In verse one, Luke’s accurate dating of secular rulers shows us that this Gospel can be trusted as a true account of the life of Jesus and His ministry. The dating also gives us a historical context through which we can understand this passage. It would be like writing, “When George Washington was president….”
Luke then moves from the secular to the spiritual in verse two when he mentions the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Annas was Caiaphas’ father-in-law, and although Annas had been high priest before Caiaphas and, by this time, his service in the temple had ended, he most assuredly still influenced his son-in-law’s temple service. This is probably why Luke mentions both men in this verse.
In verse three, John preached around the region of the Jordan, most likely so that he could have access to water for baptism. John preached a baptism of repentance, which indicated a moral change in and a sorrow of sin by the one being baptized.
Luke believed this account of John’s ministry was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah, which is why he quotes Isaiah 40:3-5. In a way, verse four and on can be where we find the most meaningful verses of his passage.
The “wilderness” refers to the time that the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus and before entrance into the Promised Land. Here we can think of ourselves as being in the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land (heaven). Before being saved we are slaves of sin, just as the Israelites were slaves of the Egyptians (figuratively speaking). At the time of a believer’s conversion they are set free from the bondage of sin, much like when God delivered the Israelites from their bondage as slaves of the Egyptians.
Believers are waiting to enter heaven—the Promised Land—when we die or when Jesus comes for His second coming; whichever comes first, we are in our wilderness much like the Israelites were in the wilderness. Understand that God didn’t deliver the Iraelites out of slavery because they were a great people or that they did great things. Instead, it was because God loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). So it is with the believer today; God does not save the believer because of great things that they have done but because He loves them.
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their sins against God. The children of those who were wandering in the desert would be the ones to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14). This is not so with the believer; we have a different purpose for being in the wilderness.
Believers are placed in the midst of the “nations” (unbelievers) to glorify God by reaching the “nations.” Just like the Israelites were placed in the midst of the “nations” for Gods glory and Jesus came in the midst of the “nations” also for God’s glory; all to reach the “nations” for the kingdom of God.
Because God is a missional God; first He “reached” out to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then He gathered a chosen people to “reach” the “nations”, and then He sent Jesus to “reach” the “nations.” Now He sends us to “reach” the “nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). Believers should cry out in the wilderness much like John did.
John is crying out “Prepare the way of the Lord.” When Isaiah uses “prepare” in his verse he uses the word פַּנּ֖וּ. This word carries with it the idea of removing any obstruction that may be in the way. This is figuratively explained in the later verses.
There are six things used in this passage, as it is found in Luke 3, to explain what is meant by “Prepare the way”:
- Make his paths straight.
- Every valley shall be filled.
- Every mountain and hill shall be made low.
- The crooked shall become straight.
- The rough places shall become level ways.
- All flesh shall see the salvation of God.
As said before, this is figurative language that Isaiah uses and we can certainly picture in our minds what is being described here—all obstacles removed for the coming of the Lord—but number six is the most important.
Luke says that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6) Isaiah says it like this, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5)
God’s ultimate desire is to glorify His name. He created us for His glory (Isaiah 43:7) and He redeems us for His glory (1 Corinthians 6:20). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that through their seed will come the Messiah who will redeem the world from sin.
With Christmas right around the corner, remember that Jesus came to die so that you may have life. Knowing this, cry out in the wilderness, “prepare the way,” so that others may also have life. Tell them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) ESV