- Sermon Notes
Make Straight the Way of the Lord
December 19, 2021
ILLUS – My first and last college Calculus class.
1. It is unnerving to feel or be unprepared.
2. And, when it comes to our lives and what happens after this life is over, it’s important for us to know God’s heart for us, that He doesn’t want us to be unprepared for the moment we stand in His presence.
3. In fact, from John 1:19-34 we will discover what God has done to help us prepare for that moment, how He has, in essence, made “straight the way,” so that we will be ready and joyful when we behold God for the first time.
1. Two weeks ago, we started a new study through the Gospel of John.
2. During our study of John 1:1-13, we noted how John boldly declared that Jesus is eternally God the Son, the Agent and Sustainer of Creation, the Life and the Light of men.
3. Then during our study of John 1:14-18, we noted that John also declared that Jesus Christ is fully human.
John 1:14, And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. . .
4. This means that Jesus Christ has two natures, divine and human, which were joined into one being, so that He is fully God and fully man.
5. This doctrine is called the hypostatic union, the joining of Jesus’ two natures.
6. This is an essential doctrine of the historic Christian faith.
a. If Jesus is not fully God, then we do not have a perfect, sinless Savior whose life is of infinite worth to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.
b. And, if Jesus is not fully man, then we do not have a Savior because He could not truly identify with fallen humanity and represent us on the Cross at Calvary to pay the penalty for our sins.
c. But since Jesus is fully God and fully man, we have a Savior, One who represents God to us and us to God.
7. Which bring us once again to the Apostle John’s purpose in writing his Gospel. . .
John 20:31, but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
8. In keeping with the purpose of his Gospel, the Apostle John next introduces us to the first of seven eyewitnesses in his Gospel who testify to Jesus Christ being the Son of God; his name was John the Baptist.
9. John the Baptist is a unique figure in the Bible because he is mentioned in all four Gospels.
10. Since John the Baptist plays such a significant role in the Gospels, it is important for us to understand who John the Baptist was and his testimony about Jesus Christ.
Transition – First, when it comes to who John the Baptist was, it is important to note that. . .
I. John Prepared the Way for Messiah
• God promised Israel that He would raise up prophets, like Moses, to lead His people after Moses died.
Deuteronomy 18:18, I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
• God faithfully raised up prophet after prophet to direct Israel just as He had promised.
• But that all changed after the prophet Malachi; there were four hundred years of silence because God did not raise up a prophet for Israel.
• Now, God warned Israel that this was going to happen through the prophet Amos for he prophesied about a period of silence over three hundred years before it happened.
Amos 8:11, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the LORD, But they will not find it.”
• What was God’s purpose in not sending a prophet to Israel for four hundred years?
ILLUS – The “Silent Treatment” is unnerving.
APPL – So God was quiet for four hundred years because Israel was not listening to His prophets.
• In many ways, there was a divine message in the heavenly silence.
• What was God’s message? “Listen to My prophets!”
• You see, God does not play games with us.
• There is too much at stake when it comes to the eternal destiny of every soul that has been made in God’s image.
Transition – What were some of the last prophetic words that Israel heard through the prophet Malachi?
Malachi 3:1, Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.
Malachi 4:1-2, 5, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root or branch. But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.”
• Then, after four hundred years, a man dressed in a garment of camel hair with a leather belt fastened around his waist, whose diet consisted of locusts and wild honey appeared on the scene.
Matthew 3:4, Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
• Why the diet, locusts and wild honey?
• Why the outfit, a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt to complete the ensemble?
o The dress linked John to another great prophet in Israel’s history, Elijah.
Transition – According to 2 Kings 1:8, the prophet Elijah. . .
2 Kings 1:8, “was a hairy man with a leather girdle about his loins.”
o Like John the Baptist, God had called Elijah during a very dark time in Israel’s history with a similar message, “Repent!”
o John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea preaching. . .
Matthew 3:1-2, Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
A. Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand
1. Four hundred years of silence were over.
2. All four Gospels link John the Baptist with a prophecy given by the prophet Isaiah seven hundred years earlier.
Isaiah 40:3-5, A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
3. Isaiah 40 refers to the highway construction workers who were called to clear the way in the desert for the return of the Lord as His people, the exiles, returned from captivity in Babylon in 537 B.C.
4. Likewise, John was in the desert preparing the way for the Lord by calling God’s people to return to Him.
a. Israel had fallen away from the Lord.
b. They had replaced a relationship with the living God for burdensome rules and regulations.
c. Israel had the mastered the art of looking religious but their hearts were far from the Lord.
5. So, John’s message was simple yet confrontational, “Repent.”
APPL – Now John the Baptist’s message is not what some today would call a “Seeker-Friendly” sermon.
• Unfortunately, many churches today “soften” the Gospel to avoid offending anyone.
• These pastors want people to feel comfortable so they entertain them before they gently introduce the Gospel.
• But when you look at John’s message, there is nothing “soft” about it.
• Yet large crowds from Jerusalem and Judea came out to the Jordan River to confess their sins and be baptized by him according to Matthew 3:5-6.
• The truth is, “repent” is a good word.
o To repent means to “turn around,” “to have a change of heart and mind” which is confirmed by our choices.
o To repent means to get off the wide road that leads to destruction and walk the narrow path that leads to God.
• John wasn’t trying to verbally assault or harass people by calling them sinners.
• John was trying to pry their eyes open to see the dangerous path they were traveling on, so that they may get on the right path, the narrow way that leads to eternal life; the path that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14. . .
Matthew 7:13-14, Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
6. Why did Israel need to repent? Because the “kingdom of heaven is near.”
a. This means God’s rule in heaven will be extended to earth through the Messiah.
b. God was offering His Kingdom, so John was preparing Israel for its arrival; fulfilling his divine calling by “making straight the way of the Lord.”
APPL – Jesus Christ and John the Baptist proclaimed the same message which is why Jesus taught His disciples to pray for our heavenly Father’s kingdom to come and His will to be done.
Matthew 6:9-10, Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
7. Word of John the Baptist’s ministry quickly spread throughout the region.
8. John 1:19 records that one day Jews from Jerusalem, Israel’s religious elites, sent a delegation of priests and Levites to interrogate John the Baptist.
9. They wanted to know “who” John was.
John 1:20-21, And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
10. First, please notice how John’s response get progressively shorter. Why? Because John the Baptist was sent to talk about the Messiah and not about himself.
11. It’s also important to note that in the First Century, many Jews anticipated the coming of Messiah but some groups, like the Essenes at Qumran, also expected the coming of three figures to establish God’s Kingdom: a prophet, a priestly messiah, and a royal messiah.
12. Since John the Baptist was baptizing in a region near the Essenes of Qumran, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem were likely wondering which one John was.
13. John the Baptist categorically denied being the Christ.
a. John preceded the Christ.
b. John pointed to the Christ.
c. John testified about the Christ.
d. But John “confessed and did not deny, but confessed” he was not the Christ.
14. Well, since John was dressed like Elijah and proclaimed a message similar to Elijah, they asked John if he was Elijah.
a. John said, “I am not” which is an answer that has caused confusion for students of the Bible because Jesus Christ identified John with Elijah.
b. Please notice what Jesus said to Peter, James, and John about John the Baptist and Elijah after Jesus’ transfiguration. . .
Matthew 17:10-13, And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
c. How do we reconcile John’s answer with Jesus’ answer?
d. When the Jews asked John if he was Elijah, they were asking if he was the actual Elijah, the one who was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.
2 Kings 2:11, . . . there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
e. This is what John was denying; that he was the actual prophet Elijah.
f. But John was not denying that he had come in the “spirit and power of Elijah” for it is highly likely that John had heard that from his father, Zacharias, since his childhood.
g. Why would Zacharias tell John such a thing? Because that’s what the angel Gabriel had told Zacharias when Zacharias was ministering in the Temple.
Luke 1:13,16-17, But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. . . And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
h. So Jesus and John were denying and affirming the same things; that John the Baptist was not the actual Elijah but that John the Baptist had come in the “spirit and power of Elijah.”
15. Who, then, is the “Prophet?” The Prophet they are referring to is mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15. . .
Deuteronomy 18:15, The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.
a. At that time, it was widely held and wrongly believed that the Prophet who would ultimately fulfill Deuteronomy 18:15 was separate from the Messiah.
b. But the Apostle Peter declared that Jesus Christ is the Prophet spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15.
Acts 3:19-22, Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you.”
c. So, John rightly denied that he was the Prophet because the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 is Jesus Christ.
Transition – Let’s return to the topic of repentance. When the Bible speaks of repentance, it is important to note that. . .
B. True repentance always bears good fruit
1. At this point in his Gospel, the Apostle John does not mention how John the Baptist confronted Israel’s religious elite.
2. The truth is, John the Baptist saw right through the Pharisees and Sadducees and called out their motives.
a. They were corrupt, wealthy, religious leaders who burdened the Jews with their legalistic interpretations of the Mosaic Law.
b. So, John called them a “brood of vipers” because they were influenced by and did the work of the serpent of old, Satan! (Matthew 3:7)
3. Then, John commanded them to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” in Matthew 3:8. Why?
a. Because you might be able to fool people, but you can’t fool God.
b. People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at what’s in our hearts.
ILLUS – People wearing WWJD bracelets in Texas
4. John confronted the root of the problem; they had religion, but they had no spiritual reality.
Warren Wiersbe once wrote, “God gets to the root of our lives for the root determines the fruit.”
APPL – When there is true repentance, there is true change, and good fruit in keeping with repentance.
• The heart that is truly changed says, “I do what I do because this is who I am.”
