“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” (John 1:23 KJV)
This is an interesting answer to the question that John is asked by the priests and Levites. Do you recall the question? He was pressed for some type of an answer. It was, “Who art thou?” Did they not know that John was the son of Zacharias a direct descendant of Aaron? Had they forgotten the priest who had a son in his old age, was mute for nine months plus, and then named his son a name that was not to be found in their family linage? Surely their memories were not that short. Some like to poke fun at John for the clothes he wears and his diet, but if anything John was a purist and raised outside of the schools in Jerusalem in the desert away from wine and strong drink until his shewing unto Israel. If anything, once John became popular and began to draw a crowd, the priests and Levites were sent to do a little fact finding. They needed to know if John would be an acceptable candidate for a spot back in the priesthood back in Jerusalem. They wanted to know if he still acknowledged the same things his father may have. After all John’s effective method of teaching centered around turning the hearts of the father’s to their children. What kind of answer would John give if pressed? After all, John certainly was not claiming to be God himself. So, there are two very interesting parts to John’s answer.
“…in the wilderness…” Why “wilderness”? I thought this was the land that flowed with milk and honey (see Numbers 13:27)? How did it become “wilderness”? Everyone within a week’s journey ought to know God through His chosen people and the traditions that they have been taught which represent God’s greatness, faithfulness, love, mercy, and justice. Yet John is quoted by John the apostle as per Isaiah 40:3 as “in the wilderness”. Not only is John a precursor to Jesus from the wilderness, but also he is literally in the wilderness. Still, it is the Jews right there that he is calling to repent and it is the local population that he is baptizing. The gospel of John begins nearly in the same place where Moses begins in Genesis. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3 KJV) You can see the darkness that is over this wilderness area and still the Spirit of God is there (as it is in John) beginning to stir just before the life transforming work of Jesus is to begin. It is nowhere more obvious to me than these two passages (John 1 and Genesis 1) that there is a need for light. For even though we have the best teaching, the best traditions, and perhaps we may actually be chosen (see Ephesians 1:11-14); there is in reality nothing but a void wilderness until Jesus arrives.
The real challenge begins with the second part of this verse, “make straight the way of the Lord.” A quote straight from Isaiah who is someone the Pharisees knew, respected, and quoted. I thought that is what the leadership was trying to do all these years before Jesus. I think that is what so many of us try to do before we meet Jesus. We all want to have a clean shirt. We all want to build things that last. Most of us would prefer to live in peace with those around us than to stir up unnecessary hostilities. “How to” books are repeatedly at the top of the booksellers list because everyone wants to know how to do something better, cleaner, neater, faster, more efficient, and less disruptive. We want to do things the right way, the natural way, or the best way. Yet without Jesus our path is and always becomes crooked wandering this way and that and taking much more time, effort, and resources than the efficiency of a direct straight path. We want to manage great things, yet no where are we so great as on our knees. It is a voice from the wilderness in a land that should have been flowing with milk and honey that can remind us of how far we have gone astray and the urgency of our return. It is in trusting in the lines that God has drawn that we can best recognize how bent that we have become and the need for our surrender to Him. When Jesus comes in to our lives, He comes with such power and reality that the first order of business is to separate the light from the darkness. Only in surrendering the “how to” over to Jesus can it really produce the burst of light and clarity that so brilliantly illustrates how He hath done it! “I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:6 KJV)
“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29 KJV)