Prepare the Way for the Lord
Prepare the Way for the Lord
Text: Luke 3:1-6
We have a fun little thing we do in our house every time there is something big coming up. We call it “counting sleeps.” We started when the kids were young so they could understand time a little better, but we kept doing it over the years. So I’ll have you know that as of today, there are only 19 more sleeps until Christmas Day. (Hard to believe!) Or another big one—when grandpa and grandma come to town. Each day we hear an update. “Ten more sleeps till grandpa! . . . Only 5 more sleeps till we can play hide and seek!” Now my parents will even say, “44 more sleeps until we get to warm weather and the grandkids!”
Whether you are counting sleeps or crossing off days on a calendar or using some sort of countdown app on your phone, the closer you get to a big day the more excited you become. You’re scrambling to get everything ready at your house to prepare for the big party coming up. You’re running all over town finishing last minute errands before you head out of town on vacation. You’re staring at the ceiling in bed because you’re too excited to sleep.
Kids (and even adults) get that way about Christmas. We also frantically prepare with eager excitement for parties and family reunions and vacations and weddings. The big day is coming and we can’t wait!
But I wonder: Do you prepare that way for Judgment Day? The Lord is coming and he is coming soon! It will be the greatest, grandest, and most glorious day of all time. It will be the day that our great King Jesus Christ returns to bring us salvation. Are you ready for that? Are you preparing for that? Do you ever even think about that?
It’s interesting, isn’t it? People who take big vacations plan for months. They do research. They compare locations. They compare rates. They explore various restaurants and activities. As they learn more they become more and more excited. As the day approaches they have all sorts checklists and to do lists—all to be ready for the big day. Yet do we ever make such excited and careful preparations to go to heaven?
Brides (and sometimes grooms) also take months and months to plan for the wedding. They buy wedding planner books to help them prepare for the big day. They have websites dedicated to the wedding and counting down the days. They meticulously think of every last detail to make sure they are ready. They let everyone know they’re getting married and the big day is coming. Yet do we as the bride of Christ ever prepare with such care and detail or let others know with such joy about the Day that is coming?
This is more than just interesting. This is sad—and shameful. We become so attached to the coming events and celebrations and days and “things” of our every day lives that the coming of our Lord doesn’t just take a backseat—it’s an afterthought that rarely comes to mind. Every day we should be waking up as if it is our last. Every day we should be waiting and watching for our Lord to return. Every day we should be thinking about being ready for Jesus to come back and making sure everyone else in our lives is ready for Jesus to come back.
If that is how we woke up and thought every day, how much different would our days be? Our conversations? The choices we make? The places we go to? I think it is more than clear that we have not been waiting and watching the way we could or should be.
Then we must ask, “Why?” Why are we so attached to this world? Why do we think about Judgment Day so little? Why isn’t this the foremost thought in our minds every day?
I’m sure we could come up with a host of reasons for lack of preparation. Sometimes we’re apathetic—we just don’t care that much about it. Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes we’re too stubborn. Sometimes we commit idolatry—we put everything else in our lives in front of God in our hearts. Sometimes it’s probably a little bit of all of the above.
John the Baptist would know what to say about all of this. It’s the same message he had for the Israelites 2,000 years ago: Repent and Prepare the Way for the Lord!
You see the Israelites back then had many of the same problems that you and I have. God had been promising for years that he would send the Savior to his people. Generation after generation, the promise was passed down. Yet generation after generation the promised was suffocated and squashed as the people became more preoccupied with the things of this life: the wealth of their land, the threatening enemies surrounding them, the fun of indulging in worldly ways, or just simple every day things. By the time Jesus was born, their view of the Messiah was so skewed they didn’t even recognize him when he was staring them in the face! The people had become so worldly that they were unprepared for the coming of the Lord.
That’s why God sent John the Baptist—to prepare the way for the Lord. Long before through the prophet Malachi God said that he would send his messenger to prepare the way before him (those verses were the first lesson this morning). Even before that God foretold through Isaiah that he would send a voice to proclaim in the desert wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the desert urging people to be prepared for the Lord.
That’s first of all why there are so many details in the opening two verses of the gospel today. It might seem like trivial details that it was the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar or who was leader of what district or region, but Luke was proving with historical record that God kept his promise to send this special messenger.
