Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Making Straight Paths

We are coming up on a year of posting daily, so I thought it might be time to revisit our very first post ever, courtesy of the enigmatic and seldom-seen Bernie, who really started the ball rolling. — Tom

We are likely all familiar with the preparations involved for a visiting dignitary: the airport at which he will arrive is closed off to other traffic, the roads his motorcade must travel are cleared, a security perimeter is established and so forth. This has been society’s behavior for time immemorial — when someone important arrives, everything else is managed to ensure that the VIP can keep to their schedule in a way that is most comfortable and safe for them.

The Role of John the Baptist

In the first chapter of John’s gospel, John the Baptist is confronted by the emissaries of the Pharisees. They ask him who he imagines himself to be. John, so utterly confident of his particular role in God’s plan, answers their questions:

“Are you the Christ?” — “No”.

“Are you Elijah?” — “No”.

“Are you the Prophet?” — “No”.

“Well, who are you then???”

In response to their last question, John points them to a passage in Isaiah 40. He claims his role to be that of a forerunner — he is to hew down the mountains and fill in the valleys in preparation. A dignitary is coming and the job at hand for John is to “make straight his paths”.

We see of course that John does his job very well indeed. Those who are high and exalted in their own view are leveled out by John in short order: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” John the Baptist seemingly never shrank from his role. He was the penultimate example of speaking truth to power when he plagued Herod with a reminder of Herod’s immoral conduct. John spared — and feared — no mountain in his day.

But John took equally seriously his work to fill in the valleys; those who came to him in true repentance, aware of their own sin and their own failures were given the baptism of repentance and offered encouragement and instruction. They were unfailingly pointed to the Lord himself as THE One truly worth following.

A Role That Was Unnecessary?

It’s worth noting that the One for whom John prepared the way was a dignitary like no other. For he walked on water, he commanded the elements with a word, he ascended (and will descend) on the clouds themselves. The Lord Jesus will one day split a mountain with his footfall, he has already battled death and has won the greatest of victories. John made paths straight for him who is omnipotent and omnipresent and who couldn’t possibly need a forerunner to ensure his safety or to make his travel schedule attainable.

If John’s role was not to ensure the Lord’s safety or comfort, what then? Isaiah tells us that John’s role as forerunner was unique — he was not making things safe or easy, instead he was ensuring that all could see God’s glory in Christ. In Isaiah 40:5 we read the outcome of John’s labors: “THEN the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together.” Everything that could obstruct or limit an appreciation of the Lord Jesus needed to be gone — some things would be cut down, some would be lifted up, but the end goal was a level and broad plain where the Lord Jesus would be fully visible to all. I suppose a carpenter’s son without earthly wealth would be easy enough to overlook. God would not have his Son easily overlooked in John’s day, nor would God wish it in ours.

A Straight Path to Worship

I think of John’s work as we meet on Sunday mornings. I need to be a forerunner too. If I take John as an example, I would do very well to examine myself and set aside those things of which I am unwisely proud. Things that I have given a lofty place in my heart they do not merit. I am also well-advised to set aside the valley of low thoughts of self. What I need most is to stop thinking about self entirely. I am instead to leave a level plain on which the Lord may appear above all and to all very clearly.

He appears in that meeting quietly and humbly — as he did in person the first time — and if we were full of self (either low or high thoughts) we might easily overlook such simple things as bread and wine.

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