Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Today we celebrate the feast of John the Baptist, who is one of my heroes in the Bible. There is so much to learn from his life, from the moment of his conception to the moment of his death. Both were extraordinary. His father, Zechariah, was a temple priest who was very old. His mother Elizabeth was equally old and barren. One day the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah: “Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born” (see Luke 1:5-25).
Then, as we read in today’s passage, “the child grew and became strong in the spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” What did he do in the wilderness? Here is what Scripture says, and it is very educational, so listen: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:1-2).
It is extremely significant that Luke speaks of emperors and governors and rulers and priests, all people to be reckoned with. Why is it significant? Because Luke is saying that the word of God bypasses royalty and clergy — bypasses people whom the world believes are important — and goes to a single man in the wilderness. Why? Because this man sought God. Do we? We can find him only in the wilderness. Now this need not be in the desert although I would not dissuade you if you wanted to go there. This need not be in the mountains although I wouldn’t dissuade you from going there either. This can be in your room.
Then Luke goes on to say: “John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). His voice was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Luke 3:4). This is OUR job today, to cry out in the world that has become a spiritual wilderness, to be the voice telling people to prepare the way for the return of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. What does that mean — to make his paths straight?
We get a clue from a story you will find in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul and Barnabas were preaching to the proconsul, a man named Sergius Paulus. A magician named Elymas tried to prevent him from listening to the two. Paul said, "You son of the devil, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” So, if the people who prevent the message of the gospel being preached are those who make crooked the paths of the Lord, the ones who preach the gospel are those who make his path straight.
Let us make his paths straight.