Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Preparing for Christmas 2022 - 1. Prepare - Isaiah 40:3

December 03, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Preparing for Christmas 2022 - 1. Prepare - Isaiah 40:3
Show Notes Transcript

Twenty minutes from at for ,
The first in a short series preparing for Christmas 2022 - on this occasion on location in the livestock market-  on the theme 'Prepare'

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A near-transcript is available on this page.

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•        Introduction

The standard Christmas conversation opener, I suppose, that we start hearing about at this time of year now becomes ‘Are you ready for Christmas yet?’

The question can take various forms, relating to how ready your decorations are, whether you’ve posted your Christmas cards off, and later on I the season it can include questions about whether you’ve got the food shopping in hand … but the general underlying theme of all of these relates to whether your preparation is in hand and whether or not you are at an appropriate level of readiness for what  a proper Christmas really ought to be.

Are you ‘ready’, or are you about to be found out and caught out ‘on the Day’?

Welcome to our Christmas 2022 serious of Biblical ‘Think In’ sessions under the general banner heading: ‘Prepare!’

And today we take a look at Isaiah 40:3

“A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.”

What’s going on here?

         •        Welcome to Isaiah chapter 40

Isaiah chapter 40 has, by definition, been a long time coming.

It’s chapter FORTY.

A 70,000-90,000-word novel will typically include 15-25 chapters … Isaiah is an epic of 66 chapters so we are currently (in ch. 40) about 2/3 of the way in … and this chapter herald a bit of a sea-change, as do the events it prophesies.

Isaiah is written in the closing years of the monarchy in Israel when the people’s idolatry, the consequent immorality that flowed from that and the loss of compassion for the poor which resulted from abandoning following the God of all compassion … these three things have so affected Israel’s behaviour that God had resolved to withdraw His special favour and judge their rulers, priests and people because they had rebelled against Him and left His ways.

But for all his heralding of God’s coming righteous judgement, Isaiah keeps returning to the consequences of God’s mercy, which would see Him graciously restoring His returning people to His favour and the inheritance that His covenant promised to them … and more than that.

A great reversal was coming in the fortunes of the historic people of God, but more than that.

This coming reversal was so that God’s blessing would flow out beyond Israel to all the nations, just as God had promised to Abraham way back in Genesis chapter 12.

Chapters 1-39 of Isaiah contain three sections of God’s judgement on Israel which winds up in ch. 39 (the one before our verse) with a huge event … the fall of Jerusalem and the Exile of God’s people OUT of the land God gave them to the big bad pagan city of Babylon, a by-word for everything evil and in rebellion against God.

You want to rebel against God?


To ‘rebel central’ you shall go.

Have some of that!

And it was about one hundred years after Isaiah that this all came to pass.

Chapters 40-66 of Isaiah, following the prediction of the Fall of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon, then pick up what’s been a sporadic theme of the hope of God saving His people AND the nations and develops that theme of hope further.

So, Isaiah 40 is where that turning of the tides now begins.

Isaiah’s greater hope was for a NEW purified Jerusalem where God’s Kingdom would be restored under a new Messiah-King … and under Him ALL nations would be brought together to His salvation and under His Kingly authority, in PEACE.

Chapters 40-48 begin with an announcement of comfort and hope for Israel.

The theme here is the announcement that (in future time) the Babylonian exile is over, that Israel’s sin has been dealt with and that a new era is beginning.

Now, bear in mind, this is a prophetic statement about a time that is coming … but delivered in the present tense as if it were stressing the certainty of the new situation that is going to dawn, as if it is declared now in Heaven and therefore certain to be realised in the time that WILL be certainly coming.

What is going happen?

A new Messianic King will come to replace all the Kings Israel’d had who had abandoned God, along with their priests and people, and He will establish His Kingdom of peace and forgiveness of sins at Jerusalem … drawing all nations into His Kingdom in fulfilment of the Genesis 12 promises to Abraham, the father of the faithful.

So here comes our verse which lies at the turning point of this coming future time …

“Comfort, comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

    that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord[a];

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.[b]

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

    every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

    the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

God is transforming the situation.

Reversing the time of dispossession, God-forsakeness and abandonment as non-citizens, exiles … outsiders in a foreign land.

Restoring His Kingdom … but YOU have a part you must play, says this passage (and here’s the point)

““In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.”

         •        Prepare

The key word in all this .. and the key Biblical theme we’re looking at I the run-up to celebrating the Lord’s coming … is ‘prepare’.

The Hebrew word here is  פָּנָה (pa.nah) and interestingly enough it means ‘to turn’.

This word occurs about 134 times in the Old Testament.

Our translations have ‘prepare’, but this word generally means ‘turn’.

The people Isaiah addresses are people who find themselves in all sorts of trouble because they turned away from the Living God to follow a sinful path through life.

Now they will be restored as they turn away from sin and back to the God Who secures their salvation in the coming King-Messiah.

It’s a turning from the things that must be turned from.

It is a turning to the One Who must be turned to in order to have Him restore and redeem them from their captivity in ‘rebel central’ … because, make no mistake, although it masquerades as ‘freedom’, this place ‘rebel central’ is in fact a place of deep and desperate bondage to sin and self.

That’s the turning from and the turning to that is in question here.

But what sort of turning or preparing is in mind here?

Well … it involves road straightening, raising the way through the valleys and lowering the hills; levelling uneven ground and making the rough places into a plain.

That’s the way v. 4 expands on and explains what preparing the way of the Lord entails.

So here we have some picture language … metaphors that point to a reality that lies beyond their more literal meanings.

Now, the imagery is of a king returning after being away for quite a while.

Returning possibly in triumph, definitely to take up His authority once more … coming to reign and rule in practice and in reality after a while when His immanence was not apparent.

And what happens as the result of this process, what this process facilitates, is that: (v.5) “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together.”

What happens at Christmas?

We celebrate God the King returning to a people that have abandoned Him and consequently been abandoned by Him …

The King returning in such a way that His GLORY is revealed … all His awesome, Sovereign authority …

But here’s the absolute kicker:

ALL flesh shall see it, together.

ALL flesh.

You see, He is coming in through … where?

         •        In the Wilderness

The word here is מִדְבָּר ( 'wilderness’.

This word occurs about 269 times in the Old Testament … there was lots of Wilderness in Israel’s history, both literal and spiritual.

The word meant wilderness, pasture or uninhabited land.

It was the large tracts of land left wild in that semi-arid climate, the stuff outside and around the cities, unprofitable, uncultivated and unfruitful.

And it was THERE that the voice crying out for preparation for the King’s coming got raised.

Most translations render this as “desert” (KJV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NIV 2011, Holman), “wilderness” (NIV 1984), or “wasteland” (NLV). The rift valley (עֲרָבָה, ʿaravah), which extends from Galilee to the Gulf of Aqaba, is quite arid and desert-like in the areas near the Dead Sea and southward (see the note at Num 22:1). 

But the point here has more to do with preparation for a royal visit. 

To come to Jerusalem from the east requires coming through the rift valley (or Jordan Valley). 

Thematically, God is typically portrayed as coming to Israel from the east. 

Similarly in the Gospel accounts Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east.

That idea of making a highway through the desert is a strange image, a counter-intuitive concept … generally speaking when a new King is coming you paint the barracks, spruce up the entrance to the city and the inner urban areas, sort out the flower beds.

But this voice isn’t in town calling for urban or peri-urban preparations.

It’s a voice in the desert calling for inter-state highways to be built through them so that the King can come in through the spiritual wildernesses of this world to establish His Kingly rule at the heart of His people.

What is being called for in response to the coming of the King to re-instate His rule and reveal His Kingly authority and awesome splendour - His faith-commanding Glory - amongst His wilderness people?

Road building.

         •        A highway for our God

V. 3b “prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.

The Hebrew for ‘highway' (me.sil.lah)   מְסִלָּה occurs about 27 times in the Old Testament and means a highway, a raised way, a public road.

Heb “make level a built road.” 

