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Prepare HIS Ways

Jun 24, 2018

Passage: Luke 1:76-79

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


In the Name of Jesus. Amen. The Baptist’s ministry was but for one purpose: to prepare us for God’s way. Not our way, but God’s way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).” And then there is God’s way. To us, it might not seem right at all, but it is. It may not appear to lead to life, but it does. It is the right way; it is the good way; it is the way we all need. But it is a way that must be revealed. It must be shown to us. God must get our attention and make us see it. If He doesn’t, then we will remain lost while assuming a false way is a true way.

We underestimate the importance of the right way. And make no mistake, there is a right way, and there is a wrong way. This isn’t a popular thing to say. The world today doesn’t want to talk about right ways and wrong ways. The world wants all ways to be right ways. Imagine that!

Who here has ever had anyone stop and ask you for directions? Imagine deciding that you could respond to the person by giving them ANY set of directions flowing out of your personal conviction that any-and-all answers are equally valid and true. We would never do this. We either provide the reliable way or say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know.” And yet the world wants to pretend that all ways are fine.

The great irony is that the world wants its cake and to eat it too. Most people really do accept right ways. There are right ways to play soccer and table tennis; there are right ways to cook certain dishes; and if you want to get in touch with someone, you need the right contact information; there are right ways to refer to that favorite app or music artist, your favorite restaurant, and the right combinations of this or of that (whether we’re talking chemistry or art); friends want to be called by their right names; and we often hear people describe how they feel when they say things like, “It just didn’t feel right!” or when a person declares with joy, “I’ve found the right one!” So, yes, there is a general sense of right ways…and wrong ways…it is almost as if God created us with a conscience (I think I read that in Scripture somewhere! Ro 2)!

But for some inexplicable state-of-affairs, all reason flies out the window, and logic falls into a pit when the world goes the other way regarding the things of the faith. Here, all bets are off, and what is right is wrong, and what is wrong is often called right. Things of religion and the spiritual become objects of a grab bag, 31 flavors, or as relative as your mood on any given day. Then – all-of-a sudden – the wrong ways are called the right ways and the right ways are called the wrong ways. Such a view towards faith is catastrophic. When people do this, then their lives are never right. In sin, we are beyond stubborn. If we would only hold to the LORD’s right ways…this is why John, the Baptist was sent to begin with.

The Word of God doesn’t support this madness. There really are distinctions between ways. There is the way of the wise and the way of the fool – and similarly -- the way of death and the way of life. The book of Proverbs is rich in these comparisons. This is yet another duality in the Word of God. As God’s people we should strive for the right ways! Proverbs 12:28: “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”

It was therefore John the Baptist’s highest order to prepare the ways of the LORD Jesus Christ. He was coming…how do we prepare for His ways?

Scripture interprets Scripture.

Matthew 3:2-3: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he [John the Baptist] 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.”

Luke 3:4-6: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The LORD’s right ways are an image of repentance. When the Holy Spirit of God convicts us of sin and then works in us faith to see Christ and Christ alone as the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6), then He is known as our way, the right way. Repentance puts aside our desire to follow our own way, and it turns to follow rather the way of Christ.

This past week, I had two people ask me questions on behalf of their friends. Both questions about the faith assumed that the way of the Law was the basis for Christian identity; that the ways to God was to maneuver through the Law’s accusations. If they would ever be right with God, then some-how they had to find a way to God through the Law, but in both cases, the friends of the folks I spoke to were taking the wrong way. The Law of course is good and holy (Ro 7), but it’s job is to show a way of conviction and devastation. The Law leads us to look in the mirror and see that no matter what we do; no matter how hard we try: we come up short, we fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23), and we know nothing but accusation, failure, and ultimately despair.

The Law shows us that on-account of our sin we only know the ways of death…not a pretty picture.

I once knew a young man who was insistent in finding his own way through the ways of the law…it led to his complete frustration. You know the saying of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We try our own ways in pride and selfishness and we cannot fit into the ways of peace and love. Our valleys of despair can’t be filled with worldly stuff; our mountain ego’s and pride cannot go through the ways of life lived for others; our crooked and rough insistence to serve sin will not permit us to serve God. There is only way to go: we have-to have the old man/the old Adam slain and destroyed. There is no negotiating with our sin. The ways in us that want to live for ourselves…that takes life to make it all about me, myself and I must be drowned…because the ways of God is to discover that we were made for God and we were made for others…we were made to love; we were made to be outside of ourselves…the way of Christ is the way of shining a light…an extension of love, joy, and hope for lives that no longer serve sin; but lives that now serve God.

The young man was impacted by a single verse that became his watchword by the grace of God; because everything else he had tried was getting him nowhere fast. But he found this Scripture and ran with it:

Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

But we need to know the full context here in Luke 1 and the ministry of John the Baptist. Again, he was announcing the coming of Jesus. Don’t get the impression that you have-to do some great work to straighten yourself out. Not at all. Repentance at the end of the day is the work of God: He let’s us see our sin and when we do, we just stop struggling, we just stop working, we just fall-down, we just bow our heads before Jesus as He comes. It is a way of saying, “Dear LORD, I can’t do it, but I know that with you, I can do anything (Phil 4:13) …YOU are LORD! YOU and YOU alone are my Savior.” Repentance is God’s way of putting us onto His ways.

What does it look like? What might be the most powerful picture in Scripture of repentance/the highest form of worship is also in Luke’s gospel (chapter 7). Our Confessions state this about what you are about to hear: “The woman came, believing that she should seek forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah (AP 4, paragraph 154).”

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:36-50)

As we simply fall-down, confessing our sin and seeing Jesus come as our only Savior, then the LORD continues to conduct His ways. Verse 77: He instills within you Christian the knowledge of salvation…and it is not an 8-fold path or 4 noble truths; it is not about ascending a mountain or ensuring the right balance between opposite forces; you are not led to work out karma…it is rather about your receiving – not doing – but receiving the forgiveness of sins. Our sinful nature wants to say, “So what do I have to do?” It is the wrong question! This forgiveness of all your sins does not come by your doing, it comes rather through Jesus’ doing…and His doing is finished. It is done! You are forgiven. Some might object, “I don’t feel like it.” That doesn’t matter. You are! This is a fact! When He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary, your sins on Him were covered…He said it, “It is finished! (Jn 19:30).”

What happens when the forgiveness of sins is received? Verse 78? Then you know the tender mercy of God…remember the LORD’s Prayer and explanation of the Introduction: “Our Father who art in heaven.” What does this mean? “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father (Small Catechism).”

And how do we approach our Heavenly Father as dear children to their dear Father? On-account of Christ who has made known to us the tender mercy of our God through His Son. In this way, the sunrise rises upon us and the light of God’s grace – His free love and mercy in Jesus – shines upon us. The shadow of death (all the wrong ways we’ve tried) – are overcome by the light of Christ, and we are led to a new way…His ways…the way of peace! This is our new way: Jesus! And His ways keep us in daily repentance…daily dying to our ways and rising to His ways…repentance and faith; worship and service; witness and love…may these ways always be your ways dear Christian…always…in Christ! In Christ, His way IS yours. He is your way! Thanks be to God!