“A Voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Matt. 3:3).
The Old Testament begins with the beautiful account of the creation and then very quickly turns sad as we read that sin entered the world by the 3rd chapter of Genesis. Along with the curse, God also gives us a promise that one day he would break the curse: “…he will crush your head and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15b).
In Job 25:4, Job’s friend, Bildad asked the ultimate question: “How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?” Nearly 2,000 years would pass. God would bring forth the nation of Israel, and the law would be given. The next 900 years would be a cycle of chronic disobedience resulting ultimately in the covenant people of God being taken into captivity. It seems that God’s assessment of fallen humanity is true that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21). Man simply cannot be righteous before God.
The Old Testament paints a bleak picture of our sinful condition, and there is no solution contained therein. Yet, it all points forward to the time when God would undo the curse. The Old Testament ends on the ultimate cliffhanger:
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction” (Mal. 4:5-6).
And then the old prophet laid down his pen, and there was silence for over 400 years. In the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, which provides the history of the Jewish revolt against the Greek/Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, the writer makes an interesting observation in chapter 9:27, “So there was great distress in Israel, the worst since the time when prophets ceased to appear among them.” From the time of Malachi until our text in Matthew 3, there is no record of a prophet appearing. The final words of Malachi remind me of the old Ginsu Knife commercials; “WAIT!! THERE’S MORE!” There’s a prophet coming, and it’s going to be HUGE. Remember that when Elijah spoke, things happened. The rain stopped for 3 years; fire came down from heaven, a dead child was raised.
In Matthew 11, Jesus identified John as the Elijah spoken of in Malachi. Now the time has reached its fullness. God is about to undo the curse of sin and redeem his people. This is the climax of all of history. And after more than 400 years of silence, the prophet has appeared who has come to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare people’s hearts to receive him. And over the nearly 2,000 years that have passed, John’s testimony is still preparing hearts to receive the Messiah. Are our hearts prepared?