John 1:6-8, 19-28
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
“Make Straight the Way of the Lord!”
About two thousand years ago, people faced a chaotic era in Judea. God no longer sent them prophets anymore. The people had been suffering from the colonial exploitation of Rome. However, they did not give up hope that God may send the Messiah, who would save them. One day, there came a man from the wilderness. He was very different from everyone else, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark1:6, Matthew 3:4). He proclaimed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 1:2), and performed the baptism of repentance for people. Many people expected him to bring hope. Some thought that he must be the Messiah. Many people followed him wanting to be his disciples and received baptism from him. According to a historical record, it was like a sect movement because many people admired and followed him. Therefore, political and religious leaders paid attention to his acts. They sent people to watch him, wondering if he was the Messiah God promised.
Many people also paid attention to him, wondering if he was the Messiah or Elijah. Elijah was the greatest prophet in Israelite history, who did not die but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Israelites believed that Elijah might come back as the Messiah. So, some suspected that John might be the returned Elijah. John the Baptist’s ministry was a big sensation for the people, making people change their worldview as “urgent eschatological hope.” John the Baptist was very famous as the Gospel of Mark describes, “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.” However, John never forgot that God sent him with a mission to point to Jesus Christ, and he lived his life in pursuit of that mission. The political and religious leaders sent people to John to ask if he was the Messiah God promised (John1:19). John said to them clearly, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him again, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” People asked him continually, “Are you the prophet?” He said, “No.”
Our human nature leads us to want to be the master, the leader, and the superstar (the highest person). However, John confessed, “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20). He knew very well who he was and what his ministry was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” It was a very humble confession. The word “voice” means “sound,” and does not mean an opinion. Sound or voice means “a temporary echo,” not a particular being. It implies that he confessed that he was an echo to pass by to prepare for the way of the Lord.
The disciple John wrote the Gospel of John to educate people that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah God promised. The disciple John says about the purpose of the Gospel of John, “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We can imagine how people were confused thinking John the Baptist was the Messiah. Some people used to compare him with Jesus -who had more disciples and who baptized more people (John 4:1). However, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to follow him (John1:35-37). He said, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). When people questioned, “Are you the Messiah?” he answered, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” At that time, the slaves untied their master’s sandal. The masters did not bend at the waist to untie their sandals as it was considered undignified. John the Baptist used the metaphor from their culture to be less than a slave to Jesus. John the Baptist stood in the faith firmly with his mission.
John the Baptist was clear for his vocation, “Making straight the way of the Lord.” To make straight the way, constructors should work hard. Imagine a straight highway. How is it we have straight highways? That is, many workers worked hard to destroy hills and mountains and to fill up the valleys. A straight highway is much easier and faster to travel than a route with lots of hills and twists and turns. A construction worker helps to make it possible for us to reach our destinations quickly and safely. As such, John the Baptist knew his destiny to make straight the way of the Lord. It is not a glorious way, but a scarifying way. Nevertheless, he fulfilled his mission significantly.
We need to know who we are and what our missions are. Furthermore, we have to fulfill the mission. John knew that he was the voice for the way of the Lord. The Gospel of John says, he “was a man sent from God. He came as a witness to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light” (John1:6-8). We are also sent from God to our family, our workplace, our community, and our country. God wanted people to believe in God through us. In this advent season, we have to think about who is making ‘straight the way of the Lord’ and what we can do to facilitate the Lord’s coming into people’s lives and hearts. Our purpose is not to draw attention to ourselves but to point to the risen Christ who is in us and among people. Christ might be among the poor, the weak, the valuable, and the powerless. Do not forget God’s plan is beyond our thoughts.
I learned about a prophet, who knew himself, and what his mission was. But he avoided his mission because he did not like it. His name is Jonah. He was sent from God to Nineveh. God wanted to save the people of Nineveh through Jonah. But, Jonah hated the people of Nineveh that were to be saved. He went down to Joppa, running away from God. Finally, he got on a ship toward Tarshish. God sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. People asked him who he is and what happened to him, in order to figure out why the crisis came to them. Jonah said to them, “I am a Hebrew and worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” He knew about God very well. He was proud of himself that he was a Hebrew. Proudly and confidently, he said to them, “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the land. But I ran away from God.” How could it happen? How dare a person who worships the Lord, run away against God? This terrified them, how he could run away from God, it was the Lord who made the sea and the land. They could not understand how he, who worshiped the Lord, ran away from God. They prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, do not let us die because of this person. This is in your plan.” Jonah knew about God as the Creator, knew himself as the chosen people, and knew his mission. However, he ran away to avoid his mission from God.
How about us? In this advent season, are we doing like Jonah or like John the Baptist? We say, “We are Christians, and we worship the Lord.” But, let us think of ourselves and if we may be ignoring what the Lord wants us to do. John the Baptist made the people’s arrogant minds and stubborn hearts soft, showing humility and sincerity so that they may believe in Jesus Christ. He fulfilled his mission, trying not to be an obstacle to the way of the Lord. He pointed to Jesus Christ, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And he denied himself, “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not the prophet. I am not worthy to untie his sandal.” He did profound self-denial even though he could have honor and authority from many people. He lifted Christ up higher and he humbled himself thoroughly. He knew already the way of salvation Jesus taught later.
Jesus taught his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Let us be the way of the Lord! May the Holy Spirit come to us and empower us to be the way of the Lord so that many people believe in Jesus Christ through us. Let us be the channel of God’s grace! Thanks be to God!