In chapter 3, we are introduced to John the Baptist, who has the role of preparing people for the entrance of Jesus into his public ministry. Matthew explains the ministry of John by quoting from Isaiah 40, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Isaiah's first audience would have applied these words to the return from exile (beginning) in 538 BC. But Matthew shows that this prophecy has a greater fulfillment and he applies this to John's ministry in two surprising ways.
First, when Isaiah spoke of barriers being removed to "prepare the way of the Lord," people would have thought of external barriers. In the 6th century BC, the Jewish people were captive in Babylon and only the overthrow of the empire (which happened in 539 BC) would allow them to be free. But in the the ministry of John the Baptist, the preparation was one of internal repentance. John essentially told his surprised listeners that their greatest obstacles were not the world powers "out there", but the deceptions of sin which are personal to each of us. We are our own worst enemy.
Second, in the 6th century BC, the Jewish people needed to travel through the deserts to return to the promised land. But John the Baptist was not announcing a highway of the Lord which would allow people to go to God, he was announcing the arrival of the Messiah - through whom God would come to his people. The highway is for God to get to us! The whole ministry of John was by his own admission, preparation for "one greater than I." And when Jesus arrived in Galilee to be baptized he was identified not only by John but by the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven as God's "beloved Son."
Our preparation for spiritual growth is the same now as it was then. In repentance we turn away from our self reliance and rebellion. In faith we look to the Son of God who accomplished salvation for his people. Because John the Baptist features it so heavily in this chapter, our closing question will sound on the note of repentance.
What are the things that you need to "let go of"? MK