Prepare the Way!Published on: 10.5.2020
Prepare the Way! -by Dr Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President
Driving up to Jerusalem, we have seen many changes over the past ten years. Heavy earth-moving equipment has leveled the steep ascents and straightened the curves of Highway One connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Hilltops have been radically shaved off and valleys bridged or filled to ease the daily traffic congestion making its way up to Israel‘s capital.
The Bible says that such a massive undertaking will also take place in the spiritual realm. Not to smooth the way for the ever-increasing flow of tourists to Jerusalem, or to account for growing infrastructure needs in the fast-growing ‘Start-Up Nation’, but it will be a spiritual highway which makes a path for something far more important. It will be a highway project to prepare the coming of the glory of the Lord.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
The current highway construction around Jerusalem is a state-initiated project. But Isaiah speaks about a heavenly-initiated highway project. He hears a voice like a trumpet blast inviting everyone, everywhere, to take part in this prophetic mission.
This voice was already heard 2000 years ago through John the Baptist. And I believe this voice is being heard again today.
Back then, it was indeed a controversial call. John the Baptist, in many ways, was a strange character. He did not meet the mainstream expectations of his time. His meeting places were not the polished marble halls of the Temple, but the rough and hostile terrain of the desert. His speaking style was not trained by the great orators of his time, but he used rough language and did not mince words. He openly criticized the religious rulers of his day as a “brood of vipers” and challenged the king to repent of his personal lifestyle of immorality (Matthew 14:4). His apparel was rustic at best and, according to Jesus, unsuited for the halls of power (Matthew 11:8). And his diet was definitely peculiar – locust with honey. John the Baptist was a preacher who upset people both in his appearance and message. Yet many loved him and felt this strange firebrand in the desert had the word of the Lord for their generation. They sensed that God had again sent a man like Elijah of old, challenging their lukewarm-ness and wayward lifestyles. From all over Israel, they came to listen to him and to undergo the baptism of John. Jesus himself later gave him the highest compliment a man could expect: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)
But when asked by the people who he really was, John was surprisingly unpretentious and declared that it was not at all about him but the One who would come after him. “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.’” (John 1:23) His message struck at the very heart of the religious establishment and the notion that belonging to God‘s chosen people, the Jews, was a free ticket to heaven (Luke 3:7-9). Rather, God was looking for a people of a broken spirit, ready to repent, and not by mere words only. If necessary, God could raise a people for Himself out of stones, John declared. Repentance for John was not just reading a confession in a church (or the temple) but required a radical change of lifestyle. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) John was the way-maker for Messiah. He carried out his ministry “in the spirit and power of Elijah… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) Or as Jesus himself would later say: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” (Matthew 11:10)
Elijah Must Come
The prophet Malachi links this ministry of the way-maker to Israel’s great prophet, Elijah. Even until today, the Jewish people have a tradition of keeping a seat open at the Passover seder table for Elijah in anticipation of his coming. At one point, the door also is opened just in case Elijah has come.
When Jesus and his disciples were on the way back from the Mount of transfiguration. They had just encountered Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus, and the disciples asked him: “‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise, the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:10-13)
Jesus answered in an almost cryptic manner. “Elijah is coming” and “Elijah has already come.” He indicates that there is a twofold ministry of Elijah. One took place through the person of John the Baptist. This ministry was very powerful but at the same time, it ended with John the Baptist being beheaded. “They… did with him whatever they wished.” Yet Jesus also states that there will be a future ministry of Elijah, “Elijah is coming!” According to the Lord, this Elijah ministry will be different in the outcome. This future Elijah ministry “will restore all things.”
The re-emergence and ongoing restoration of the modern state of Israel, the unprecedented growth of the Church around the world, and the global shakings (like the current Corona crisis) all indicate that we are living in times of great spiritual significance. Jesus is coming soon! Yet if that is true, we all need to revisit the ministry of John the Baptist. I personally believe that this current crisis is a call from heaven to all of us to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
This time it is not the voice of one individual person, church or ministry, but a call from the Spirit of God which is heard across the world by those who hunger and thirst for more of His glory and for the coming of their Saviour. Today, we hear that the Bible is sold out in many bookstores around the world. In spite of the quarantine, Zoom prayer meetings are mushrooming near and far. This current crisis undoubtedly is challenging and transforming the Church – and Israel. It will help prepare the way of the Lord. A Highway of Holiness
God is building a highway in our times. Whoever I talk to around the world, they feel that God is doing something new and fresh in our days. New wineskins! And this new highway being built is not named after denominations or ministries. It is not the highway of a man, but the ‘Highway of the Lord’. In Isaiah 35:8, the prophet describes it as a “highway of holiness”. This move of God requires us to adopt a new lifestyle of holiness and repentance. Both words – holiness and repentance – have become dangerously rare in many Christian circles today, but they were at the heart of the messages of both Elijah and John the Baptist. John’s call for repentance was not a call to heathen nations or the Roman Empire, but it was a call to his own people, the people of God. He was calling Israel to get right with their God and today the Lord is calling us, the Church, to get right with God. Of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation (chapters 2 to 3), God was fully pleased with only two of them. The majority (five out of seven!) urgently needed to repent. Like Israel at the time of John the Baptist, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that the Church has a free ticket to heaven. A powerful move of God in our times requires a powerful change in our lives. When this year started, our staff in Jerusalem felt God was calling us to repentance. Not that blatant sin was raging among us, but we felt God was calling us to greater separation from the world and closer communion with Him. Charles Finney, one of America’s greatest revival preachers, writes in his classic “Lectures on Revival” that every revival is preceded and paralleled by a wave of repentance. Let us rediscover this holy virtue!
