I baptised my oldest son, Luke, when he was sixteen. It was an occasion of incredible joy for me and one of powerful significance too, for as we raised Luke from the water, the Holy Spirit filled me (with the relieved happiness that only worried parents know) and I “sang a new song” in the Spirit over him. I don’t recall the song exactly, unfortunately, (though it is archived in a dusty cassette somewhere in my loft!) but I do remember that it rhymed (!) and was about the promise of God on Luke’s life.
The memory came to me just now as I considered Zechariah’s song over his own son: “And you, my child…” He, too, was singing about the promise of God on his son! And the shape of it –the theme of the father’s song- was the particular prophetic calling on John to be a Preparer.
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” (1:76)
“Prepare” here, is the Greek verb hetoimadzo, “to cause to be ready, put or keep in readiness, prepare.” It had long been foretold that one would come ahead of the Lord to prepare the road, the highway, upon which the King would travel. Isaiah prophesied:
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
Then at the end of the Old Testament, Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come to prepare the way: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:1). John is the messenger of this covenant. When the Angel Gabriel first appeared to Zechariah in the temple he announced that the child’s role would be “to make ready (hetoimadzo) a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17). Later, when John the Baptist enters his ministry, he is asked who he is. His answer: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'” (John 1:23). The Preparer at work.
During the later stages of the Second World War, my father –still in his early twenties- was parachuted in with a commando team, ahead of the D-Day landings, to lay cables for the advancing troops, so that radio links could be maintained. It was dangerous, secret work that received little thanks. It was the work of a preparer. The main act was to follow. What good would radio links be without a powerful invading force ready to utilise them?
Something in us wants to be recognized, acclaimed, appreciated. We usually want to get credit for the good we do. But, if the truth be told, few get the credit they deserve. Many, like John, carry on ministries of tremendous importance to prepare for the future, but are seldom recognized for that role. If John had not prepared the people with a spiritual revival that emphasized repentance from sin, baptism, and forgiveness, Jesus could not have built on this foundation — he would have had to build it himself, diverting him from his chief ministry and emphasis.
You may be one of God’s preparers so that the ministry of your church in the future can be more effective. It doesn’t matter whether or not people appreciate you. But it does matter that you are faithful to God who called you to this ministry of preparation so that his work might go forward unimpeded.
Lord I know that the things I do for you are, indeed, for YOU and not for me.
I see too that your plans are bigger than me and my life.
Therefore, I too, working in your will, am a preparer.
So help me to prepare the ground for my children,
so that they may advance because of the groundwork that I have done.
Help me to be a preparer for people who don’t know you,
by being an example of grace and a teller of good news.
Keep me from the love of medals and Awards for Good Behaviour.