Preparing the Way for the Lord

John the Baptist said to prepare the way for the Lord. That directive has meaning in our own lives today.

Sermon video

Josh’s Questions

Josh was an older teenager and he was having a problem.  He was trying to figure something out about life. He had three questions. 

The first was: Who am I?
The second was: Why am I here?
The final question was: Where am I going?

He began trying to find the answers to those questions and decided he would do it in church.  He began attending and was very faithful in the church.  Later, he said, “I guess I was going to the wrong church.  I went there every time the doors were open and I was 150% committed to the church, but I wasn’t getting my questions answered.”

He continued, “I actually felt worse in church than I did outside of church.  I started trying to find the answers somewhere else.  I decided I would find my answers through education.”

He graduated high school and went to university.  Again, he was looking for the answers to those three questions. He discovered that most of the students at the university were worse off than he was.  He then looked to the professors.  He found no help there, either.  

After a couple of years, he noticed a small group of people who seemed different.  They were more confident and seemed to have more hope.  Eventually one of them invited Josh to a meeting.  The meeting turned out to be a Bible study.  There were eight students and two professors in attendance.  

Josh wasn't interested in a Bible study.
Josh wasn’t interested in a Bible study.

Josh began noticing something different in their lives and it had an effect on him.  

However, due to his previous experience with the church, he had become hardened in the areas of prayer and Bible study. He was resistant to the idea.

Finally, he told them that he noticed something different about them, and he wanted to know what made the difference.

Although he probably didn’t want to hear the answer, they told him anyway.

Jesus Christ made them different. 

The first time he heard Jesus mentioned in the Bible study, he scoffed at it and pushed the notion away.  He felt he had already tried to find the answer to life through religion and was unsuccessful.  

He was forced to admit, though that something was going on in the lives of the people in the group.  

Again he heard, “Jesus Christ is the answer.”  

Not the institution of the church, but the person of Jesus.

A Challenge

One of the young ladies in the group challenged Josh.  She said, “Why don’t you investigate and see if all of this is true?  Was there really a historical person named Jesus?  Find out if there were people who testified to unusual things being done.  Find out if this man named Jesus really was crucified.  Then there’s the claim of the resurrection, that He rose from the grave.  Investigate that for yourself.”

Josh thought all those answers would be in the Bible, of course, so he started by checking that.
He was very serious about the whole thing.  He decided to try religion again.  He planned to use the tools for investigating and verifying statements that he had learned. 

Josh decided to do some research.
Josh decided to do some research.

He took time off from his classes He went to some well-known libraries in Europe to investigate the claims in the Bible. 

His heart had been hardened and needed to be prepared to get him to the point where he would even consider doing this. 

Luke 3:1-6 (MEV)

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip was tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Traconitis, and Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene. 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He came into the region surrounding the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

John the Baptist was quoting from the book of Isaiah, so let’s look at that passage.

Isaiah 40:1-8 (MEV)

1 Comfort, O comfort, My people, says your God. 2 Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been pardoned, that she has received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him who cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness, make straight in the desert a highway for our God 4 Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low, and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rough places a plain; 5 then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” 6 The voice said, “Cry out.” And he said, “What shall I cry out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is as the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever.

Prepare the Way

In the past, dignitaries would visit other cities or countries.  If they were wealthy enough, the dignitaries would send people ahead of them to see the conditions of the roads.  Would the journey be easy?  How wide was the road?  What type of vehicles would the road accommodate?  The visitor may have been in a wagon or chariot or may have been carried on a litter. 

The servants would go in advance to prepare the way for the dignitary.
The servants would go in advance to prepare the way for the dignitary.

They wanted the road to be smooth and the way to be good. 

The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee have steep grades and sharp turns.  The interstate that cuts through them has made those places smooth enough that you can safely take a curve at 70 miles per hour.

Some places along that route don’t go over the top of the mountain but around the side.  There are guardrails along the edge of the road and signs warning you to watch for falling rocks.  The construction crews have made the way easier.

John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord to come.  Many years before, Isaiah had prophesied the events.

Four things were to take place to prepare the way for the Lord.

Mountain Brought Low

The first of those events was the mountain shall be brought low.  

To prepare the way, the mountain must be brought low.
To prepare the way, the mountain must be brought low.

This did not mean that the ground and roads into Bethleham were going to be literally smoothed.  I believe the passage means within our hearts.  Our hearts are high, lifted up, and prideful.  

In order to prepare the way for the Lord, the mountain of pride needs to be brought low and humility needs to be present. You have to be humble enough to be able to consider the Lord.  You have to be careful about pride.  

When I was in the 4th grade, the high school basketball coach came and got us 4th-grade boys and brought us to the gym.  He gave us an orange spherical object and, to my surprise, the other boys knew what to do with it.  I actually did know it was a basketball, but that was all I knew about the game.  The other boys could dribble and I could not.  I didn’t know the rules so I was feeling very self-conscious.  

I was standing there with my hands in my pockets when the coach asked if I would like to learn how to play basketball.  I said I would.  

He responded, “The first thing you need to do is take your hands out of your pockets.”

That was my first basketball lesson.

