If you talk about the blind and guides, you are talking about seeing eye dogs. If you discuss Alpine mountains and climbing, you must think of a Swiss guide. If you are ignorant and in college, your guide is a professor. And so on with foreign lands and tour guides, taxes and tax consultants. But what of Christmas? I think many of us feel that Christmas is so easy to find that we don’t need a guide. Yet, let me remind you that there were few that found their way to the first nativity. In fact, most missed it. And even today there are thousands who never find their way through all the glitter and “holidaze” to the Christ of Christmas.
God knows we are apt to get lost in our quest for the manger child, hence He has sent us a guide, our guide to Christmas. His name? John. John the Baptizer!
In the text we are told of John’s purpose. He was a go-between. He kept pointing to one coming after him, “One mightier than I,” he said. (Mt. 3:11). In John 3:22-30 John the Baptizer is described as a “Friend of the Bridegroom.” The Hebrew word for this groomsman is “Shoshben.” His job was something like a modern day wedding director. The “Shoshben” sent out invitations, he made arrangements for the wedding feast and presided at it. Then, on the wedding night he brought the bride and groom together in the bedchambers and quickly left, his job done, the couple together, the marriage consummated.
John was this kind of wedding director, too. He was God’s “Shoshben,” God’s man chosen to bring Israel and Jesus together in the marriage of faith. He was sent to give the invitation, to call Israel to their covenant with God. His purpose was to bring Jesus and people together and then leave.
Having considered John the Baptizer’s purpose, let us now consider his message. In the text we are told that John preached, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (Matthew 3:3).
It has never been God’s plan to take people by surprise. Amos, the prophet, said, “The Lord God does nothing without giving His servants the prophets knowledge of His plans.” The Great Flood was preceded by the preaching of Noah. And so it is that the coming of Christ was preceded by John the Baptizer. He came saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
In the time of John, a king planning to visit a country would send his messengers before him. These royal messengers would pass through the countryside saying, “The king is coming! The king is coming! Prepare the way for the king!” The citizens would immediately go to work fixing the roads over which the king would travel. It would be unthinkable for the king to get stuck in the mud, for his ride to be disturbed by bumps. Why, what if the roads were so bad the king had to turn around? So it was that the king’s messengers went ahead to spread the news of his coming. And so it was that the citizens set to work clearing the roads, patching bumps. This was John’s message to Israel. “God, the king, is coming! He will visit His people. How is the pathway to your heart?” The psalmist said, “Blessed are the men in whose hearts are the highways to Zion” (Ps. 84:5). He wrote of how it is that some people grant the Lord easy access into their lives. They provide smooth travel for Jesus to come to them.
However, for most of us, the way to our hearts is all but impassable. You know how ice and snow can hinder travel. So can mud, washed out bridges, barricades and debris. Sad to say, but many a person will not receive Christ this Christmas because the pathway to their hearts is impossible to travel. There is bitterness. There is unteachability, self-satisfaction. God tried to come to them but He was hindered.
If one wanted to restore a road, the tools of the trade would be bulldozers, highway engineers and asphalt. But what of the highway of the heart? What are its tools? John the Baptizer tells us in the text. He said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand… Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Central to John’s message was repentance. Let’s take a look at the meaning of the word. The Hebrew word for repent is “shuv.” It means, “to turn.” The Greek word for repent is “metanoia.” It means, “to change one’s mind.” Actually, repentance is a mental event, a change of mind, that leads to a change of behavior, a turning in one’s life. You know how it is to tell someone you’re going shopping on Tuesday, but you decide later to stay home and clean up. Your friend sees you and says, “What are you doing here? I thought you said you were going shopping!” And you reply, “Yes, but I changed my mind.” And so it is that your change of mind has led to your change of behavior! This is what John is preaching to us. “Turn! Change your mind!” And when you do your behavior will be different. If you’ve been ignoring God turn and pay attention to Him. If you’ve been a rebel turn and become His servant. If you have been saying, “Get out of my life God!” Turn and say, “Come into my heart!” If you’ve been faithless turn and be faithful. Change your mind. Turn!
