>Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice cries, “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 plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

You know what I love about Scripture? I love that Scripture consists of 66 books, written by about 50 different authors (give or take a few), over a span of roughly 2000 years. And in spite of the incredibly wide gap, the story is still the same. The opening of this verse is quoted, some 600-700 years later by the writer of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The writers see these words as being fulfilled in John the Baptist. John is seen as the one who cries out in the wilderness and prepares the way of the Lord.

Of course, there is a long, complex history behind this thought, and I’ll give a brief overview of it before going much further. Isaiah first writes these words to those who will be in exile. After the return from Babylon, it is recognized that the Jewish people, while not physically in a foreign land, are still in a state of spiritual exile. In Malachi, the final book in the Old Testament, there is a promise. The promise is that Elijah, who never died, would return prior to the coming of the Messiah. He would be the one that would turn the hearts of the people before the “great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5). Mark, in describing the clothing of John the Baptist, is clearly correlating these two biblical giants. Mark is essentially saying, “The time of promise is at hand. Elijah has returned, and the coming of the Lord is not far behind.”

What is going on in the Isaiah passage? The way back to God is being made easier. You see, the exile was over rough terrain. It was a rugged land, a tough road away from the presence of God in Jerusalem (it was believed that God dwelt in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). The path away from the presence of God is a rocky road. It is difficult. Things aren’t always that different from our geography. The same can be said of us today. When we stray from God, the path is rocky. It is tough, rugged terrain, and the road back can look just as intimidating. In fact, it can be so intimidating that there doesn’t seem to be any way that one can make it back. How many people have felt like this before? How many people think that the things they’ve done don’t deserve to return to the land of promise? How many people believe they are unworthy of making the trip back over the rugged land? But wait, it is not our task to go back over the rocky road. The dangers that lie ahead have been removed.

Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the road has been made smooth. That’s what is going on here. The barriers that can seem to be so overwhelming are easily removed by the Lord. The valleys are raised. The mountains are lowered. The rugged land is made plain. It’s not because we can get a bunch of backhoes and do it ourselves. No, in fact, it is quite the opposite. The harder we try, the worse the terrain gets. We can’t fix it on our own. Perhaps the first thing we need to do is realize this simple fact. I’ll say it again. We can’t fix it on our own. There is work that needs to be done, and it is not through our efforts, but through the power of he who was sent by the Lord. The road back has been made easier, but this was not done easily.

The Lord has been revealed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is through these works that the road back has been made easier. It does not have to be filled with the unknown and pain that the journey out was filled with. It has been made level by the Lord. All we have to do is decide to go back. Did you know that some of the exiled Jewish people never returned? Some of them were enjoying the life that they had in Babylon, and decided to stay there. There were successful businessmen. They were popular people in their community. But ultimately, they were a people who had turned their back on their home. They had forgotten their roots and the promises that were made by the one, true God. The decision is there. If we make that first step, I’m not promising that the road will be easy. It is still a long way back to Jerusalem, but it’s not nearly as difficult.

Just some musings from a traveling pilgrim.