I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Malachi 3:1a
Who is the messenger Malachi is talking about here? It’s John the Baptist. As Jesus said about him, “This is the one about whom it is written: ”I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'” Matt 3:10
And what does it mean to prepare the way? Isaiah also prophesied about this:
- A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” 40:3
- And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” 57:14
- Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. 62:10
God was saying was that there needed to be someone who would get things ready for his son to come to earth. And that makes me wonder — why not just send Jesus right off? Why have John the Baptist precede him?
Because, the verses say, there was a need to “remove the obstacles.”
What are the obstacles that John the Baptist removed?
Sin. His message to people was simply to repent:
- In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
- And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:4
Sins are like big stones that block the way of truly following Jesus.
I first started seeking God when I was a teenager. I went all by myself to an Episcopal church, because I loved the way it felt holy. But I didn’t change my life. I still partied and lived for myself.
Then Ken (my hubby) studied the Bible with me and I was baptized in the traditional church of Christ. I did change. I began to live the Christian life. But I never made the commitment to give my whole self to God for the rest of my life. I was still serving self.
Over time, I started noticing that I felt empty and unhappy. I would go to bed at night and say, “What was it all for?”
Until finally God brought me to the point where I decided to get baptized again, and this time, commit myself totally to God and his mission on earth. Now, as I look back over my life, I can clearly see that point as the time when I began to be happy deep down to the bone.
It wasn’t until I completely repented that I experienced the fullness of following Christ.
It’s like we read in Luke 9: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” We have to lose our lives. We have to get rid of the sin. It’s as true now as it was then. The more we surrender to God, the greater the blessings.
But the thing is, we don’t surrender.
For years, I told people, “I’m good. I can serve God just the way I am.” I didn’t see the need to give myself more completely. I blithely went about my life, immersed in the busyness of my job, raising my children, doing church activities, and thought that was good. I had a sort of “cruise control” Christianity. I set my speed, and went through the motions.
And cruise control never got me where I needed to go. I missed it, somehow, just as in Malachi, the Jews missed it.
You see, if you look at the verse in Malachi, it’s written to religious people, not to the heathens. The Jews had gone through a powerful time of God bringing them back to Jerusalem, and helping them rebuilt the city and the temple. They should have been eternally grateful, but over time, their commitment to God began to fade. They didn’t see that they were getting wishy-washy, they kept asking God why he wouldn’t accept their offerings. (2:13-14) Like me, they were lost in religiosity.
That’s a scary thing, that we can get to a point where we’re blind to our need to repent.
The Jews would need a John the Baptist to come to them.
People need a John the Baptist today.
Yesterday one of the sisters was telling me about a young woman she’s been studying the Bible with, and how they read the verse, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything they have cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) The young woman’s face fell as her eyes opened to what the verse meant. “I can’t do that,” she said. She was very sad.
And that was hard for the sister. She so badly wanted to tell her friend, “It’s okay.” But she knew that lie wouldn’t help her.
Are we being John the Baptist for our friends, showing them the truth that will help them? I can’t stress enough that this message of complete repentance is what people need, that they’re not getting from anyone else. Everyone else is telling them it’s okay. Everyone else is perpetuating the blindness. And then they miss the full relationship with God that could be theirs.
We have to effectively prepare the way for people to follow Jesus. We need to help them get rid of ALL the obstacles. We need to open their eyes to what it means to give up everything.
It’s true, they won’t follow Jesus perfectly. None of us do. We’ll never dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t’s.” But they CAN pledge to give their whole heart to God for all time, and do their best to live this out!
And if they get sad, if it seems too hard, encourage them that they CAN do it, just as we did, and it’s so worth it!!
Because the thing is, God said in Malachi that he wasn’t going to leave his people hopelessly stuck in their religiosity. Even though they were stubborn and blind, he would provide a way for them to have the greatest blessings.
We are that way today. Not the WAY, but the way to get to the WAY.