Make His Paths Straight: Getting Our Hearts Ready for the King

Photo by onnola

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

(Matthew 1:1-3, ESV)

The word translated “straight” can also read “level,” a translation that perhaps gives us a better picture of John the Baptist’s role in Israel’s story.

In the ancient world, roads were not paved as they are now, and even the best of them would quickly become damaged by rain, by flooding, by heat, by the constant treading of camels and cattle and people and armies and whatever else.

The “way” into a city would be marred, rough, uneven.

When a significant individual was due to come for a visit, then — say a king or a conquering general — a sort of herald or crier would be sent out to announce his coming and galvanize the people into, literally, preparing the way.

They would level raised places and raise up collapsed areas. They would clear boulders and debris and fill in holes.

All of their efforts were to create a smoother, straighter path.

The same type of imagery is seen in Jesus’s triumphal entry, when palm branches and coats were laid in the street before him to create a clean, level way into the city. As they shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, they were consciously welcoming a king.

In describing John the Baptist, Matthew is quoting Isaiah 40:3-5, which gives a fuller picture of the scope of the preparation needed:

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 a 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.”

Making Jesus’s paths straight was not a simple matter of filling in a few potholes and smoothing out a few gravel piles; it was a matter of lifting up entire valleys, lowering whole mountains.

For this wasn’t just any king coming behind John: it was the LORD himself. This highway was not prepared simply for an earthly heir to David’s dynasty but for our very God.

The imagery here is not literal but figurative. It speaks of “leveling the playing field” in a sense, doing away with the distinctions of power and wealth and poverty and oppression. It speaks of the Great Reversal that Jesus came to bring.

Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;e
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
(Isaiah 40:9)

With John’s infamous cry “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Isaiah’s prophecy takes on an urgent personal note.

As the disciples discovered, Jesus’s intention was not to manifest and enforce his kingship politically or geographically right off the bat. Instead, the cry becomes to prepare the way in our hearts, in our lives.

Make low the pride that stands in our way.

Lift up the love and faith that has lain dormant in our hearts.

Reach out to our fellow human beings in humility and honor. Do away with the distinctions that divide us.

Smooth out the rough places where God has not been welcome.

Level the uneven ground.

Do whatever it takes to be ready for him —

The one who is coming, who is here, who is ready to reveal his glory and come through the gates of our lives, is the Ancient of Days, the Mighty God of old.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah.
(Psalm 24:7-10, ESV)



, ,




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *