A voice cries out, “In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God. Every valley must be elevated, and every mountain and hill leveled. The rough terrain will become a level plain, the rugged landscape a wide valley. The splendor of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time. For the Lord has decreed it.”
The words of this passage, though very familiar to me, were not ones about which I had thought clearly. To whom is the call of verse 3 directed? Who will prepare the way for the Lord? In other places in Scripture, it seems that God himself prepares the way for his people. See for example Isaiah 11:15-16, Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 43:16. Then again, in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, it is John the Baptist who is the voice calling from the desert, challenging those who came out to hear him to repent, thereby creating a road ready for the coming Savior. So is the road builder God? John? God’s wayward people? Or someone else?
These verses must be viewed against the backdrop of the history of God’s people. God had indeed delivered his people by making a straight path through the Red Sea. Once through that sea, with the enemy behind destroyed, those people had a short journey ahead to the promised land. But due to their disobedience, they turned a short trip on the expressway into forty years of wandering in the desert, a journey on which nearly all died. What began as God’s straight way became his stiff-necked people’s deadly labyrinth.
But now comes Christ, the one to whom Isaiah and John pointed. In Christ, God and his people are joined. God makes the straight way and his obedient son, the new Israel, makes the way straight. After John preached his gospel of repentance in the desert, no less than Jesus himself comes out to him to be baptized, to go through the water into the wilderness. There he was tempted for 40 days. But he did not wander. The path he blazed was one of obedience–a path through the wilderness of sin, to Jerusalem; yes, even to the cross. There he was lifted up and we, sinners all, beheld his glory.
So who makes the straight way? God? God’s people? Yes, in Christ, yes, where God and his people are met in one.
So repent and believe.