What about you? What is the condition of your mind this moment? Does the path to your heart allow God access unto you? If it doesn’t, if your mind and heart are turned away from God, then repent! Stop and turn! Change your mind! Ask God to help you clear the roads of clutter. Ask Him to fix the ruts of hate and bitterness, to bridge the fears and failures, to smooth out the sins, the pride, the complexes. “Turn to God,” John is preaching. The Lord is coming! Clear the roads!”
The People’s Response
From John’s purpose and message, let us pass on to the people’s response. According to the text the people came out in swarms. The city of Jerusalem and the country of Judea turned out in great numbers. They listened to John, they questioned him, and often they were baptized. Yet still, the majority refused to take John the Baptizer seriously.
I know how this is myself as a pastor. You burn over some issue, half kill yourself preaching on it, and someone says, “Don’t take it so hard, preacher!” Once I preached on God’s judgment and national repentance and some lady at the door tweaked my cheek and said, “That sermon was too cute!” John knew these frustrations as well. He was good entertainment with his fiery voice, his dramatic presentation. It was a nice day trip with the family to carry a picnic and go out and see this unusual sight. Yes, the people responded to John as if he were some kind of sideshow for entertainment.
There was much travel and activity, many questions and opinions, but there was no major movement toward repentance.
And the results? The king came and there were no roads. God visited and there was no repentance. People had not prepared. They were not ready for the Messiah. Few recognized Him. Some actually threatened His life. He had to spend His first years in exile. And when He did return, it wasn’t long before he was killed.
Have you ever wondered why people reacted so violently to Jesus and the apostles and pastors and prophets from Luther to today were persecuted? What did Jesus ever do to make people hate Him? Was it because He healed and restored? Because He fed people, raised the dead, and preached the truth? If you try an experiment I think you’ll understand man’s violent reaction to Jesus. Go into your basement and turn on the lights. What do the bugs and rats do? They run for cover! They seek out the darkness. In John 3:19 Jesus said people are the same way. They are used to living in darkness. They love twilight. Christ said, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed.”
Now do you understand? John told the people God was coming. They did not listen. And the result? Violence! The people ran for the cover of darkness and there in their twilight temples they hatched their plots, set their traps, and cut John the Baptizer’s head off! And later, on Calvary, they snuffed out the light of God Himself when they crucified Jesus.
Dear people, history can repeat itself. How long do you think it’d take us to crucify Christ if He came to us again? Are we not just like the people of old? Isn’t their nature ours? We too have little trouble finding the truth. It’s facing it that is difficult! If we are to find God, face Him, and live in His light, we must accept our guide to Christmas. We must take Him seriously. A man’s ability to accept Jesus is directly related to his ability to accept john the Baptizer. If you don’t listen to John you won’t listen to Jesus. If a man won’t obey John, neither will he be a disciple of Jesus.
I’ve about decided that there is nothing I can do or say that will make a man repent. It’s not a matter of preaching a better sermon or deeper counseling or writing a better book. In fact, preaching and teaching can actually drive a man away from repentance. To say no and to say it so loud and so often is to harden one’s heart. It is to become so calloused that one doesn’t give a darn if God is born in Bethlehem or this county. In short, a man will repent if he wants to or he will find any one of a thousand excuses not to.
The Connection Made?
Yes, John came. God didn’t want to take us by surprise, to catch us unprepared. So John preceded Jesus. He is our guide to Christmas. Yes, John had a purpose, a message. And the people? They all had a response. And so do we! What will your response be? I pray it will be repentance. I pray you will make straight the highway of the King. I pray you will receive Christ by faith and live in His light.
My first pastorate was in the rural part of Virginia. And you must know what it’s like to call long distance from the country. You dial direct, but there is a delay in the connection, the lines buzz and crackle, and the operator comes on the line saying, “Hold on, I’m trying to connect you.” When the operator has made the connection she fades out to leave you talking with your party. This is John the Baptizer’s function in your life at this time. He is trying to connect you with Jesus. Why not allow Him to come into your life, make the connection to Christ, and fade away? Until John has done his job Jesus cannot do His. There can be no Christmas without John, John the Baptizer
Father, I accept John in preparation for Jesus. Grant me a deep repentance, a change of mind that leads to a change of life. Prepare me for the coming of the Lord. For Christ’s sake. Amen.