25 November 2013

Isaiah 40:1-11

"A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" (v.3)


It is rare for a verse in the Old Testament to be quoted in all four New Testament Gospels, but verse 3 is one of them (Matthew 3:3,Mark 1:3Luke 3:4 and John 1:23). Psalm 22:18 is the only other one a quick check turned up for me. So this is quite special.

Clearly it was important for the Gospel writers to connect John the Baptist with this verse, yet at first glance, the connection is not obvious. This passage starts with a request for comfort and then three voices tell of the comfort to come:

  • Voice 1 (starts verse 3) points to the ancient Near Eastern custom of sending representatives ahead to prepare the way for a monarch to visit and with preparing a processional highway for the Lord's coming to Jerusalem.
  • Voice 2 (starts verse 6) reminds the reader of the difference in constancy between people and God. It may be a reference to powers such as Assyria and Babylon fading away.
  • Voice 3 (starts verse 9) looks to the return from exile (the Jewish people had been captives in Babylon since 586BC) with the Lord coming to Jerusalem.

To connect verse 3 with John the Baptist there has to be a change of understanding. John came to prepare the way for Jesus not by sorting out the arrangements with the king, not by building a processional route, but by demanding a change of heart - repentance in order to receive forgiveness (Luke 3:3) and this to be shown in deeds (Luke 3:7-14).

As we approach the season of Advent (a preparation for Christmas), which was once a preparation in the style of John the Baptist in looking at our hearts and our lives to see if we are ready for Jesus to return. Maybe it has now become more of a sorting out of the arrangements for the feast when we celebrate the coming of the King.


To Ponder

  • The three voices offer comfort by saying:

a) get ready because God is coming
b) God is consistent, unlike us
c) God is returning as shepherd.

  • In what ways do you think these might (or might not) bring comfort today?
  • If John prepared people for the coming of Jesus quoting the above verse from Isaiah, then how should you prepare people today for the coming of Jesus again?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.