Making a Straight Path
2nd Sunday in Advent – A LSB #344
Text – Matthew 3:3
For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’”
MAKING A STRAIGHT PATH
Having grown up in Michigan, one of the things I commonly take for granted is having straight roads to travel on. For a Michigander like me the thought in quotation marks, from the sermon text, did not have the impact it would for someone growing up in a mountainous land: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’ All the roads were straight where I lived.
On the vacation Jan & I took last month we spent a lot of time driving – a little over 2000 miles. In our journey we crossed the Appalachian Mountains twice. Driving in the mountains helps me understand what Isaiah was talking about. The journey is a lot easier when you’re driving on roads that are straight than it is driving on the winding & hilly ones.
Maybe you’ve heard it said, “Life is not simply a destination. Life is a journey.” It’s trying to make the same point as this saying, “You should stop & smell the roses.” In other words, don’t simply focus on the end point but appreciate the moments all along the way. Well, it’s a lot easier to appreciate the moments if you’re not stressed about driving off a cliff.
‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’ The Gospel of Matthew is quoting the prophet Isaiah who, 800 years earlier, was announcing the role that John the Baptist would play as the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. John was like a herald proclaiming that the people should make straight the Lord’s path, because the Savior of the world was on His way.
As a child growing up in the flatlands of Michigan, I struggled in relating to the need for making a literal straight path to travel on because all the roads by us were straight. And beyond that, I had absolutely no clue regarding all the spiritual intricacies of the quotation, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’ That is something which requires a lifetime of learning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the end, we make a straight path for God by living a life of repentance. If we do that, then God can use us directly to accomplish His will.
If we don’t focus our lives on repentance, our Lord can still use us, but it will be a lot more indirect, kind of like a winding mountain road still gets you from one place to another. It just takes a lot longer with more stress & tension along the way. That’s why it’s important not to get sucked into the trap of thinking that being a follower of Jesus is all about heaven.
Thinking of our relationship with God in such narrowly focused terms is a sellout. It acts as if our spiritual life is about nothing more than the end result. If you remember Esau, there was a time when he was very hungry & he was so focused on the end result of getting fed that he sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Heaven is an astounding & beautiful blessing, which awaits all of God’s children, but we should be careful in our longing to be there that we don’t sell out the blessings of our Lord’s purpose for us here. Yes, we live in a sinful & broken world, but Yahweh still wants us to stop & smell the roses. Life is not simply a destination. It is also a journey.
It is a journey during which Jesus is with us always. Our true problems in life arise from the fact that we frequently ignore our Lord because we do not want to follow where He is leading. Worse than that even, we also willfully put roadblocks in the way of Jesus’ path to our heart. As a result, God’s Spirit inspired John the Baptist to preach the sermon text:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’ Our goal as children of God is not simply to end up at the final destination of heaven. How we live, & what we do while we are on the journey, is extremely important as well. The call of John the Baptist to repent is a way of asking us to stop willingly blocking the path. It is a way of calling you back to the mission your heavenly Father has prepared in advance for you to do. From the perspective of God’s Holy Spirit, every one of us is living a life that is a journey. In spite of your electronic GPS device, or your old-fashioned paper map, ultimately it is God’s Spirit that is guiding & directing your path.
He allows you to make choices regarding which way to turn, even if you’re going in the wrong direction. He’s hard at work trying to take you to the place where your heavenly Father wants you to be in this life. It’s a place for good works, but the struggle of faith is trusting in that fact in spite of everything we see with our physical eyes.
John the Baptist lived in the wilderness eating locusts & honey. A steak or a pizza may look a little more appetizing to our physical eyesight. Finding an appetite for the words of John the Baptist is another thing we struggle with: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The struggle of faith is trusting Jesus in spite of all that we experience in our physical being.
Immediately after Jesus is baptized, He’s sent into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil himself. Each of the temptations is a suggestion to take a shortcut. “Forget about faith in someone’s promises,” says Lucifer, “Go with what I’m showing you right now.” You & I face the same temptations to trust in our own efforts & to ignore the promises of Yahweh.
