1. Read Isaiah 40 in its entirety, a beautiful passage of consolation for people of all ages. Also read Matthew 3:1- 3; Mark 1:1-3; John 1:23.
2. John the Baptist is the Advent person. "Advent" means "coming." John told people how they should prepare for Christ's coming.
3. The scepter had departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Shiloh was about to come. Tiberius was emperor in Rome. Pontius Pilate was ruling Judea, Herod Antipas Galilee, Philip Itouria, Lysanias Abilene. Annas and Caiphas were joint high priests. Deep corruption and cruelty in government and religion were common.
4. God's Word, his power, message and call came to the son of Zacharias. Verse 3 is the result of verse 2. John preached in the wilderness on both sides of the Jordan River. He preached a repentance baptism whose purpose was the forgiveness of sins. He preached and he baptized.
5. Cf. the words of the angel to Zacharias, Luke 1:14-17 and the words of Zacharias Luke 1:76-79. John brought forgiveness to sin-sick Israel. John brought light to Israel sitting in darkness. He brought joy and gladness. He reconciled fathers and sons. Cf. Isaiah 40:1-2. He comforted Israel. He pardoned their iniquity. He forgave their sins doubly.
6. In Luke 7:30 Jesus calls John's baptism the gracious plan of God. It was essentially the same as later baptism. Ephesians 4:4 speaks of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." That is reiterated in the Nicene Creed: "I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." John 1:31 clearly tells us that the water-baptism of John revealed Christ to Israel and through that baptism Jesus was baptizing Israel with the Holy Spirit. John 4:1-3 tells us that John and Jesus' disciples baptized side by side. John's baptism, a true means of grace, looked forward to the complete fulfillment of all by Christ and was for Israel only. Baptism after Pentecost looked back on the fulfillment and was for all nations. Perhaps instead of calling them Johannine and Christian baptism we ought refer to them as Old Covenant and New Covenant baptism, lest we give the impression that John's baptism was not Christian.
7. The word "as" at the beginning of verse 4 clearly shows that fulfillment corresponded exactly to prophecy.
8. The first line of the prophecy is found in all four Gospels. Verses 1-3 are found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Luke alone quotes verses 5-6. The first line introduces John: "This was the message of the crier in the wilderness:" Then follows what he cried.
9. "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight" is explained by what follows. By the way, Luke changed "of our God" at the end of verse 4 to "His," meaning "Christ." How does one prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight? By filling every valley, by levelling every mountain and hill, by making the rough smooth and straightening the ways. This is picture language for preparing the highway for the coming of the king. But it means that people should repent. Only God can fill valleys. Only God can level mountains and hills. Only God can cause man to confess his sins. Only the goodness of God leads man to repentance, to confession of his sins. See Romans 2:4 and II Peter 3:9. God brought David to confession of sin. Only the goodness of God brings anyone to confess his sins.
10. Verse 6 is beautiful Gospel, the universal Gospel for all men. It is like John 1:29: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
THEME: The Voice Cries In The Wilderness
We are coming closer to Christmas. John the Baptist prepares us for that. Just as he prepared Israel for Christ's coming, so he still prepares us. The first of Luther's ninety-five theses reads: "When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said `Repent ye' He meant that the whole life of the Christian should be one of repentance." And that's what John the Baptist preached too.
I. THE VOICE DESCRIBES THE SAD CONDITION IN THE WORLD
A. The King cannot come until the way is prepared. In ancient times when a king was about to visit one of the provinces of his kingdom, messengers were sent out to have the highways prepared for his coming. Valleys had to be filled. Mountains and hills had to be cut down. The crooked had to be made straight. Straight paths had to be furnished. Unless these things happened the king could not come.
B. This is picture language for the sad condition of mankind. Our text quotes only two verses from Isaiah 40. But we should look at the remainder of this chapter. Verses 6-8 tell us that man is like grass, like the flower of the field. The grass and the flower fade quickly. Man is mortal because he is a sinner and cannot help himself. Verses 15-17 tell us that man and the nations are as a drop in a bucket in God's sight. Man considers himself great. He is proud. Sin caused that pride. But he is actually nothing. He is not God. Verses 21-23 and 25-26 speak of the wonders of creation. God stretched out the heavens, He set the stars in the sky. He calls every star by name. Man does not like to acknowledge God as the Creator of everything. Man acts as if he has created everything. That shows man his sins and sinfulness toward God.
C. God wants man to repent. Both John and Jesus came saying: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:2; 4:17. First man to acknowledge his sin. Only the goodness of God can cause a man to confess his sins. Romans 2:4. It's like filling valleys and levelling mountains. A huge task. Some of John's hearers were too proud to repent. They thought that descent from Abraham was enough. Verse 8. John warned them. Matthew 3:6 tells us that people came confessing their sins. If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us.," I John 1:9.
II. THE VOICE REVEALS THE SALVATION OF GOD.
A. In prophecy the voice had said: "Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" says your God. "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins." "He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young." "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." That's what Isaiah 40 prophesied about John's preaching. Perhaps John quoted these very words.
B. Our text, verse 6, says "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." John clearly preached Christ and His forgiveness. John baptized many people who came out of the city and the country to confess their sins and believe the Gospel. Some scholars have estimated that John baptized 200,000 people of Israel! That's only an estimate.
You are like grass and flowers, here today, gone tomorrow. But your sins are forgiven in Jesus' name. Amen.