Prepare the Way for the Lord
Sermon on Luke 3:1-6
Text: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene– 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”
In ancient times, it was customary for a messenger to precede a king’s arrival. He would go before the king to the places that would be visited. The messenger would tell the people to prepare for the king’s arrival. They were to clean things up. They were to repair what was broken down. They were to make everything perfect for the king’s arrival. The people appreciated the messenger for his announcement that the king was coming. It enabled them to get ready. In our text, we hear of a man who acted as a messenger, a forerunner of the King of kings. This man’s name was John the Baptist. Let us listen to him and PREPARE THE WAY FOR THE LORD. 1. Listen To The Voice Of God’s Messenger. 2. Know That A Change Of Heart Is Necessary. 3. See The Salvation Of Your God.
The beginning of our text points to a specific time in history. Luke, as you read his Gospel, is very careful to document the activities that are recorded. He wants to tell when certain events in the life of Christ occurred. He often does so by telling who the various rulers were at the time. From the list that he gives us in the first two verses of our text, it appears that the events described in our text occurred in 28 or 29 A.D.
At that time, God came to John, who was in the desert. John, as you might remember, was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years. God had not blessed them with children. However, as Zechariah was performing his priestly duties, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that they would have a son. He was to be a special child. He was to have a special role in life. As it is written in Luke 1:17, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would be the forerunner of the promised Messiah. The child’s name would be John.
Years had passed and John had grown to adulthood. He was in the desert when the word of God came to him. God came to John and told him what he was to say. God gave him the message he was to proclaim. After being called, he went out and did what God told him to do. He went to the region of the Jordan river and began to preach to the people. Many people, we are told, came to hear John preach. We, too, would do well to listen to the messenger from God. Let us hear what John tells us to do in preparation for the Lord.
Verse three tells us, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He spoke Law and Gospel. He spoke of repentance and forgiveness. He tells us to prepare for the Lord’s coming.
First of all, he speaks of repentance. Repentance is a change that occurs. It is a change of direction, a change of mind. Change is necessary for the reception of the King. Luke quotes a prophecy from the book of Isaiah, which speaks of John. In this prophecy, we hear the words of the herald, the messenger of the Messiah.
“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” Just as the people were to prepare for the coming of an earthly ruler, so also there needs to be preparations made before the King of Glory comes. John is pictured as crying out in a wilderness. This world is a wilderness of sin. Many people try to prepare for the Lord’s coming, by trying to make things right by themselves. They try, on their own, to get ready for the King. By their good deeds, they hope to build bridges over their shortcomings. By the humble life they live, they feel they can break down all of those hills in their lives. Unfortunately, no one can prepare themselves. Their pathways through the wilderness end up sinking in the swamps of self-righteousness or falling from the cliffs of despair. They will be lost forever in the wilderness of their sins.
So also we, if we do not heed the voice of the messenger. He tells us that we are to have a complete change of heart. We cannot do this on our own. Man is naturally inclined to sin. We, too, would be lost in the wilderness of our sins, if God had not created faith in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Only because we have been brought to faith are we able to make preparations for the King to enter our hearts.
However, before the King enters our hearts, a clean-up is in definite order. Our hearts are naturally junked up with the worst trash of all, sin. It lies there in stinking heaps. That is hardly the place you would want to receive a King. There we see all of the sins we have committed. Here we see the lustful thought. Over there is the angry word. Back over there we see an unkind act done to someone. Everywhere we look, we see sins lying around. There, at our ankles, rubs our pet sin, that we always seem to fall back into. This is the sum total of our existence without God.
But, with God’s help, we can clean things up. We see that our sins are the cause of our eternal damnation. We see the full effects of our sins, and we repent. We change our minds about sin. It is no longer a pet sin, but one that seeks to devour us. It is no longer harmless fun, but something that threatens to condemn us. We come before our God in tears asking him to have mercy upon us. Let us prepare the way for the Lord to enter our hearts. Let us knock down the mountains of pride in self. Let us fill in the potholes of our sins. Let us have a complete change of heart. John, the messenger of God tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near!” May we do so, in eager anticipation of our King’s arrival.
After all of the preparations were made, the people could rejoice as they saw their king approaching. All was ready for his arrival. Now they could enjoy his presence, rather than being ashamed. So also we, when all preparations have been made. When the road has been made straight to our hearts, when our hearts have been made clean, we, too, can rejoice as the King of all comes and makes our hearts his dwelling place. We hear of the arrival of the King in verse six, “all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
John did not only preach the Law. He also spoke words of Gospel. We are told his message was one of a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance was not to be the end. For, if a person only feels sorry for their sins, they would still not have forgiveness. They are still in their sins. We must look elsewhere, away from ourselves for forgiveness. He not only prepared the people for their salvation. He, also told people where they could go to be saved. He pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
Today, John also points us away from ourselves to Jesus as our Savior from sin. He, like so many from the pages of Scriptures, comes to us and tells us that we no longer have to be overwhelmed by our sins. Jesus Christ took every single one of them and paid for them on the cross. All of those stinking piles of sins were placed on him. He suffered and died on the cross to take them away. We have been saved from eternal punishment. We have been saved to now live as God would have us live. Before we came to faith, we could not please God. Now that we have been saved we can now live lives devoted to pleasing our heavenly Father. We have been saved and can now look forward to spending an eternity with God in heaven. When Jesus shall return to this earth, we will not fear his return. For, on that day, we will be with him. We will see our salvation coming to pass. We will welcome our King and rejoice at his return. As verse six says, “all mankind will see God’s salvation.” We will rejoice at our King’s victory. Let us prepare to meet him.
At this time of year, we often have family and friends come to our homes to celebrate the holidays. The days and hours before are spent in careful preparation. We want to make sure that everything is just right. All the food is prepared with love and care. The house is cleaned so that nothing is out of place. We do all of this because we care about our guests. As we approach Christmas, let us prepare our hearts for our Heavenly Guest. Let us clean out all of the garbage of our sins. Let us be washed clean in the blood of our Savior. Let us make every preparation for the Lord to come and enter our lives. When we hear him come near, let us gladly let him in.
Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for Heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sovereign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To Thee, O God, be praise
For word and deed and grace!