The apostle Matthew applies a prophecy from Isaiah to introduce readers to Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist: “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight”’” (Matthew 3:3, ESV).
Matthew’s Jewish audience was well acquainted with the scroll of Isaiah and this passage extracted from an extended prophecy about the end-times restoration of Israel (Isaiah 40:1—45:25). Matthew confirms that John the Baptist is “the voice” ushering in the beginning of God’s glorious future kingdom with the arrival of the King. John’s role was to prepare the way for the King’s advent.
Before John the Baptist was born, an angel of the Lord visited his father, Zechariah, explaining, “Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. . . . He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord” (Luke 1:13–17, NLT). After the baby was born, Zechariah prophesied, “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 1:76, NLT). Later, John the Baptist connected the dots between his mission and Isaiah’s prophecy, testifying, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,—just as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:23, CSB). John declares that Israel’s long-anticipated Savior is about to step onto the world stage.
Through the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Zechariah, and John the Baptist himself, God makes it clear that this rugged wilderness preacher is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But how did John prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight? His nickname—“John the Baptist”—gives us a clue.
John the Baptist beckoned the Jewish people to repent of their sins and be baptized—an act that outwardly demonstrated the inward dedication of their lives to God through immersion in water. Repentance is the inescapable beginning of faith, and baptism represented a new way of doing things for the Jews. As a religious practice, baptism was generally only observed by outsiders (Gentiles) converting to Judaism. To prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight, John needed the Jews to understand that their ancestral heritage would not save them. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior would require a personal commitment—a turning away from sin and a new life of devotion to God. John’s baptism “called for repentance from sin,” meaning real-life change as well as belief in Jesus Christ (see Acts 19:1–7, NLT).
As John encountered Jesus face to face, he understood that his life mission was to reveal to Israel that Christ was the Son of God and their long-awaited Messiah. He prepared the way of the Lord by introducing Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “the Chosen One of God” (John 1:29–34, NLT). Because of John’s ministry, multitudes of sinners put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 10:39–42).
Highways in the ancient world were built for kings to travel. When a king planned to visit a city, it was the custom to build or prepare a road for him and his entourage to use as they approached the city. The path would be made as straight and level as possible (see Isaiah 40:3–4). Isaiah 35:8–10 speaks of “a highway” called “the Way of Holiness” leading to the city of Zion. Holiness is often referred to in the Bible as a straight path (Hebrews 12:13; Psalm 5:8; Proverbs 3:6; Jeremiah 31:9; Isaiah 26:7).
John was God’s messenger chosen to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. John preached a game-changing baptism of repentance that leads to a life of holiness found only in surrendering to Jesus Christ (John 14:6; 2 Timothy 1:9). As Christians, we prepare the way for the Lord to enter our hearts by repenting of our sins so that Christ can come in and make straight paths and holy temples of our lives (Deuteronomy 26:18–19; Ephesians 1:4; 2:19–22; 1 Peter 1:15–16; 1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1).