given on Sunday, April 6, 2014
Prepare. What a packed word! There are so many different ways to talk about that one word and it seems to affect our lives—prepare. Prepare a meal, prepare for guests, prepare for the day’s work, prepare for a trip, prepare for retirement, even prepare for the end.
Prepare ye! Just one more word added on, but it changes the entire perspective. Why prepare ye, or in today’s vernacular, prepare yourself? Adding yourself to that verb creates a simple phrase with an entirely different perspective. Preparing yourself is much more than following a morning routine getting ready for the new day.
When Mark used Isaiah 40:3 to open his gospel, he invoked a reference familiar to the Jewish people yet he was talking to the new Christians of Rome. The reference provides a historical connection to the prophecies the Jewish people knew so well. Using such a key verse can preserve the link of modern humanity to historical humanity.
Prepare Ye the Way. The words woke me. They circle around and around in my head. It triggered memories, questions, and ideas. Why? Each extra word that adds to the phrase becomes more and more weighted. Prepare yourself the way. Now the verb, the personal connection is moving toward the Way.
What way? How does one prepare for the way when it is an unclear destination? Back to the Biblical verses:
Isaiah 40:3 [the NIRV]:
A messenger is calling out,
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord.
Make a straight road through it
for our God.
Mark 1:3 [the NIRV]:
“A messenger is calling out in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
Make straight paths for him.’”
The way is to the Lord. Prepare yourself for the way to the Lord. Isaiah the prophet told his people they needed to prepare the way for the Lord in roughly 681 BC while Mark was repeating the same words to the newest Christians about 750 years later around 60 AD. Here today, in 2014 AD, almost two full millenniums later, these words pop up and circle through my brain.
The common thread continues to weave the generations together; it continues to direct our thinking, our actions, and our purposes toward the Lord, our father, creator, protector, and comforter. The way to the Lord is not a simple path.
Growing up on the farm, preparation is part of the structure of daily life as well as the year’s growing cycle. The farmer follows the cycle God provided for waking up, for working, and for resting. It is a cycle for the day as much as it is for the entire year. Whether it is January or July, the farmer’s pattern is set by the very world God created. Separating God from that life risks the very source of life—God’s creation meant to meet the needs of all.
After the week when farmers tackled the fields to prepare them for the seeds, planted the seeds, and left them to God’s care in the soil to warm and to water for germination is a clear example of preparing the way for the Lord. Once the preparation is complete, farmers know they must place their faith in the Creator.
This same process is what the prophets in the Old Testament had to do with preparing the people for the way of the Lord. Isaiah is full of messages trying to prepare the Jewish people for the way of the Lord. The Bible we know is filled with Old Testament prophets who tried to prepare people. If the people had listened and followed the way of the Lord—loving each other and being good stewards of the earth, would the way to the Lord have included the stories of the New Testament?
In Mark, invoking the words of Isaiah set up the connection to John the Baptist. Rather than starting his gospel with the birth of Jesus, Mark chose to begin with the work of John the Baptist. He reports the preparation that John did to prepare the people for Jesus:
4 And so John came. He baptized people in the desert. He also preached that people should be baptized and turn away from their sins. Then God would forgive them. 5 All the people from the countryside of Judea went out to him. All the people from Jerusalem went too. When they admitted they had sinned, John baptized them in the Jordan River.
John was preparing the way for the Lord. And the way was through the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s son sent to teach all, not just the Israelites, how to live so that all could have eternal life–the way to the Lord.
Prepare Ye the Way! Our millennium is over 2,000 years after Christ walked this earth. Are we listening? Have prophets been carrying the message to the generations since Jesus’ death and resurrection? Have we prepared each other for the coming of Jesus Christ?
During the late 1960’s the chaos that spread through our country seemed to spark a movement that destroyed all the preparation Jesus and the Apostles had done. A survey of history shows that Jesus’ message had been carried by disciples/priests from the cross on the hill to the European continent and across the oceans.
The way has not been easy. The conflicts between men created much of the evil that was witnessed by the Israelites and the earliest Christians. During the 1960s that chaos included the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights, the War on Poverty, and even the Equal Rights Movement. In the middle of this came modern prophecies:
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good
His love endures forever
Hallelujah, oh, my soul
Praise God, all my life long I will praise God
Singing songs to my God as long as I will live
I will praise you, oh Lord, with all my heart
Before the Gods I will sing Your praise
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And will praise Your name for Your loge and Your faithfulness
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way of the Lord. . .
–from Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “Prepare Ye the Way” in the musical Godspell
Prepare ye for the way.
Prepare ye for the way for the Lord.
In today’s society we do not talk about prophets instead the term used is futurists. Typically futurists do not focus on spiritual topics but trends in the lifestyles and/or business. They look at what may be next in how we conduct business. The think tanks do not spend time assessing how humans live as much as they look at what can be done to improve quality of earthly life. Yet, the prophets are there we just do not want to hear the messages.
Godspell prophesized we need to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Just like Mark, the musical goes directly to the prophet Isaiah’s words to prepare ye the way for the Lord. Undoubtedly the parallels are too uncomfortable to discuss, yet in the 1960’s the truth is in the words, not only in Godspellbut in another rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In the theme song, Judas says:
Ev’ry time I look at you
I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You’d have managed better
If you’d had it planned
Now why’d you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you’d come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Isreal in 4 BC
Had no mass communication . . .
Don’t get me wrong, now . . .
Only want to know . . .
Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .
Do you think you’re what they say you are? . . .
Tell me what you think
About your friends at the top
Now who d’you think besides yourself
Was the pick of the crop?
Buddah was he where it’s at?
Is he where you are?
Could Mohomet move a mountain
Or was that just PR?
Did you mean to die like that?
Was that a mistake or
Did you know your messy death
Would be a record breaker?
Don’t get me wrong, now . . .
Only want to know . . .
Who are you? What have you sacrificed . . .
Do you think you’re what they say you are?
–from the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar
Judas set into motion the end of Jesus’ story. He betrayed Jesus, and Jesus knew he would betray him:
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. One of you who is eating with me will hand me over to my enemies.”
19 The disciples became sad. One by one they said to him, “It’s not I, is it?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” Jesus replied. “It is the one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But how terrible it will be for the one who hands over the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Place yourself in Judas’ place. Did he prepare the way of the Lord or not? Had the prophets known that Jesus’ ministry would end in such a betrayal and gruesome manner? Was it part of the plan? During Jesus’ last supper with his family and friends, was he continuing to prepare the way for the Lord?
When we come to the Lord’s table, are we preparing our way to the Lord? Are we a Judas? Are we a Peter? Are we prepared to carry on Jesus’ work or not? Are we prepared?
Today as we share the bread and the cup, do we hear today’s prophets telling us to prepare the way for the Lord or do we just go through the motions with no understanding?
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread. He gave thanks and broke it. He handed it to his disciples and said, “Take it. This is my body.”
23 Then he took the cup. He gave thanks and handed it to them. All of them drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the new covenant,” he said to them. “It is poured out for many. 25 What I’m about to tell you is true. I won’t drink wine with you again until the day I drink it in God’s kingdom.”
Prepare. Get busy. Make sure you have done what God has asked you to do. Live the life given you by God. Share the stories of Jesus. Demonstrate God’s love to one and to all.
Prepare yourself. Do not slide on the very acts of piety needed to keep your Christian faith strong. Pray. Study the Bible. Worship—privately and corporately.
Prepare yourself for the way. The work never stops. Farmers know this all too well, but so do successful parents, businessmen, artists, and more. Preparation is not just an occasional process; it is a daily even lifelong process.
Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. Buried in this phrase is a tiny little word that can make such a difference: of. Think about the implications of that one tiny word:
- . . . the way of the Lord: OF seems to indicate that we are to follow the way of the Lord, not our way—but His way.
- . . . the way to the Lord: TO indicates that through preparation, we will reach God’s side; a goal filled with hope.
- . . . the way for the Lord: FOR the Lord implies that one needs to be open to the possibilities the Lord may have for one’s life; a promise.
What a challenge! What a thrill! What a reward! Prepare yourself for the way of the Lord. The prophets have spoken. Jesus has lived. We are the ones who are to prepare the way.
We hear you.
We know you.
We prepare for you.
Guide us as we prepare
not only ourselves
for the way
of the Lord,
for the way
to the Lord
and to eternal life
by your side. –Amen