Prepare the way of the Lord
Luke 3:1-18

v2  the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  Did you pick it up as I read it earlier – I hope so, for here we see John the Baptist being brought on to the scene of History. 30 years have passed since he was last mentioned  at His naming ceremony –  Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58  And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.  59  And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.  60  And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.  61  And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62  And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63  And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.  Luke 1:57-63

Do you remember the story? How, John’s father, Zacharias had doubted the words of the angel who told him his wife would bear a son and how as a consequence of that doubt he had been struck dumb and remained dumb until the naming ceremony – v64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. Do you remember how the Spirit of God filled the lips of Zacharias and how he prophesied?

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77  To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.

30 years . . . the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  

So it begins with the Word of God – when God wants to set His people on fire He uses the His word.  The Greek word in our text is rhema rather than logos. It was not the whole of truth that came to him; but a specific message from God. Just a few words can bring amazing results when it is a word from God. “The word of the Lord came to John.”

Have you ever taken some time to thumb through your Bible and look the other times when “the word of the Lord” came.

In Gen.15 Abraham was weary from a battle in which he rescued Lot. He was discouraged because God’s promise to him concerning a son had not come to pass. Since it wasn’t happening he had even come up with an alternate plan. Listen to what he says to God in v 3, “And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Now watch God light a new fire of hope in the mind and heart of Abraham. Gen 15:4  Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’ 5 He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’

How graciously God helped and encouraged Abraham’s faith? When I read this passage I see a loving Father tenderly taking his son by the hand and leading him outside the tent and directing his attention to the vast heaven above. Gen.15:5 And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be..’

From that day forward every time Abraham looked at those stars he was reminded of God’s promise to him. Abraham’s response is in the next verse 6, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness..” Faith is strengthened when “the word of the Lord” comes.

1 Kings 18:1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth..’  The word of the Lord came to Elijah…I will send rain…” Do you remember how Elijah responded to that word? He confronted the prophets of Baal and called the people back to God. Here’s something I like about Elijah. He spoke in faith the word that God had put in his heart.
1 Kings 18:41 “Then Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.’. Elijah not only acted in Faith, he spoke in Faith – It took faith because externally there was nothing happening to verify that word. They ground was just as cracked and dry as it had ever been. There was not one cloud in the sky. But Elijah had this in his heart, the word of the Lord had come to Elijah. His response to “the word of the Lord” was not passive in any way. We see him on the top of Mount Carmel interceding for the rain God had promised.

A word from the Lord is a call to spiritual activity, not some apathetic wait and see mentality. Six times he sent his servant to look for some token of God’s answer to prayer. Six times the servant came back with nothing to report. But on the seventh time—if we can just persevere to the seventh time—on the seventh time the servant reported “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” I think the servant may have been a bit apologetic about such a small token of promise. Could you expect a mighty outpouring based on a tiny cloud the size of a man’s hand?

Everybody believes its going to rain when the sky is full of thunder clouds. I don’t think this servant was especially excited about that tiny cloud as small as a man’ hand. But that was not all that Elijah had to go on—for earlier “the word of the Lord” had come to Elijah.

Isa.38:4 And the word of the LORD came to Isaiah, saying, 5  “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will add to your days fifteen years.  I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city..” God wants to say to somebody this morning, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears…and I will deliver you and this city…” Hezekiah needed a physical healing. He had sought God for an answer. Then the word of the LORD came …” There was healing in that word. Ps 107:20 “He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” The deliverance was not just for Hezekiah; it affected the whole city. “I will deliver you and this city.”

The coming of the word of the Lord is all through the book of Jeremiah.  It launched his ministry. Jer 1:4 “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” The greatest qualification for ministry is not a Theology degree, as helpful as that might be. It is not a good personality and great people skills. It’s not musical talent nor oratory ability. All of those can be helpful. But none will replace this one thing, “The word of the LORD came to me…”

Is anyone here facing an impossible situation? Jer 32:26 “Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’ There is power in the word of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were formed.

The word of the Lord carries with it it’s own capacity for fulfilment. Do you remember the coming of the the angel, Gabriel, to Mary, Luke 1:26-34  Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  28  And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29  But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30  Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His  Father David. 33  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34  Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”    You will be familiar with the angels reply, in particular the words – For with God nothing will be impossible. (v37),  well the literal translation of these words is – “For with God no rhema, word,  will be impossible.” Whatever God says, what ever word He gives, he will bring to pass.  

