A New Meaning


A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5.)

In this text, Isaiah tells the exiled people of God not to lose hope. Though they are in the “wilderness” of exile in Babylon, God is their comfort. Their exile will be over soon, and a new exodus will begin; and again, God will lead them home.

In Luke’s Gospel, the words of Isaiah are given new meaning. A new prophet takes up the call, as the original prophecy is fulfilled. This new voice is crying from within the wilderness, where he is “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). Although he is a “forerunner,” still Luke introduces John as if he were a prophet of old, setting him in his historical context:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas… (v. 1-2).

Compare that with:

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (Isaiah 1:1). And:

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.  It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month (Jeremiah 1:1-3).

And, notice that the wilderness is a place where significant things happen according to Luke:

Baptisms (3:1-6)

Testing (4:1)

Prayer (5:16)

Exorcisms (8:29)

As with other prophets, John has received a call (“The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness…” v. 3). Through that call, God’s will is expressed in time and place – in salvation history. True, this will is expressed through a call to repentance. Yet, this repentance consists of a change in heart that allows the believer to prepare for God’s impending justice. Sounds downright scary! Perhaps; but the reader/hearer of Luke’s message will soon discover that this justice will take the form of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is a message for all who live in exile, far from home: refugees; displaced persons; the outcast; the rejected; those in bondage to sin; the broken ones. The wilderness can be a lonely, frightening place. Help (and love!) can seem so very far away. Yet, transformation is near – that is the “comfort.”

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:5-6).

God says through Isaiah, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid” (40:2). This the redemption that John the Baptist proclaims, and that Jesus brings!
Pastor Ken+