Preparing the Way

by Dr. Michael Whiting

Day 16 of Advent

Today's Reading

Isaiah 40

Cut off from their land for repeated disobedience to Yahweh, the people of God were again without a home, refugees in a foreign land. Although it would bring to mind the turbulent days of the judges, not since their original bondage in Egypt and wilderness wanderings had they been without possession of the promised land like this.

This was not the abundance of blessing and prosperity they enjoyed in fellowship with God. For them, it was the desert - a time of exile where they felt forsaken of God.

Isaiah 40 is a beautiful message of hope and comfort, glad tidings for the people of God in captivity. It was the promise of covenant restoration on the other side of His discipline (Isa. 40:1-2). The Northern Kingdom fell first in 722 BC to the Assyrians. Then, in 586 BC, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was subdued by the invading Babylonians, followed by 70 years of captivity.

Though God would feel absent in their chastening, He promised in Isaiah 40 that He was with them and that He would not forget His covenant. Their discipline would not last forever, but He would restore them. Their cries for deliverance would again be heard, and He would answer them.

Jews indeed began returning under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, in 538 BC, allowing them to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, as recorded in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. But these days did not last as first Greeks, and later Romans occupied the land and hindered Jewish freedom.

When Jesus was born, the people were still in exile under Roman occupation. Augustus Caesar was lord. Even more so, they were still in spiritual exile as slaves to sin under the Law. Their Messiah and salvation were still to come. The Kingdom of God had not yet returned.

Preceding God’s coming to save, a voice crying out from the desert would be heard preparing His way. In the New Testament, John the Baptist, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, revived the office of prophet after 400 years of silence, preaching like a vagabond in the desert that the time was dawning for Israel’s salvation (Mark 1:3-4).

John was the herald of God’s Kingdom and the witness to the coming of His Anointed One to take away sins (John 1:29). Some thought John was the Messiah, but he was only a witness. His ministry was to call the people to repentance to prepare for God’s visitation and dwelling among them. You see, it was not just a matter of God coming to remove the consequence and penalty of their sins. His intent was to remove the power of sin and give people a new heart in fellowship with His. Only through repentance would their eyes be opened and their hearts prepared to submit to the reign of God.

As we read in the Gospels, however, many in Israel rejected John’s message and then also the life and teachings of Jesus. Yet after His murder and being forsaken by the Father, He would be restored to lead many out of captivity into the freedom of His salvation (Isa. 53:10-11).

As God came to Israel on that first Christmas day, He comes to each and every one of us. Have you ever submitted to God’s Kingdom and the Lordship of Jesus in repentance, the acknowledgment of your sin, and the need to turn from it? A heart hardened in sin, a spiritual desert and barren wasteland in exile from God, will not and cannot affirm the truth of God nor abide His wisdom. Though God rejects the proud, He lavishes His grace on the humble and offers them the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ.

Are you a believer but caught in a sin? Repentance will prepare for God’s coming anew to rekindle the joys of your soul’s salvation in Christ and the sweetness of His indwelling fellowship through the Spirit.