My efforts apart from God, always put obstacles in the path Jesus would take to my heart & mind & soul. My sinful nature turns the path between me & my Lord into a steep & crooked road. Repentance then, is a clearing away of those obstacles. Through my repentance by His power, God’s Spirit makes the path straight again as He prepares the way of the Lord.
The continual struggle between the saintly nature & the sinful nature, which is the life of a child of God, is pictured by Jesus with these words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV) Repentance is a form of self-denial. Jesus calls me to deny the wishes & the desires that my sinful nature would fulfill. That is a preparation of the Lord’s way to my heart. It is making His path straight so He doesn’t need to go around the obstacles that my sinful nature naturally & willfully puts in His path. To our saintly nature it’s quite clear that the self-denial of repentance takes a tremendous amount of power. In fact, Jesus teaches that we must die & then rise to a new life.
Maybe you’ve heard about someone who’s done that. As the Holy Spirit baptizes us, God’s children get that death over with as we die & our buried with Christ. Then He raises us from the dead, also in Baptism, & we are reborn to a new life which never ends. Repentance is a re-living of that cycle & thus it is to be the focal point of our daily living.
That daily spiritual death & resurrection is true if we don’t willfully, stubbornly choose a different path. That is what unbelief does. It’s the natural work of our sinful nature. And thus it is that the child of God journeys to his destination of glory with Jesus in heaven, but doing so here on earth is a journey under the cross.
That life is not an easy journey, & it climaxes in our physical death. However, at that death our sinful nature dies along with our physical body. From then on, children of God are free of the influence of sin. Until then, sin plagues us constantly & is cause for much grief, yet those who’ve been spiritually raised from death do not live or grieve as those who have no hope.
God’s children have tremendous hope for this life because our Creator & Redeemer is unlimited in His power & wisdom. He is able to cause “…everything to work together for the good of those who love God...” (Romans 8:28 NLT) When Jesus overcame death He proved that He rules life as well & offers a countless number of blessings in His purpose for us here.
And while we only receive any particular blessing from God one time, there is no limit on how often we can share that blessing. Our heavenly Father’s faithfulness to us is something we can & should tell about over & over again. All of you have seen how the way of the Lord has been prepared numerous times in your lifetime. You have seen God’s path made straight to your heart & your mind & your soul. You have experienced His love & His faithfulness. If you’re struggling to see that, or understand it, then ask Jesus for His help. Come to Bible study. Read the Bible by yourself, or with a trusted friend.
Seek out the fellowship & the friendship of other children of God. Chief of all, remember why John the Baptist was preaching that we should repent: “…for the reign of heaven is at hand.” The reign of God is about making all roads like those in Michigan – straight.
The people John the Baptist was speaking to had gone off the straight & narrow path just like the people in our nation today; just like you & I have gone off the straight & narrow path today. 2000 years ago, John the Baptist was a herald proclaiming that the people should make straight the Lord’s path to their heart. His words are still calling us this morning.
For people who believe in Jesus as Savior, every moment of every day involves decision making about staying on the path of Jesus, or straying off of it. Satan will tempt us to take the short cut. Jesus calls us to stay on the straight path, the way of the Lord, for there we find, not only safety, but also true life & more blessings than anyone is able to count.
Remember, the reign of God arrived at Bethlehem in the person of Jesus Christ. That He reigns is what enables us to turn back to Him through denying our selfish desires. That we don’t do this perfectly is not cause for despair. Our lack of perfection is why Jesus was born for the purpose of living the perfect life for us, for making straight His path to your heart.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives & reigns with You & the Holy Spirit, one God, now & forever. Amen.
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh; awake & hearken, for he brings glad tidings of the King of kings! Then cleansed be every life from sin; make straight the way for God within, & let us all our hearts prepare for Christ to come & enter there. Lay on the sick Thy healing hand & make the fallen strong to stand; show us the glory of Thy face till beauty springs in every place. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet