God, as I approach this passage of scripture, please open the eyes of my heart so that I may know your truth. Help me to focus my entire mind on the words of scripture, and guard me from distractions as I seek to know you better. Show me how the words in this passage can help me know you better and can help my life be for your glory today.
Read all of Mark 1 in your favorite version of the Bible. (Click here to read it in the English Standard Version, which is the one I generally use.) Read the entire chapter, and as you do, circle or underline phrases that jump out at you, or just jot them down in your notebook.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
John the Baptist had an important role in the coming of Christ: he was preparing the hearts and minds of his friends for the day when the long-awaited Messiah would come. When it comes to evangelism—to sharing the good news of Jesus—it is all too easy to neglect the importance of preparing the way. In our zeal to tell the story and see people turn to Jesus, we forget that every heart is in process, and sometimes people are just not ready to respond to the gospel with repentance.
This reminds me of Ezekiel 36: 6 . “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This passage talks about the two conditions of the human heart: hard (stone) and soft (flesh). Most of our heart-conditions live somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, neither being totally hard-hearted, nor totally pliable. We live with echoes of rebellion against God and disobedience (hardness), but also moments of submission to God and obedience (softness). But in order for us to open up to Jesus, our hearts must be softened. A hard heart cannot respond to good news of any sort with joy.
As we engage with people around us day to day, we must keep in mind that we are part of their lifelong journey, and they are part of ours. Whether our interaction is momentary—a transaction with a cashier, for instance—or ongoing—like working together every day in the same workplace—we might play a key role in “preparing the way” and “making his path straight,” rather than always being the one to experience that moment when the flip is switched and a transfer of allegiance takes place.
Rather than preparing the way for the gospel, I fear that many Christians—myself among them—actually place obstacles, or stumbling blocks, in the way, making it harder for someone to encounter Christ. This can come in the form of being overly opinionated about our political views without the context of real conversation to talk about why we believe what we believe. It can also take the shape of saying something that is true, but in a graceless way that unnecessarily alienates. And of course, hypocrisy is a huge stumbling block for many people—it is for me!
I was in a conversation recently with two women. One was a new friend I had just learned had been married and divorced several times, the other was another new friend who is a Christian who has been married to the same man for decades. In her desire to witness, my Christian friend made a comment about marriage that was biblical and true and right—but in the context, it left my divorced friend feeling judged. The disapproval she felt left her feeling alienated, and the last thing in the world she wanted was to associate with my Christian friend.
By the same token, during another conversation, when she was feeling a bit safer, she confessed to her own sense of failure and grief over her multiple marriages. She is a broken, hurting woman, and I am convinced that the best way to share the love of Christ with her right now is to listen to her and love her right where she is. That’s sure what I would want when I’m the one who has failed at something! She doesn’t need anyone to point out that she’s a failure; she already believes this to be true. What she needs is the revolutionary grace that flows from the cross, through gracious followers of Christ. On the cross, every failure and disappointment was covered by Christ. In Christ, failure becomes nothing more than the amplifier for the hope, redemption, and life-giving love that flows in endless plenty toward the open hearts of broken people. Imagine what would happen if Christ’s followers were most known for this kind of love!
Sometimes, our role in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is to remove obstacles like shame and judgement, and make the way straight, by walking in grace beside others along the road. How are you preparing the way of the Lord today?