Are you baffled by life’s experiences? Is there something going on in your life that simply does not make sense? Jer 33:1 Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the prison, saying, 2  “Thus says the LORD who made it, the LORD who formed it to establish it (the LORD is His name): 3  ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

Here is God’s free-man “confined in the courtyard of the prison.” It doesn’t make sense. Is the arm of the Lord too short to deliver His servant? No, He is the One who made the earth and established it. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” God can give us answers in 2011 that we didn’t have in 2010. There are plenty of things we do not know. But we know One who has all the answers. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Our part is to call on the Lord. Are you calling on Him for the answers?

Zech.8:1-8 Again the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, 2  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; With great fervour I am zealous for her.’ 3  “Thus says the LORD: ‘I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the LORD of hosts, The Holy Mountain.’ 4  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Old men and old women shall again sit In the streets of Jerusalem, Each one with his staff in his hand Because of great age. 5  The streets of the city Shall be full of boys and girls Playing in its streets.’ 6  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘If it is marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, Will it also be marvellous in My eyes?’ Says the LORD hosts. 8:7  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east And from the land of the west; 8  I will bring them back, And they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people And I will be their God, In truth and righteousness.’

Do you know what the word of the Lord does in this passage? It reveals the heart of God toward His people. We stumble along in our efforts to serve God—so much imperfection. How will we ever arrive at our destination? How will we ever be called “the City of Truth” with so much frailty and imperfection? The zeal of the Lord will accomplish it. He will come not because we deserve it but because it is His heart toward us. “This is what the LORD says: ‘I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem..’” That is His heart toward us.

Now come back with me to our text and appreciate the significance of that one statement in Luke 3:2 “the word of the Lord came to John”.

It came to a man ready to receive it. John had probably been in that wilderness for a full decade. As the son of a priest he could have entered the priesthood when he was 20 years old. He could have been living in comfort and wearing linen garments. He could have been in the temple. But that’s not where John spent those 10 years of preparation. He spent them in a hot, dry dessert. God’s training program is usually more demanding than the status quo. It takes character to carry the anointing of God and faithfully deliver the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord came to a man in the wilderness. The lesson is this: Be where God puts you. The way to success in the world is to know the right people and move in the right circles. The way to success in the kingdom of God is to be available to the Holy Spirit.

What was John’s word? “Prepare the way of the Lord”. Those are the words I heard in my spirit that drew me to this text. How can we prepare the way of the Lord?

1st we must receive the word of the Lord. Before anyone will prepare, that person must be convinced there is something to prepare for. Current events have heightened our awareness of the importance of preparation.

John went before Jesus telling them to prepare for His coming. Only those who received that word were ready. Several of Jesus’ disciples had probably been John’s disciples.  They had heard the word of the Lord and prepared themselves.

2. We must make the appropriate preparations for the coming of the Lord. I could say that concerning Jesus’ second coming. Our life should be characterized by a holy anticipation of His return.  The New Testament makes that abundantly clear. But this morning I want to apply the principle to anytime the Lord is about to manifest Himself in a special way. God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. So in one way He is always there. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer. So in a sense He never leaves us. But there are times when God comes on the scene for special purposes. That happened at Mount Sinai. It happened when Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promise Land. It happened at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. It most certainly happened on the Day of Pentecost. It happened at the revival in Samaria when Phillip preached. It happened at the house of Cornelius and at Philippi and Ephesus and Corinth. It came to a people prepared to receive it.

To prepare the way of the Lord is primarily a matter of preparing our hearts for intimacy with Him. The key preparation John spoke about was repentance—not only a change of mind and attitude but a change of behaviour that accompanies that.

In v8 John told the people to bear fruits worthy of repentance,.” They asked for more specifics. So he gave them the practical application for their individual lives and in doing so showed them why they were not prepared. Luke 3:10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” The general issue here is selfishness, stinginess, materialism. Anybody here have two tunics? Anybody have a closet full of tunics?

V12 “Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.” (Dishonest gain—a little lie here and there—a little leaven in the business dealings)
V14 “Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.”

Godliness with contentment is great gain. Notice how money is such an issue for these people. Why does John hit covetousness so hard? Because it is the most prevalent of all sins and it will rob us of God’s best. “No man can serve two masters.” It is very, very easy for good people to get caught up in the pursuit of things and miss God’s purpose for their lives.

How do we prepare the way of the Lord? We prepare our hearts through prayer and meditation.  

Are there any corners in the heart that need to be prepared?  Un forgiveness toward a brother or sister in the Lord? Let’s not tolerate things in our hearts that we would not tolerate in the open. These are the kind of things that we deal with when we prepare the way of the Lord.