Everything about this special messenger shouted urgency too. John didn’t sit back in a beautiful mansion by the beach enjoying the finest fall fashions or delicious delicacies. There was no time for that. It was time to prepare urgently. So John lived in the wilderness and wore camel-skin clothing and ate wild locusts and honey because the other things didn’t matter. There was nothing about his life that was going to interfere with his mission or his message. And this was the message: Repent for the forgiveness of sins.
To repent means to be sincerely sorry for your sins. That means you don’t just say the words, “I’m sorry,” but you actually change your behavior too. Literally the word repent means to change your mind or turn around. John was there to tell people to prepare the way for the Lord by repenting and turning from their sin.
This is a message we need to listen as well. The Lord already came once and he’s coming back again—and soon. This is not a time to become complacent or lethargic or lazy. This is not a time to become preoccupied with this or that or attached to things don’t last. This is a time to remove every obstacle of sin that would hinder us from being ready for the Lord’s return.
This is how the prophecy went: “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. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.” As we prepare for the Lord to come, every last obstacle in the way should be removed. If we have sin leading us on crooked or rough roads, we need to remove that and travel on the straight and narrow. If we have valleys or mountains of sin blocking the path between us and the Savior, those need to be filled in or leveled. If repenting means to sorrowfully turn around, we need to turn away from our sin and turn back to the Lord daily.
Rough and tough John the Baptist had a rough and tough message for the Israelites to hear. But it’s no easier for us to hear today. Who wants to hear that they are too attached to this world? Who likes to know that they might be caught unprepared for the Lord’s return? Who wants to be confronted by their sin and wants to admit that they have sinned against the Lord?
Every iota of my sinful self wants me to hide that I have a sinful self. But today the cry of John the Baptist urgently tells us to repent because the Lord is coming, and he’s coming soon. And here’s all the motivation we need in the final verse: “And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
At the time of the Israelites, that was fulfilled in a very real way. John was able to point at Jesus and say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” As those people repented of their sin and turned back to the Lord they literally saw their Savior. They saw God’s promises fulfilled and their own salvation with their own eyes. They saw and heard their Savior preaching and teaching. They saw their Savior dying for their sins on a cross. They saw their Savior risen from the dead and triumphant over death. Repenting and preparing for the Lord was a joy for them because they were receiving the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation.
Our lives parallel theirs. As they prepared for the Savior’s first coming, so we prepare for the Savior’s final coming. We will see with our own eyes our Savior returning to bring us the final fulfillment of our salvation. The full forgiveness won on the cross and the life in heaven guaranteed by the resurrection will be actualized and realized forever and ever. Repenting and preparing for the Lord to come is a joy for us because we are about to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation.
That Day is coming and it is coming soon. It could be any day. It could be today. So what can you do to be prepared? To start, Jesus has already made you prepared. He has forgiven the crooked and wayward paths you have traveled and brought you onto his straight paths of righteousness. He has filled in the valleys from the depths of your sin and leveled the mountains of guilt you have accumulated. He has won for you forgiveness and salvation, making you ready for his final return. So maybe the better question is: How can you stay prepared and ready?
As the bride of Christ, we all can look forward to that final day with as much and even more eager preparation as a bride excitedly prepares for her wedding day. That means we will cover every little detail. We can carefully inspect all our words and actions to find even the smallest sins that may be holding us down. We can joyfully search the Scriptures at home and together to study, to learn, to grow as we prepare for that great Day. We can talk to each other and tell all our friends about that great Day as the excitement bursts from our hearts. We can wake up each morning as if it were our last because it just might be.
We call that sometimes “End Times urgency.” If we wake up each morning thinking, “This is the day the Lord will return. This is the day I will see God’s salvation,” that will completely change the way our days will go. We’ll make different choices in words and actions. We’ll be more concerned about spiritual things more than worldly things. We’ll be more concerned about making sure everyone knows the truth before it’s too late. We’ll be more concerned about being 100% prepared for our Lord to come.
Unfortunately we can’t “count sleeps” for our Lord’s return because we don’t know what day it will be. But we can still listen to the cry of John the Baptist. Sincerely turn from your sin and turn to the Lord. Make straight paths for him. Wait for him. Watch for him. Your salvation is coming so, Prepare the Way for the Lord.