On 10th December, I was preaching at Winsor Evangelical Mission Church in the New Forest on the subject of ‘Prepare the Way’ based on my chosen passage Mark 1:1-8.
Please find the sermon notes below.
Prepare the Way
At Christmas nowadays, most people celebrate the arrival of a man some believe to be real, others not, an all knowing man who comes to judge everyone on the bad and good things they’ve done in their life, and decide whether they deserve his free gift or not.
In people’s mind’s they know that their qualification for this gift is solely based on their merits, which, when you think about it, is impossible to live up to.
His name? Father Christmas, we also learn about another person, who is much more real and alive, and he’s our saviour Jesus Christ.
It’s the second week of Advent and I’m sure most of you are ready and full of excitement for Christmas!.. or maybe not. But either way, I’m sure you know why we celebrate it and why what it signifies is so important.
Mark, speaking to the gentiles tried to get across to them the message of Jesus had his work cut out for him when trying to explain to them why Jesus was so important and why it affected them.
He starts by sharing with them the beginning of the good news about Jesus the son of God, referring to him as ‘Messiah’, in Greek we’d use the word ‘Christ’, and in English, ‘Annointed One’.
Then quoting from Isaiah, he reads
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”
Does anyone know where this is in Isaiah?
That’s cause it’s actually in Malachi, the Isaiah bit comes later.
Looking at this whole verse in Malachi 3:1 we read
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Now, we know that Malachi was writing to the people who were feeling abandoned by God, they had broken their promises and covenant concerning divorce, sacrifices other things.
At the start of this verse, God is answering through Malachi saying that he is coming to show himself, the God of judgement and justice, are they ready to meet him and bear this sentence? Malachi was reminding them to be ready for the Messiah as they were not really living the way that God wanted.
What I find remarkable is that Malachi’s name actually means ‘My Messenger’ and here we see some word play with his name, there’s little doubt that because of his name, he specifically chose to use this word messenger, the same referred to in Isaiah 40:3 a good 400 years before Jesus was to be born foretelling of the coming Messiah and his messenger.
Next, in Mark 1:3, we’re given the quotation from Isaiah.
In Isaiah 40, we read
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”
Now, here, the translation supposes that the wilderness is the place where the way should be prepared for the lord. Interestingly enough, we could suppose this referred to the desert way for the Lord, we might think of it then as the wilderness signifying the Jewish church to which there John was sent to announce this coming Messiah, which in many ways could have been thought of as like a desert, destitute and unfruitful.
Depending on which translation you may use however, the Septuagint punctuates the sentence as a voice crying out in the desert suggesting that someone was actually calling out in the desert.
Either way, John the Baptist perfectly fulfils this prophecy, for example, shown in John 1:22-23.
Finally they [the Pharisees] said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
What fascinates me about this prophecy is where the voice says:
“Prepare the way for the Lord”
Straight away, we’re reminded to prepare the way for the Lord.
In Eastern practise it was a very common tradition to repair the roads along a path for royalty if they travelled down there. In the same way, this passage is showing us that, well physically here, we should be flattening the path and repairing the roads for Jesus’ arrival. Imagining the whole town coming out to remove rocks from the road or dig up mounds in preparation for the king. Nowadays we might use a steamroller and tarmac, but whatever we might think of, more metaphorically, this would involve strictly clearing any obstacles along the journey and providing an easy path for the royal procession.
“Make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
For me, this is such an incredible biblical image of a highway of salvation, which can be taken physically but also representing the removal of spiritual obstacles to the redemption of Israel as in Isaiah 57:17
And it will be said:
“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
Today, we’re thinking about preparing the way for the Lord, making straight this path in preparation for his coming.
Though for most of us, at Christmas time, preparation for his arrival may be a case of putting up a Christmas tree, maybe a few decorations, and maybe counting down the days on the advent calendar.
But what does it actually mean to ‘prepare the way’ for the lord?
How do we ‘Prepare the way’ for the coming of Christ?
In Mark 1 verses 4-8, we go on to see how, John the Baptist is calling out how we can prepare the way, by repenting and seeking forgiveness for our wrongdoings. What astounds me also is that in the next verse, ‘the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.’