A Voice in the Desert
This call to build this highway of the Lord will not necessarily grab the attention and approval of the world. Like the times of John the Baptist, it will be a voice calling in the desert. It might not be heard by our friends and family. It might not happen on the platforms of social media and large gatherings. But it will be an intimate move of God between you and Him. One blessing that this current Corona crisis is bringing to us is it has reduced us to our homes, our family relationships, and our relationship to God. The Bible promises us that if we draw near to Him, He will also draw near to us. Mountains, Valleys and Crooked Ways
God is not going to deal with our valleys. In the time of John the Baptist, his message brought God’s people out of the valley of complacency and compromise. It fills out what is missing in our lives. The things that are missing can be a loss of our first love and passion for Jesus. It can mean the neglect of the ‘means of grace’, which are the means through which God chooses to build His kingdom – the fellowship of the saints, communion, time spent in the word of God, or invested in our personal prayer life. In many hearts, there are mountains of pride, human philosophies, and religiosity that keep God from moving. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that he is using his spiritual weapons against every high place that rises against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). These are not physical mountains, but they can be as daunting as the great peaks of the Rockies or Himalayas.
We have to straighten the crooked, distorted paths of our hearts in order to allow the glory of the Lord to arrive in full measure! The Hebrew word for crooked is ‘yakav’. The same word is used by the prophet Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?“ (Jeremiah 17:9) The late Derek Prince always liked to point out that the adjective ‘deceitful’ is not in the passive but the active voice. This means it is not so much that our hearts can be easily deceived, but that our heart is an active agent wanting to deceive us. That is why the prophet, a few verses later, cries out to God: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved.” (Jeremiah 17:14)
To prepare the way of the Lord is a matter of our hearts. Jeremiah – and with him other prophets – understood that our hearts are incurably sick and need a heavenly heart transplant through the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel prophesies about it (Ezekiel 36:24ff). Jeremiah said it will be a new covenant of God dealing with our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31ff). And Jesus said this promised change of heart through the Holy Spirit will be so radical, one will feel like they are being born again (John 3:6).
Precisely herein lays the secret of why the ministry of John the Baptist was so different to what God will be doing in our days. In his day, countless people were affected by him and got baptized, but it did not produce a lasting change in the heart of the nation. Likewise, Elijah’s challenge to the nation on Mt. Carmel only produced a short-lived change. As the prophet Hosea truly recognized: “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away.” (Hosea 6:4)
That is why this final cry in the desert will be and needs to be a powerful, heart transforming move of the Holy Spirit, otherwise, it cannot succeed! The big difference between the time of John the Baptist and today is that during his time the Holy Spirit was not poured out yet. But it is precisely because of Pentecost and the great expectation of a latter-day outpouring of God’s Spirit that allows us to expect an exciting move of God in our days. My friend Angus Buchan said in one of our recent Global Prayer Gatherings that he expects the greatest revival in history to be unleashed after this Corona crisis is over. We are indeed living through a time that is unprecedented in history – with four billion people impacted by various levels of quarantine caused by the Coronavirus. Therefore, let us not waste
this time but rather let us redeem this time for God‘s purposes. It is again a time when God is speaking from heaven. It is a time when God declares “once more I will shake the heavens and the earth.” It is through this shaking that God causes “the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things which cannot be shaken may remain”. (Hebrews 12:27) All things built on man’s glory and on human efforts will have to fail, so the things built on God’s unshakable Kingdom will remain. If we all join in preparing this divine highway, we will see the glory of the Lord arriving with power. It will be a greater glory than the former house and all the earth shall see it! “Prepare the Way” was given to us as the theme of this year’s Feast of Tabernacles. When we chose it, we could not have known how relevant this theme would be for 2020! It is indeed the year of a voice crying “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Please pray for this year’s Feast of Tabernacles. May it be a time of an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Please prayerfully make plans to join us in Jerusalem, and check our website for updates and news on our Feast plans.
In the next issue: “Prepare the Way,” part 2, on how the Elijah ministry impacts the relationship between Israel and the Church