and the next chapter of life begins. Yet God’s preparations are still ongoing! Matthew skillfully tells the story so that his readers can understand that this Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, foretold by the prophets, who has a mission to fulfill.
The language “in those days” (1) echoes the words of the old prophets (e.g., Jer. 33:15,16) and recalls something unheard-of for generations. Matthew is saying, “Here is the prophet,” the one of whom Isaiah spoke, the “voice… crying in the wilderness” (3; cf. Isa. 40:3). John’s trenchant preaching and his simple, ascetic lifestyle would have reminded people of Elijah, whose life was
expected to prepare the way for the Messiah (Matt. 17:11–13).
What preparation was needed for this man? Like his predecessors, this prophet issues an uncomfortable message: “Repent” (2). Jesus cannot come into lives where he is not welcome. Many respond, showing their intention to live godly lives henceforth (5,6). The religious leaders, however, react differently (7–9). John’s fiery words condemn their religiosity, which fools them into thinking they have no need for repentance. Hypocritical, deceitful “vipers” is how Jesus, too, would later describe them (Matt. 23:33). If you’re serious about seeking God, alter your lifestyle, challenges John (8,10).
Yet, good news inheres in his unsettling words! Here, perhaps, is a hint of “The Branch” again, about to spring up from the stump (10). Baptism in the Jordan River is just the beginning, preparing for the promise of God’s coming Holy Spirit (11). Some of Matthew’s first-generation readers would have recognized themselves and their own stories here. How can we prepare the way for the Lord as we reflect on the past year and the one coming?
“For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ… forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life” (Common Worship, Church House Publishing).
Lord, allow me to see all the lapses in my life and all the places where my walk does not line up with my talk.
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