There are a growing number of definitions of the word “highway”. In the distant past it would have meant a public path or road. In modern times we think of a multi-lane pavement filled with fast-moving cars (or sometimes not as fast as we might wish:)) and congestion. We also have a more theoretical, more modern highway – the Information Highway – which is the communication network of the technological world that uses a variety of devices to quickly relay great quantities of information. Our Bible readings today add another, more important, layer to our “highway” definitions.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist is defined in his preaching as one who is readying a highway “of the Lord”. v.4 I was intrigued by this concept so I took it to the next level of Bible interrogation. Just what is this passage quoted from Isaiah 40 telling us? And what exactly does it have to do with either John’s mission, or the rest of this chapter? With Bible sleuth hat in place, I began some digging and some thinking.
I found the Greek word for “way” means simply; a road or, by implication, a journey. In Isaiah 40 the Hebrew word means; a highway, a raised way, or a public road. I found this same word used in Proverbs:
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;
He who watches his way preserves his life.
This passage gives a good clue for deciphering the message John was driving at. Obviously, we want to be the upright people described in Proverbs. So we can look at the Isaiah passage as telling us about a variety of life-journeys chosen by people. The discussion then, is of four types of people that need to be changed into a suitable straight path for the Lord to traverse. v.4 We have; ravines, mountains, crooked, and rough parts of the highway. They all need to be smoothed out for the road to be usable for transit. Valleys are lifted, mountains are razed, curves become straight, and rough roads smoothed.
As I researched each of these words I saw a beautiful picture portrait being painted of kinds of people, and how they must have heart-changes to be acceptable to Jesus. Ravines are valleys that are shut off by steep cliffs and precipices. Mountains and hills tower above the other terrain and the people below. The Bible words for crooked, or curved places also mean; perverse or wicked, deceitful and sly. The rough places are full of rugged rocky terrain – tough, impassable parts of the path.
What are the people corresponding to these varied topographies? Well, that question is answered by the following verses in Luke 3. John tells the “ravines” or common people they need to “fill up” their holes. v.5 They are the multitude of “distressed and dispirited” people Jesus ministered to – the “sheep without a shepherd” – he describes in a compassionate way. (Mt. 9:36) They are valleys in need of lifting. John’s advice to them is to reach out to help others – and in so doing they will be helped. vv.10-11 The rest of the Gospels show Jesus ministering lovingly to these folks. The mountains are those in authority – especially the religious leaders. They need to be brought down from their lofty heights. He has strong words for their self-righteous ways. Repent and bear good fruit that is evidence of deep-seated change – or you are in for big trouble! vv.7-9 cp.(Mt. 3:7-10) The crooked people (tax collectors) are those who are living manipulative, worldly, deceitful lifestyles that take advantage of others. They need to be straightened. He advises them to stop misusing their power and to do what is right. vv.12-13 And finally, the rough folks (soldiers). They are in need of big change as well. They need to remove the boulders hindering their lives. No more violence or lying. Lose your selfish and covetous attitudes by becoming kind, honest, and contented.
These types of people each needed to make radical changes so they could be part of a smooth highway “making ready the way of the Lord.” v.4 John was preparing hearts for the message of his Lord. And these categories, I would suggest, still encompass types of people – to this day. Are we feeling low, helpless and distressed? Are we justified in our “rightness” – especially in an authority/religious context? Are we living sinful, deceitful lives without obeying God’s commands? Or do we run with a Godless, tough crowd – heedless of how our behavior affects others? We all would do well to examine which category our lives fall in to – right now. And then to consider our need to take the advice of this amazing man – John the Baptist – whose message heralded the need for committed change and forgiveness of sins. v.3 Because the Son of God was on his way. Soon.
Guess what? The Son of God is on his way a second time soon – 2,000 years later. Likely very soon. John’s is still a timely message of good advice. Let’s be a part of a sacred highway. Smooth and straight. So that Jesus can find an acceptable path to walk in our lives and hearts for eternity.