Ps. 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thess. 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.
Way, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’ in the words of Isaiah the prophet” (v. 23).
JB is at a tributary across the Jordan, probably near where Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land. “All Judea and Jerusalem” (Mk. 1:5) were coming to John’s baptism; including Pharisees and Sadducees afraid of not seen to receive baptism; these hypocrites, John called, “brood of vipers” (Mt. 3:7).
John had not known Jesus, except perhaps as one of his followers (Jn. 1:27a). It was only when Jesus presented himself for Baptism and the descent of the HS on Jesus, that JB recognized the object of his ministry; witnessing and giving urgent voice to the presence of God’s Anointed and Lamb; that this moment in Israel was receiving the Lord’s long-promised Jubilee favor (Isa. 61:2a).
Only after John had testified to “all Judea and Jerusalem” of Jesus as Christ, do Jerusalem authorities send a delegation of priests and Levites to interrogate JB, himself the son of the high priest, Zechariah (Lk. 1:8-11).
Neither the delegation nor the sending Pharisees, believed John’s witness of Jesus; they would have rather he affirm himself “Christ”; after all, John was of a noble high priestly family who suddenly appeared much in the aspect of the prophet Elijah. John refused to withdraw his witness (Jn. 1:20; cf. Lk. 3:15); rather he humbly positions his stature far below Jesus (Jn. 1:27).
As for his own status in salvation history JB merely joined with Isaiah’s prophetic vocation and that of Zion’s priesthood, directing his “wilderness cry” to his examiners: “You all (2nd person plural) make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23); as if to say, “it now falls to you to give Zion’s strong voice to advent good news of God’s anointed, heralding to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:3, 9).
600 years earlier Isaiah was God’s “voice” to Israel for promise and hope through its priesthood and elders, that their Babylonian captivity would end and true religion restored. Those priests, dispossessed of the temple, were to assure the people that God’s anger over idolatry would end; He would provide both a “savior” (Cyrus) and a “straight path” leading back to the Land and Jerusalem.
Isaiah prepared Israel for its coming salvation in repentance, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 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” (40:1, 2).
Centuries after Israel’s exodus out of Babylon, JB was confronted by the Jerusalem delegation over his witness to Jesus, the Christ and Comfort of God’s people; as for himself John admits only to being a “voice” which they will either accept or reject.
These “religious” arbiters rejected John’s witness and his commission to them, that they be Zion’s strong voice to the cities of Judah (v. 9). Instead, the good news of Christ in their midst, turned these “religious ones” into implacable enemies of God’s salvation. Ironically, rejecting John’s witness, they were making a “straight path” for Jesus to his cross, the place of God’s glory.
Those rejecters of Jesus, would mean his death for evil; but God meant it for good, even as the patriarch Joseph became comforter to his brothers who sold him into slavery (Gen. 50:19-21).
JB was the witness-voice of Him who is Speech of God, the incarnate substance of Light for knowing God that overcomes our estrangement from the Divine. NT Zion, wherein the HS resides, is “voice” of Christ (Jn. 3:8; Isa. 40:9). If the Jerusalem priests and Pharisees rejected being “voice” to Jesus, the NT church proclaims reception of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood to be God’s glorious Way and Wisdom.
JB gave voice to Word and Light come into the world on Christmas night (Jn. 1:8, 9); today Zion, heralds the Child, acclaiming, “Behold your God!”, the comfort of the world that will receive God’s Jubilee favor (cf. Lk. 2:14).
Sinful man pits his own wisdom and will against God. But Jesus, heaven’s Light in our mist, urges obedience in his Way, that of the cross, for discerning our new exodus out of this “veil of tears” in the power of the Resurrection, here and now.
In a fallen world we are incapable of obedience to the Father, of conducting ourselves to reflect his character and holiness (cf. Mt. 5:48); yet Jesus on the cross is true Man and true Israel in our place, revealing the image of God in his likeness (Gen. 1:26). By Baptism we walk in Christ for the gift of repentant forgiveness.
The Light the church possesses of Jesus’ Torah wisdom makes a way straight for resurrection faith and sacramental worship. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness; we are God’s planting, “oaks of righteousness” (61:3c). By faith in Christ, we approach the Father’s glory in absolute safety to behold the Face of a loving and tender Father, even as we all fall short (Rom. 3:23).
When we do, we are to attend the “voice” of St. Paul, exhorting us to remain in the Way (1 Thess. 5:16-24); “rejoice always” (v. 16) in the Lord for what he has done for us and the comfort his presence provides. We “pray without ceasing” (v. 17) knowing that baptismal life in the Word is our on-going conversation in God’s wisdom, who is Christ.
We give “thanks in all circumstances” (v. 18) trusting that in our every difficulty God intends only our good. By all means, “do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19) despising or ignoring his prophecy in the congregation. The HS is active in his Word for receptive hearts, making straight our way to the cross.
“Test everything” (v. 21a) by Light of the word. Every circumstance in the world presents a crisis of choice. Because we possess the Light we are able to decide for or against every condition in which we are found.
“Hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil” (vv. 21b, 22). This is the work of God, by Word, Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Supper. St. Paul concludes, “[God] is faithful; he will surely do it” (v. 24). Amen.