Christmas is an incredible opportunity to be reminded and remind others of this good news. That Jesus Christ the son of God came to earth as a baby, humbling himself, he lived and suffered all the pain and temptation that we could feel, as a human, yet sinless being, and then paid the ultimate price, dying as a sacrifice for our wrongdoings.
Jesus has made a way for us to know the father directly and receive eternal life from him, isn’t that a reason to be joyous about?
In preparation for his arrival, we should seek forgiveness from him and allow ourselves to be washed white as snow in the presence of our saviour.
So first off, as John the Baptist said: Repent.
Next, to prepare for the coming of Christ, we should be preparing ourselves.
We talked briefly about this in the first point, but actually are we really anticipating this arrival, or are we just waiting for it to pass. All these prophecies were encouraging people over thousands of years that one day the anointed one would come! I don’t think we could even imagine what the world would have been like had Jesus never came to earth.
Meditate on the fact that we need a saviour. Christmas tends to start off uninvited before it becomes a delight. Do we truly believe or appreciate how important and amazing it was the Jesus came to earth? Like, this was a history defining moment. Christmas won’t have it’s intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Saviour.
Engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.
As we read in Psalm 139
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
So secondly, Prepare Ourselves
Proclaim the Good News to Others
Finally, as we look ahead through Mark 1, we see Jesus who has finally arrived in verse 14 and 15.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
In the same way, we should also be proclaiming the message to others just as Jesus did as soon as he started his ministry.
Just as we saw in Isaiah that we were reading earlier, we need to be preparing the road for the arrival of the King, making straight the path. This means sharing the good news with everyone and making the journey easy for Jesus as he enters.
Build God-centred anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for children if you have them. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible to them.
Be much in the Word, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” Gather ’round that fire this Advent season. It’s warm. It’s sparkling with colours of grace. It’s healing for a thousand hurts. It’s light for dark nights.
So thirdly, Proclaim this good news to others.
You’re right if you may be thinking to yourself, well, this is all well and good preparing things for our remembrance of Jesus’ birth each year, but that’s still happened.
You’re right, Jesus is with us all the time now and we should be prepared and growing in relationship with him all the time, not just on Advent or Lent.
We’ve talked about Jesus’ 1st coming but actually, what about his 2nd coming?
In Matthew 24:36-42, we read:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will be the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come.
And because of this, we should be prepared all the time!
So maybe this Advent, you could be reminded about being ready for the Messiah, we remember his birth at Christmas time, but it’s so much more than this.
We should be preparing the way of the Lord all the time, in our everyday lives we should be seeking to Prepare ourselves and Prepare others for his arrival through sharing the good news and reminding them of what this Christmas time is really all about.
How do we do this?
- Repent – Seek forgiveness in our lives, If you don’t yet know the love of God, his healing power that removes even the deepest of scars. If you don’t yet know Jesus’ forgiveness in your life, who takes away the sins of the world and pays the price so that we can truly be free. If you don’t know this free gift of grace, then please don’t allow yourself to leave without finding out more and starting this relationship with him.
- Prepare ourselves and our hearts – Allow God to fill us up with his Holy Spirit, that we may feel a unique sense of joy and anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, especially this Christmas
- Proclaim the good news to others – It’s the gospel message. If you are then that’s great, get others to join you so that they can feel confident in sharing it too. Either way, we’re all called to go and make disciples of all nations declaring his name for all to hear!
“Father God, we thank you that you love us so much, that you sent your son to earth to pay the price for our sins, thank you that your word stands true and that throughout the year and especially at Christmas time, we can always celebrate and anticipate the coming of your Son, both when he came as a Baby and when one day he shall come again.
Please forgive us for not eagerly awaiting his coming and not appreciating how important this gift you have given us really is.
And Father God, help us to make straight the way for you now, as we seek your guidance in our lives continually, fill us up with your holy spirit that we might be able to share your good news with every nation. Help us to prepare the way for you, and at Christmas time that we would stay focussed on you and why it is important to us today.
In Jesus’ name we pray.