Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 1 Study # 10
Thesis: God's gracious call through John was first a "summons" to address the meaning of the contrast between the "paths" of the Lord and the reality of one's "wilderness life".
Introduction: For the last two weeks, we have been looking into the context of Isaiah 40:3-5 so that we might not be led astray by any false understanding of what it means to "repent". The issue is not insignificant. John's message was, "God will forgive your sins if you will repent." The offer of forgiveness is beyond "huge" in that the issues of eternal life and eternal death loom beyond the very real difficulties of this present hour. Forgiveness has an enormous impact upon our very real, but very temporal, difficulties; but the impact forgiveness has upon our eternal issues, which loom on the horizon, is far more real and not at all temporal. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we understand what it means to "repent" so that we may obtain this forgiveness. The context of Isaiah 40 revealed two critical issues: the issue of the satisfaction of the "justice" of Yahweh; and the issue of the "grassliness" of all flesh. Squarely between those two theses rests the summons that John called "repentance".
If it is true that there is a way for the justice of God to be satisfied without the subjugation of the sinner to the fiery torments of Eternal Death, but that way does not depend upon the inescapable frailty of man, does it not seem critical to you to know that way?
It seems critical to me. Thus, this morning I am going to reconsider the "summons" of John as it is expressed by the Isaiah text as Luke quotes it.
January 22, 2006
- I. The Background to the Summons.
- A. The issue of the "looming" finality.
- 1. John was introduced to us as the one who would precede the coming of the very Lord of Creation, the God of final determination [John 1:3 and 5:27].
- a. The "problem" for man in the face of the "looming" presence is this: every time he "resists" addressing the looming finality, he digs the hole of his resistance just a little deeper and he creeps a little closer to the point of no return. Every time a child disobeys his parents; every time an adult chooses the golf course over the corporate worship of the Church, the hole gets a little bit deeper and the possibility of escape gets a little bit further away.
- b. The self-deluding consolation of man in the face of the "looming" is the delusion that the "looming" is not time-critical: "The arrival of the God of final determination is not imminent," he tells himself; "I do not have to decide this today."
- c. But the fact is that Jesus' appearing was only a few months behind John's and when He came, He slipped in the back door and all the time He was on the scene giving people the opportunity to receive Him and His Kingdom He was fundamentally underwriting the decisions that people made when they were confronted by John's preaching. Little did they realize that they had crossed the line before Jesus ever got to the point of His judgment as the King.
- 2. John was introduced as the one whose message would "prepare" the hearts of people so that they could receive the King.
- a. The plain truth is this: no one embraces Jesus without some "heart preparation".
- b. The plain implication is this: no one embraces Jesus who refuses the summons to repent.
- B. The issue of a single method of preparation.
- 1. Over time there has always been an expanding plethora of "methods" to give men freedom from any sense of urgency or real "now-necessity".
- a. The growth of the numbers of the prophets of Baal (450) and of the prophets of the Asherah (400) while the diminishing of the prophets of Yahweh gradually reached one is a standard pattern of human history and divine permission.
- b. The explosion of the last 400 years, which has produced both a bewildering host of "variations" on the theme of "church" and an incredibly foolish focus upon "tolerance", is nothing more than a reenactment of the "standard pattern" of human history and divine permission.
- 2. But the freedom is a delusion.
- a. The urgency is both real and inescapable.
- b. The method has never changed.
- II. The First Issue of "Addressing" is "Reconsidering".
- A. The word translated "make ready" in Luke 3:4 has its roots in Isaiah's "clear the way".
- 1. The word has a fundamental sense of turning one's face toward something that is going to receive an exclusive focus of the eyes so that one's mind can be directed to concentration.
- a. It is the competition for focus that gives the sense of "clearing the way": get rid of the "competitors for focus" and settle on one issue.
- b. It is the reality -- that no task can be accomplished that is not given the priority of focus -- that lurks behind the terminology [the illustration of the farmer whose hogs starved to death because he was constantly distracted is singularly illustrative here].
- 2. The word has a very specific "point of focus": the "way".
- a. The "way" is deliberately identified in multiple Old Testament texts as having two parts.
- 1) The most fundamental part is the identity of Yahweh as the "God of Life". In multiple texts, the Old Testament refers to people who have turned aside from the "way" to chase other gods.
- 2) The second part of the "way" has to do with what the "God of Life" automatically requires for "Life" as the natural outworking of His identity. The "automatic requirements" are summarized in Genesis 18:19 as "righteousness and justice."
- b. The "focus on the way" is, inevitably, going to have the same result upon every one who really focuses upon it with humility: "Woe is me, for I am ruined."
- B. It is imperative that we do not understand this part of the summons to mean that we need to "buckle down, focus, and get with the program."
- 1. This kind of "interpretation" leads to the total disaster of overweaning pride and final rejection by God.
- 2. The summons to "focus" is to see what is there and to allow what is there to do what it was intended to do: Romans 3:19-20. The "preparation" of the way of the Lord begins with the dawning of humility.
- III. The Second Issue of "Addressing" is "Ceasing the Rebellion".
- A. In the words of Luke, "make His paths straight", is the equivalent of Isaiah's "make smooth".
- 1. The imagery is that of a person who does what is necessary to make sure that anyone traveling upon the "pathway" is not hindered.
- 2. The question is: How does one keep a traveler from being hindered when the travel is metaphorical and the setting is relational?
- 3. The bottom line is the cessation of resistance.
- a. Resistance is the attempt to block the progress of another.
- b. Getting one's self out of the way is far more important than getting any other hindrances out of the way.
- 4. The underlying issue is the answer to the question of "Who?" is traveling upon this "path".
- a. The "paths" are the places where God places His feet.
- b. The obvious implication is that God has somewhere He wishes to go.
- c. The fundamental objective of God is always someone's heart and mind: that's where His feet always take Him.
- 5. Thus, this part of the summons identifies Yahweh's desire to have access to one's heart and mind and the requirement that we stop hindering Him from getting there.
- B. Again, it is imperative that we do not understand this to be a summons to "get to work".
- 1. There is a great deal of difference between "getting to work" and "ceasing to resist the work of another."
- 2. Taking this summons to be a call to work rather than a summons to stop resisting leads invariably to the same end as the first part -- pride and rejection by God.