Advent 22: The Voice Crying in the Wilderness
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8
If you have ever read through the gospel of Mark you will realize that he moves quickly through everything. In fact, the word most connected with Mark is “immediately”. It’s like he doesn’t have any time to slow down, he’s got to get to it right now. In light of this, when we see him quoting Scripture like this we shouldn’t be surprised. In this one quotation he’s actually quoting from 2 different books of the Old Testament. He doesn’t have time to stop and tell you how they’re connected, but thankfully we do.
The first part of this is from Malachi 3:1 “behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me”. In this context, God’s people have been crying out for justice, asking God where he is. God replies by telling them that he will come and he will bring justice with him. And, so that they can be certain, he lets them know that he will send his messenger first. What we have to remember when we read this is that God is sending this messenger to prepare for his actual coming. Mark is telling us that God is personally coming to his people and John the Baptist is going to prepare the way for him.
Next is a quotation from Isaiah 40. We should notice that Mark strings both of these together as if it was one coherent quotation. He is telling us that Malachi and Isaiah were talking about the same thing. So what’s happening in Isaiah?
In Isaiah, the context is pretty similar. God’s people were crying out to him for relief. Don’t forget, this word is coming to a group of people that were constantly under oppression. They wanted deliverance. They wanted to finally feel like God’s people again.
Isaiah 40 is a word from God to his people. He tells Isaiah to speak gently to them to give them comfort. But why should they be comforted? They should be comforted because they are God’s chosen people, loved by God. The next couple of chapters spell out the blessings that God has for them. He reminds them that he is the God who is there for them. You cannot compare him to false gods and idols who are nothing. He is the great God over all the earth and he is going to save them.
First Things, First
God wanted his people to know that he is coming to be with them, but first he was going to send someone to prepare the way. Look and see what Mark is saying here. He is telling us that Jesus is God. Don’t miss that. God promised to come and he came. And just so we are clear who Jesus is, God has sent us a messenger to come before him to make way for him.
Now that we are clear who all the players are, what are we supposed to do to prepare for his arrival? Mark makes this super clear. We are supposed to respond with confession and repentance. This is what John was proclaiming. God is coming so repent and be ready for his arrival.
As we look forward to Christmas day and the celebration of the birth of Jesus we should stand back and marvel at the way God has worked in all things. All throughout the Old Testament he had a consistent message of hope that would bring peace to the world. He loved his people so much that he made promises to them. And then, so nobody would miss it, when the fullness of time had come he graciously sent John the Baptist to prepare the way.
It’s been 2000 years since the first advent of Jesus, but many are still not ready for him. Are you ready? Are you living a life characterized by confession and repentance? As we get ready to celebrate the first advent, are we busy preparing for the next? We cannot forget that just as surely as Jesus came the first time, he will come again. But this time he isn’t going to send John the Baptist to help the world get ready. He doesn’t have to, he has already sent us. How are you helping to prepare the way for the Lord?
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