One of the hardest parts of any job is the preparation. The hardest work involved in painting a room is getting everything ready to receive the paint. If it is a new house and the walls have never been painted, there is much that must be done. The walls will need to be sized and sanded to insure that the surface is as smooth as possible. In a sense, “every valley shall be filled in,” usually with a spackling compound. “Every mountain and hill” will need to be made low, usually by sanding them down. Once smooth, the walls have to be coated with a primer to ensure that that they receive the paint properly and uniformly. Only then can the walls be painted. If the room and house is not new, there is even more preparation in moving furniture and spreading drop cloths to protect things.
The purpose of this devotional is not to serve as a “how to paint a room,” but rather to draw our attention to the role of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming ministry of Jesus. John did not literally level every hill and mountain, nor were the valleys exalted so that the way would be level and smooth. John sought to pave the way by calling people to repentance. Those sinners who found themselves in lives crippled with sin and decadence could find forgiveness and be raised to a right relationship with God. Those who thought too highly of themselves could find forgiveness for their self-righteous attitude and be lowered (in their minds) to a right relationship with God.
If there is one word that we could use to summarize the ministry of John the Baptist, it would be “repent.” While people were called to live lives that produced the fruits of repentance, the message was received by the people as good news. Repentance meant that there was an opportunity to set things right. It was a message that revealed God’s love for His people. John told them that God would forgive them of their sins and allow them to start anew, with a clean slate. Those who set things right with their lives would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah, which was at hand.
We, like John the Baptist are called to prepare the way of the Lord to come into the hearts and lives of people in our time. Our dress and appearance may be different than John’s, but our message is exactly the same one. We have to call people to repentance. Remember that I already told you that preparation is always the hardest part of the job. In our western society the good news message of repentance is interpreted as “bad news” by our ears. Many think that when you call for people to repent, you are judging them. And what right do you have to judge others? If you call for someone to repent, you are insinuating that he or she is doing is sinful. To call others to repentance and amendment of life is to imply that there is only one acceptable way to live. How dare you judge us, what gives you the authority to determine who needs to repent anyway, you judgmental hypocrite! (There, don’t you feel better?)
It is a fallacy of human nature to think that some people are judgmental and others are not. In fact, to call someone judgmental is to judge him or her. We are all judgmental. The question is this, “By what standard will you judge.” Will you judge according to you own feelings, setting yourself up as the great lawgiver? Will you judge by the ever changing standards of society, basing truth upon the prevailing attitudes of the polls? Will you judge by the unchanging love and law and truth of God? It is the only judgment that is born of the love of God and His desire to have all humanity in a right relationship with Him.
If I point to a car driving through my neighborhood at 90 miles per hour and I cry out, “That driver is speeding,” I am not being judgmental, I am telling the truth. If I admonish him to slow down for the safety of himself and others, I am not trying to make him conform to my driving dogma. Likewise, when we call people to repentance, we are not so much being judgmental as we are telling them what the truth is. Why? Because it is the most loving thing we can do for them. It isn’t easy, but it is the only way we can pave the way for Christ Jesus to come into the lives of others. Really, think about it. If they have no concept of sin, then there is no need for a forgiving savior to come into their lives.
So, let us begin the hard work of continuing the ministry of preparation that John started. Repent!
Image is from Lowes.com