The verb יָשַׁר (yashar) in the Piel means “to make smooth, or straight.” 

Then that noun מְסִלָּה (mesillah) typically refers to a main road, possibly paved with stones or made level with fill.

It’s all about creating the conditions for the King to come in smoothly, quickly, without any let or hindrance, with all obstacles removed to His taking up His Kingly rule and authority, as all peoples see His Glory, and His awesome, restorative process, His reversal of His people’s deepest woes coming to fruit without delay, let or hindrance.

How do we help that and not hinder it?

(Here comes the conclusion …)

         •        Conclusion

It is a pretty constant theme of Scripture that (as 2 Chronicles 7:14 puts it) “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

The blessing of God, after times of rebellion and what feels like God-abandonment, flows to those who repent and turn back to the Lord.

And then He comes powerfully back to His people.

V. 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”

The Lord’s “glory” here is his theophanic radiance and royal splendour: His radiance and splendour when as God He shows up.

God’s Glory is quite a thing in Isaiah … it’s what absolutely rivets Isaiah’s attention in his call vision in Isaiah 6:3.

And that awe-inspiring character of the presence of God crops up again in Isaiah 24:23; 35:2; 60:1 and 66:18-19.

It is the riveting ‘otherness’ and Divine splendour that hits you when you are in the presence of God that was known to the Old Testament prophets, amongst others.

The IMPACT of the presence of the Holy and Almighty One.

And THAT immediacy of God’s holy, powerful, AWESOME presence is what will strike the ‘all people’ when the King Messiah appears at Jerusalem to deal with the consequences of sin and unite the new Kingdom of God under His messianic rule.

ALL flesh.

ALL people.

“all flesh shall see it together” (v. 5)

We can see that’s a good thing, a great thing … how to prepare for it?

You see, the focus of the call on us here is to PREPARE the Way for His coming.

How do you do that?

Well, possibly the key lies in the word we translate ‘prepare’ but which usually means ‘to turn’.

We make His way straight and direct and hindrance-free as we turn.

I was driving to a Christian evangelistic meeting with a prominent overseas farmer-evangelist speaking at it years ago now and I had a minor navigational inexactitude on the way because I was travelling from an unaccustomed direction, so I stopped at a field gate where two local farmers were chatting over a quad bike and asked the way.

They were mildly amused because they realised straight away not only where I was trying to get to but WHAT I was trying to get to so when I asked directions they didn’t immediately give directions but immediately smiled wryly and asked in a local accent ‘do you think he’s going to turn you?’

Now,of course, the situation was only going to be turned around if I gave them bak a bit of banter so I came straight back with ‘He’s too late for me - that happened long ago - but if you come along too he might turn you!’

After answering their question about how that happened to me long ago they gave me directions and I went on my way … but, look, they’d got a pretty accurate (if dismissive) yet of what it is the Gospel of the King Who came calls for from a man, from a woman.

He comes to rule and reign … and so He did that first Christmas.

And He comes to reverse the sin-sourced predicament of His wayward people … and so He did potentially for ALL peoples as He hung and died on the Cross and then was raised to life for such sinners’ justification.

And it’s realised by each individual individually … as each individual turns FROM sin, TO trusting in Jesus, in His Word, in His message of salvation, in His being authoritative rule over ME.

The King of Creation come at Christmas.

The Light and the Saviour of the world.

It is time.

Preparation time.

Whenever in the history of His people that He has come and His Glory has been revealed there has been a preparation time when His people have turned back to Him in repentance and faith.

It is time to turn.

To turn ‘from’ and to turn ‘to’.

He takes all comers.

But He did once come (that first Christmas) which seals the parallel Scriptural promises that He is coming back again.

And it is time to prepare, as the Hebrew word says, ‘to turn’.

We will see later (in two weeks time) how that message gets picked up and intensified just before Christ’s public ministry starts in the preaching of His earthly cousin in the wilderness, around the fords of the Jordan around 30 AD.

But the point of all this here in Isaiah today is this, are you ready to personally prepare the way for this Lord Jesus?

Then you must turn.