Because I attended a small school I always made the team, but I was never one of the first 5. I wasn’t much of a star.  

I needed to be brought low.
I needed to be brought low.

There was one time when my 4-H club was going to play a game against another 4-H club.  Not everyone in the club was on the basketball team so there was a mixture of varying skill levels.  The other club didn’t have enough people so they took some of our club members who did play basketball and put them on their team.  It ended up: I was the star of the team that night!

I was so excited about that.  A friend was planning on spending the night at my house that night.  All the way home and for probably an hour after we got home, I talked about how excited I was and how great I had done.  

He finally got tired of hearing it and he said, “Yeah, Randy, you were great.  Just great.”  That brought me back to Earth.

Sometimes we get lifted up with pride and it can stand in our way so we need to be brought low.

Filling the Valleys

On the opposite side of that are the valleys.  You might not feel like you’re worth anything.  You might be on the opposite end of the spectrum and feel like God could never love you or care for you.  You feel like no one at all cares for you.  

You feel like even your parents don’t care about you.  You’re just picked on and bullied.  You don’t have any friends.

That can happen sometimes and it can weigh on a person and cause them to be discouraged and feel low  

By discovering your value to Christ, your valley can be filled
By discovering your value to Christ, your valley can be filled

In order to receive Christ, you need to understand that you need to be lifted up and you are not worthless.  How much value do you have?

You are of inestimable worth to God.  He sent His Son to redeem you.  He thought you were of such worth that He sent His Son from Heaven’s glory to this Earth where He was rejected and despised.  

The religious leaders who were lifted up with pride arrested Jesus.

God loves you so much that He allowed that to happen. Jesus loves you so much that He allowed that to happen. 
Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested.
He allowed his beard to be pulled out.
He allowed people to spit on him.

He did that because He loves you and me.  That’s how much He loves us.

You need to get to the point where you can understand that.  When you do, then you’re preparing the way for the Lord to come into your life. 

We are Like Flowers that Fade

If a young man wants to impress his young lady, he will sometimes bring her flowers.  Usually, she really likes them.  She’ll put them on the table.  She likes to look at them.  She likes to smell them.  But after about a week the flowers become wilted and she will toss them in the trash.  

Life fades like a flower.
Life fades like a flower.

The passage says our lives are like that.  It’s here for a while and then it fades away.  Like a flower that’s good for a while but it wilts and fades away. 

You can go to a cemetery and look at a tombstone.  You’ll see the date of birth, the date of death, and the little dash in between those two dates.  That’s what your life is.

Life is like a vapor.  It’s here for a little while, then it vanishes away. (James 4:14)  Imagine steam coming out of a tea kettle.  You can see it for a bit but then it vanishes.  

We need to realize that we are mortal and will not live forever and have time to prepare the way for the Lord within our lives.  A lot of people act like they’re going to live forever and push away all thoughts of eternity.  

To prepare the way for the Lord, we need to realize that we’re going to spend eternity somewhere.  

We’re like the flower that’s here for a while and fades. 

Make the Rough Places Smooth

Some places had rocks on the roads.  To prepare for the arriving dignitary, the people would clear the rocks out of the way.  

Sometimes the roads would be rocky and require clearing.
Sometimes the roads would be rocky and require clearing.

Depending on their circumstances, the dignitaries may build up the road some, shorten it, or find a different path altogether.  They may find the landowner and ask for permission to pass through their property.  

Usually, though, they would go on the established path.  Their laborers would go ahead of them and clear the rocks to make the path smoother. 

Years ago, I worked for Accelerated Christian Education.  I was at their headquarters for about 3 years. 

About halfway through my time there, the company decided to provide a retreat for any employee who wanted to attend.  My family went. We did many different things during the retreat.  

The company (ACE) owned property near Durango, Colorado, so that’s where we went for the retreat.  

Because we were being paid while on the retreat, we had to be productive while we were there.  

There was a dirt road on the property that had a lot of rocks.  Many of them were good-sized.  There were probably about 100 people working on this road.  We went in front, and a wagon went behind us, and our job was to pick up rocks.  

It was rough going for the wagon at first, but finally, we got enough picked up that it was able to go down the road pretty easily. 

Take the rocks and move them out of the way.
The high places are made lower –  pride is brought lower to humility.
The low places are made higher – worthlessness is brought up to the esteem that God has for us.

The Way Made Straight

The crooked thinking of the world needs to be straightened out. Sometimes we have to do some investigating as Josh did.  There is some crooked thinking going on in our world today.  

Crooked roads need to be straightened to prepare the way for the Lord.
Crooked roads need to be straightened to prepare the way for the Lord.

Things that years ago would have been considered crazy are supposed to be accepted as normal today, and the world says that you’re supposed to say it’s normal whether you think it is or not.  

You have to do something to straighten out the crookedness. 

We need to come to a point where when God says something, it is so and if He says it’s not so, it’s not. 

We need to recognize that and believe it. 

Sometimes the rocks get in the way.

Josh’s Discoveries

Josh had thoughts, obstacles, or “rocks”, that were in his way.  He was asked to investigate for himself and when he did, one by one, the rocks were removed.  

