The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.…
Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord. The figure used by the prophet is one whose forte could only be fully apprehended in that country to which he belonged. Until recent years there were no roads, at least no roads on which vehicles might be drawn; only such paths, often very rough, and steep, and dangerous, as would be made by the passing to and fro of cattle and of men. But a few years ago, when Ibrahim Pasha proposed to visit certain places in Lebanon, the emirs and skeikhs sent forth messengers to all the people on the way the pasha was coming, with a proclamation very similar to this of Isaiah, commanding them that they should gather out the stones, make straight the crooked places, level the rough places, and so prepare the way for his grand cavalcade to march through. Applying this figure to Messianic times, we note that the world wanted Christ, but it was not prepared for him when he came; and it is still true of many human hearts - they do really want Christ, but they are not prepared for him in his spiritual comings.
I. THE WORLD WANTED CHRIST. There is no word which so exactly describes the condition of the world when Christ appeared as the term darkness. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." When God created man, or, let us say, set him forth as the Head of his creation, he put light within him, and was light unto him. But when man sinned by exalting self-will, God took his light away, and left humanity to work out the problem of life in the power of its own self-will. That problem may be stated thus: Man is satisfied with himself, with the light that is in him: then can he find his own way to God and righteousness? Can he answer for himself this question, "How shall man be just with God?" You cannot understand the history of Israel, or of the ancient world, save in the light which this representation throws upon them. Each nation took its own way in trying to solve the problem. Egyptians, and Persians, and Syrians, and Grecians, and Romans, all were working at it. But man, by himself, has always failed to discover any satisfactory solution. The light he had faded. Twilight passed into night; night grew blacker and darker; the stars were hidden by low overhanging clouds; and it was the gloom of moral midnight over all the earth when Messiah came. But the heathen, in their debasing idolatries, were conscious of bondage, and looked for a Deliverer. The Jews, though corrupted with formalism, held passionately to their hope of Messiah. The sins of the world wanted Christ. The woes of the world wanted Christ. The minds and hearts of men wanted Christ, though they could not put into shape of words their inarticulate longings. Humanity had its watchmen at every point of advantage, and again and again the question was eagerly asked, "Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night?" It is interesting to notice that, whilst Christ was a babe, and as yet no shame had gathered about him, all humanity offered homage to him by its representatives, and bade him welcome to the world that so greatly needed him. Shepherds, representing the whole Jewish people, followed the angelic sign, and welcomed the Messiah-Child. Eastern Magi, star-directed, representing the whole heathen world, offered him their gold and frankincense and myrrh. And Simeon and Anna. representing the spirituals the religious classes, hailed him with the joy of believing and loving hearts.
II. THE WORLD WAS NOT HEADY FOR CHRIST. They had made no room for him. The inn was full. He must find a place for himself, where he could - some strange place, out in the stable, in the manger. And there was no better room for him in men's hearts. Only let the story of his life unfold a little. Only let his hands begin to do deeds of charity; only let his lips speak words of spiritual conviction; only let him point out the follies and sins of the age; only let him show that his mission was to the poor, the sorrowing, and the sinning; only let the purity of his perfect life, like a Divine light, reveal the corruption of his times; - and then he is the "despised and rejected of men;" then they hurry him forth out of the synagogue to throw him over the hanging rock; then they lead him forth, bearing his cross, and crucify him between two thieves. How is this? Why does the world want Christ, and yet, when he comes, he finds men so unprepared that they reject instead of receive him? The answer is a very simple one, but a very painful one. Men get to love sin for its own sake. They dislike, indeed, the penalties attached to it; they tremble at the consequences of it; but they love the sin and cherish it. They would gladly enough have welcomed a Saviour who would break off those chains of bondage to Rome, which had been fixed on them as a judgment for their national sins; but they did not want to part with their national pride and exclusiveness. They would gladly have welcomed a Christ who could burn up the great book of death, which so surely treasured up for them "wrath against the day of wrath;" but they did not want to give up the sins that led to spiritual death - the hypocrisy, the sensuality, the multiplied forms of moral evil, which they loved and sought. Therefore who can wonder that, when Christ came as a Saviour from sin, men were not prepared for him - men refused such a Christ? It is evident that the world, in its unpreparedness, needed the intense, arousing, almost terrible, preaching of John the Baptist. The work given to John was to try and alter the views of men in respect of Messiah. He preached "Repent;" change your minds; get another view of sin; see the essential evil and hatefulness of it. To all who came he spoke directly and plainly of the particular sins they loved; he demanded the giving up and putting away of individual and social sins as the necessary preparation for Messiah's coming. This, then, is the one wrong thing - sin loved for its own sake. This was the mountain that must be levelled, this the crooked place that must be made straight, this the rough place that must be made plain, before the glory of the Saviour from sin "could be revealed, and all flesh see the salvation of our God."
III. WHAT WAS TRUE OF THE WORLD IS TRUE OF US. Our souls want Christ. It is sad, indeed, to be sinners, living without God, and without hope in the world. We have often felt that all was not right with us; dark shadows hung all around us, and all before us. We have looked and longed for the light. When we have thought of God and sin and the future we have cried out, "Oh that I knew where I could find him! I would come even unto his seat." Sin in us wants Christ the Saviour. Conscious separateness from God wants Christ the Reconciler. Ignorance wants Christ the Teacher. And Christ wants us. Then why is the old fact of the time of his first coming repeated among us to-day? They wanted him, but were offended at him, and cast him out; cruel hands smote him, fierce nails pierced him, scorn howled around him, and a violent death freed him from a world that was not prepared to greet him. The reason for our rejecting him is the same as theirs. We, too, are unwilling to give up our sins for Christ. We want a Saviour from punishment, from consequences, from fears, from death, from hell; but not a Saviour from sin, from self-confidence, from pride, from independence of God, from our rebelliousness, our lustings, and our self-indulgences. We want a Saviour who will give us a secure title to future bliss; but not one who will take the stony heart away, and give us a heart of flesh; not a Saviour who can deliver us from the very love of sinning, and "create in us a clean heart." Is, then, your path full of the stones, the crooked ways, the rough places, of loved sins? remember that Christ is a Saviour from sin. He is named Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. He will not save you at all unless you are heartily willing that he should save you from your evil self, from your loved iniquities. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.