John 1:19-34 (ESV)
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.””Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 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.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Isaiah 40:1-8 (ESV)
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 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. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
John was not an “ear tickler”; he was not afraid to say hard things to those that were gathering around him. Check out Matthew 3:1-12, that is not someone who is trying to please men. People wanted to know exactly who John was. They wanted to find a category for him so they could figure him and out and discount him. He was clearly making waves. Luke 3:1-20 lets us know that many people were coming to check him out; tax collectors, soldiers and others were coming to repent. The ruling religious class pressed John to know exactly who he thought he was and how he had the right to do what he was doing. If you had been called a “brood of vipers” you might feel the same way. So when this seeming harsh man is pressed to reveal who he was he takes them to Isaiah 40. Go back and read the whole chapter. From the man who says, “The axe is laid to the root” and “His winnowing fork is in his hand…but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” he calls them to Isaiah 40. “Comfort, comfort my people…” How sweet those words are in comparison to what John is saying to the crowds.
Comfort. John is preparing a way of comfort. He is making straight the way of the Lord. We, like those standing on the shore, have a tendency to believe that we aren’t that far off from being a “good person”, some one that God would like to hang out with. Or, like some on the shore, we believe that there is no way we can get our act together and be accepted by God. John’s words remind those who know they are unworthy, just how unworthy they are to be in the kingdom. He also points, quite directly, to those who think they can achieve righteousness on their own that they cannot. Comfort. This is what John is proclaiming. That if you think you have it all together or if you believe that you never will have it together, God brings comfort. We repent. We, by God’s sweet care, have our eyes opened to our hopeless estate and receive His comfort.
We need people to still operate like John in our lives. We need to have people bring Comfort. We need someone who is unafraid to lead us to the place of repentance; who will call us out when we climb onto God’s throne in our hearts. And we need to be these type of people too. This is the reason God gives us to each other. We are to make straight the way of the Lord for one another. We are to shout, “Comfort,” to one another. This comfort will often times seem unpleasant. It will hurt us and cause us to want to run and hide in our shame. We will be afraid to step into each other’s lives and be broken and bold with one another. The Spirit will empower us to do this. The end of Isaiah 40: 28-31 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” And John’s own words should give us comfort as well. We are not the end all be all. There is someone who is greater than us. There is someone who has the power to remove our guilt and shame; someone who has redeemed us and conquered sin and death. There is Jesus, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie, but who submitted himself to death for us. He has come to bring Comfort.
Father, you call us toward yourself with words that do not tickle our ears. You reveal the depths of our hard and wicked hearts. It frightens us and we desire you to stop but you keep pursuing us. You know that your way brings comfort for us. You know that your path is the path of righteousness. You want us as your people. Thank you for pursuing us. Teach us to grieve our sin and celebrate when it is reveal to us. Grieve it for the darkness and evil it is. Grieve for the pain and slavery it brings. Grieve it for the hurt is causes those around us. Grieve us for how it removes you in our hearts for your rightful place. Celebrate that you have already conquered it. Celebrate that you have already overcome its evil. Celebrate that you have already made a way for healing and freedom. Celebrate that you have taken our darkness and made it light.
Jesus, we praise you for being the way, truth and life. We praise you for being submissive to the Father. We praise you for lowering yourself even unto death for our sin. You are holy and pure and you give us your righteousness so we can be comforted. Thank you for being the Head of your body and placing within it. Thank you for our fellow siblings, the Sons and Daughters of the Most High, who step into our lives and call us back to you. Empower us to proclaim your comfort to each other. Amen
Think about those people who God has brought into your life to speak comfort. Remember that their words might not have seemed like comfort at the time. They may have seemed harsh and challenging. They may have caused you to want to run away. You might have ended the relationship because of the words but later realized that they were leading you toward repentance and comfort. When you have this person in mind, write them a note or an email to thank them for taking a risk to be bold with you. Thank them for stepping in with comfort.
My friend, Bruce Benedict, over at Cardiphonia released a new album today. It is awesome. Follow the link, buy the album, and worship the Lord during this Lenten season. Hollow Square Hymnal