First, he checked out the Bible.  He found out that there were 40 different human authors (God is the author of it all {2 Timothy 3:16-17}) over 1400 years and it had an amazing unity to it.  Today, you probably couldn’t find 40 different authors to agree on anything.  In the Bible, there’s a unity of the message.  There’s a scarlet thread of redemption from Genesis to Revelation.  

Over and over again, the fact of the sinfulness of mankind and the need for redemption are portrayed.  

Then comes the fact that Jesus Christ died and paid the penalty for our sins.  

There’s amazing unity throughout the Book.  

Josh had to admit that he could see that.  

Then he looked at history and historical authors.  For example, did Julius Ceasar really exist?  

Josh's research showed that Julius Ceasar did exist.
Josh’s research showed that Julius Ceasar did exist.

He found out how many ancient documents talked about Ceasar’s existence.  

He found many texts that spoke about the New Testament. 

He discovered that there was far more evidence for the truth of the Bible than there was for other books.  

A rock was removed. 

He found out that Jesus really was a historical person who lived. He learned that there were those who saw Him after He was reported dead, alive.  He discovered that there were Roman soldiers who knew about death and said that Jesus definitely was dead. He also found out that the account of the spear being stuck into Jesus’ side and blood and water coming out was the truth,  He learned that Jesus did truly die.  He could not deny that. 

Josh learned that the 12 disciples saw Jesus after He had been dead and their lives were changed.  Before they had been filled with fear but they became bold after seeing the resurrected Jesus.  

The time came when the authorities wanted them arrested, and a couple of times they were.  While imprisoned, they sang!  They couldn’t be stopped.  Their lives were changed.  

Josh couldn’t deny that.

Then he saw that throughout history, there were people who were willing to give their lives for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He could not deny that. 

One rock after another was being removed.  

Josh’s last name is McDowell.  Maybe you’ve heard of him or perhaps read some of his books.  One such book is called “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.”  It’s a collection of evidence so it’s hard to read straight through.  However, it is a wonderful reference book.  It’s a listing of all the things he discovered and put together.  He’s also written a sequel called “More Evidence that Demands a Verdict.”  If you’re looking for a good reference book, I would recommend these two.  

Josh McDowell
Josh McDowell

The books contain the evidence that moved the rocks out of the path for Josh McDowell. 

Lee Strobel

There is another man, named Lee, who lived in Chicago.  He was a journalist.  Like many people, he and his wife were enjoying life without any church attendance or background.  They had similar ideas and lifestyles.  However, their lives weren’t completely full.  Lee’s wife, Leslie, had an emptiness inside, similar to what Josh had in his life. 

So, she began to study the Bible with some friends. Next, she began attending church.  As a result, her life began to change.  She didn’t think she should do some of the things they had been doing before. Lee grew more and more frustrated. 

He began to suspect that she was seeing another man.  He discovered another Man of sorts, but it was difficult to fight against Him because Lee couldn’t see Him. Not to mention, He was a perfect man. 

Lee was very angry and resentful.  

This went on for a couple of years, and then Lee thought, “I’m an investigative reporter.  I’m going to take my skills and use the same techniques and I’m going to refute this ‘Christian stuff’ for my wife.”

Lee and Leslie Strobel
Lee and Leslie Strobel

His usual process was to interview experts in whatever field he was investigating. He approached this project the same way.  

After each interview, his thought was the same: “I can’t argue against that one.  What he said was right.”

Time after time, Lee came to the same conclusion.

The reporter’s name is Lee Strobel and he wrote the books “The Case for Christ,” “The Case for Faith,” and “The Case for Creation” plus many more. 

Lee had all that resentment that was standing in the way.  One by one, through those interviews, the rocks were removed so the path to the Lord could be clear. 

Josh McDowell said after he came to the point where he had all the evidence, he was faced with evidence that demands a verdict.  He was going to have to make a decision.  

Josh and Lee both came to Christ.
Josh and Lee both came to Christ.

Intellectually, he already knew it was all true but he still would not submit to Christ because of his pride.  He would have to admit he had been wrong since he was in high school and those early years in college.  

But he finally did, and then his heart was ripe for Christ to come in.  

Lee Strobel knew these things were true and his heart was ripe for Christ to come in.

Prepare Your Heart

If you have something in your life that should not be there, I pray that the Lord would remove that obstacle for you.  I pray that if there is some type of pride in your life that you would be brought low so you can consider other things.  I pray that if you feel worthless, you will be lifted up and understand that God loves you.  I pray that if you have a crooked road that something will come and help you see that it’s not right and you’ll be straightened out.  As you understand more and more that the Word of God is the truth, it will help straighten out your thinking. Whatever rocks might be in the way, I pray that they would be removed. 

Prepare the way for the Lord to enter your heart.
Prepare the way for the Lord to enter your heart.

John the Baptist cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Let the high be brought low, the low be brought up, the crooked places made straight, and the rough places made smooth.”

If you’ve never come to Christ, and today you’re at the place where your heart is ready, you can make a decision for Christ today.  The way has been prepared and there’s nothing standing in your way. You can come to Him. 

Thank God for that!

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