• It’s more than just words, that’s “lip service.”
• Lip service means nothing to God.
• God expects good fruit from our lives and lip service never produces the kind of fruit God is looking for.
Isaiah 5:3-4, And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
5. John challenged them further by saying, “do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” in Matthew 3:9.
a. This was a common belief for the Jews; if you are a physical descendant of Abraham, you’re good with God.
ILLUS – My Roman Catholic response to Christian high school friends when they told me about Jesus.
b. But Abraham was good with God because Abraham had authentic faith in God.
Galatians 3:6-7, Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
APPL – You can’t get right with God by hitchhiking a ride on another person’s faith.
• Each person must have their own relationship with God, receiving the forgiveness of their sins by placing their faith in Jesus Christ.
• God does not have grandchildren.
Transition – Next, it’s important to say a word about baptism. The Bible makes it clear that. . .
C. Everyone will be baptized
1. In Matthew 3:10, John the Baptist warned them that judgment was coming, “the axe is already at the root.”
2. Then John the Baptist shifted metaphors and mentioned two baptisms in Matthew 3:11; the Holy Spirit and fire.
3. John 1:33 only mentions one baptism, the baptism “in the Holy Spirit.”
4. But it’s important to note a second baptism mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, fire.
Matthew 3:11, As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
5. Jesus Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit after He ascended to heaven.
Acts 1:8, . . . but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
6. This baptism of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, a day marked the beginning of the Christian Church.
7. Now, the Holy Spirit is given to all who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.
1 Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body
8. But John the Baptist said that Jesus would also baptize with fire.
9. While some debate about what John meant, Matthew 3:12 settles the matter.
Matthew 3:12, His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
a. When Jesus Christ returns at the end of the age, He will clear the threshing floor and separate the wheat (Christians) and the chaff (non-Christians).
b. The wheat will be brought into the barn (heaven) and the chaff will be burned in the fire (lake of fire).
APPL – Here’s the point, everyone will be baptized either with the Holy Spirit because they have trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation, or eternal fire because they have rejected Jesus Christ’s offer for salvation.
• The choice is yours.
• If you have not done so, I beg you to accept Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation.
Transition – John the Baptist was called to “make straight the way of the Lord” so that the people were prepared to hear the Good News that Jesus was going to proclaim. But there was a second part to John’s calling, to identify the One who is Messiah.
II. John Testified that Jesus is the Way (13-17)
A. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness
1. Jesus came to make a way also, a way for us to come to God the Father and have eternal life.
2. Jesus came to be baptized by John, but John resisted and declared that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. (Matthew 3:14)
3. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Did Jesus need to repent of any sin? No.
1 John 3:5, And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
4. In obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus was baptized to be identified with those He came to save.
5. Jesus identified with sinful humanity to make a way between a holy God and a sinful people.
Romans 8:3-4, For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
B. No one comes to the Father, but through Jesus
1. John baptized Jesus and a miraculous scene unfolded. (Matthew 3:16-17)
a. The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came down and remained upon Jesus.
b. The voice of the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
c. The Trinity is clearly seen in this passage: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; One God in three co-equal, co-existent persons.
2. This authentication from heaven confirmed that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who makes a way to the Father.
3. John also testified that Jesus is Messiah, the Son of God.
John 1:32-34, John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
4. There is only one way to have a relationship with God, and Jesus is it.
John 14:6, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
5. Why is Jesus Christ the only way to the Father? Because, as John the Baptist said, Jesus is the “Lamb of God.”
John 1:29, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
6. And one day, when all the saints stand before God’s throne in heaven, we will worship Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, and this is the song we will sing.
Revelation 5:12, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.
APPL – I find it interesting that the early church was called the “Way” (Acts 9:2) before they were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
• What has Jesus called us, the “Way” to do?
• Share the “Way” to the Father with others.
• And this is the perfect time to do so because we are celebrating Jesus’ birth this Christmas season.
• But the truth is, there is a sense of urgency because Jesus Christ is coming back.
o We must be ready for Jesus’ return even though we do not know the hour of His return.
o We must be faithful servants so that when He appears, He will find us doing what He has called us to do. It will be worth it when we hear Him say. . .
Matthew 25:21, Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny; and this is what he confessed: “I am not the [a]Christ.” 21 And so they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he *said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one calling [b]out in the wilderness, ‘Make the way of the Lord straight,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
24 And the messengers had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the [c]Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize [d]in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, of whom I am not worthy even to untie the strap of His sandal.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing people.
29 The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him, and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He in behalf of whom I said, ‘After me is coming a Man who has proved to be [e]my superior, because He existed before me.’ 31 And I did not recognize [f]Him, but so that He would be revealed to Israel, I came baptizing [g]in water.” 32 And John testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize [h]Him, but He who sent me to baptize [i]in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes [j]in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the [k]Son of God.”