The Mission: Prepare the Way of the Lord
The One Called: John the Baptist
The Place of Preparation: The desert/wilderness
The Message: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near."
Why would John the Baptist proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is near? Jesus, the Son of God, left heaven and came to earth. He carried His Kingdom with Him and was about to demonstrate the power of that Kingdom. John came before Jesus to get the people ready to meet Him. "And so, John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." (Mark 1:4-5)
Repentance was the key--a changing of the mind. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, repentance is defined as a shift in thought and turning from self to God. Reorientation of lives and a change in lifestyle and relationships must take place. Those of us who are saved understand that repentance is an essential element in our salvation. And the Lord is patient with everyone, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
An important time of preparation on the Jewish calendar begins today. It is the 1st of Elul--the sixth month on the Jewish calendar. The month of Elul is linked with the Hebrew letter YOD which means, "God has appointed mercy from His hand." In addition, Elul 1 is also the beginning of a 40-day period called Teshuvah whose root word means "to return" or turning from evil and turning toward good. The next 40 days are meant to be a time of preparation for meeting the Lord. They end on Yom Kippur--The Day of Atonement. The Jews use this time to repent of their sins against others and against God. This is done to prepare for meeting the Lord at the Feast of Tabernacles, a time of celebrating when God's glory came down and dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness. They desire a clear path to renewed intimacy with Father God.
God designed cycles throughout the year to draw us closer to Him and to give us blessings. He has done His greatest works during His appointed celebrations. Chuck Pierce's book, A Time to Advance, says, "God's appointed times are like 'pit stops' in the race of life.” Celebrating them invites God to invade our lives so that we can be equipped for the season to come. The Jewish people understand the importance of following God's appointed times to receive His blessings. In the Old Testament God prepared humanity for His plans by sending a prophet to announce His intentions. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to bring heaven to earth. As followers of Jesus, we too are called to "prepare the way of the Lord." It means clearing the path before us so that He is our primary goal. It means seeking Him daily.
One thing the Jewish people do during the month of Elul to prepare to meet the Lord is to recite Psalm 27 daily. They believe that hidden within this Psalm are references to the festivals they are celebrating in the seventh month. According to the Midrashim (Oral Torah), in Psalm 27:1 the word "light" refers to the light of Rosh Hashana (The Festival of Lights) and the word "salvation" refers to Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). "The shelter of His tabernacle" in verse 5 refers to The Feast of Tabernacles. I do not know if this true. Regardless, in this psalm David pours out his heart in an all-out pursuit of the Lord. I plan to recite this Scripture daily for the next 30 days as part of my pursuit of the Lord. Would you join me? "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple...My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Psalm 27:4, 7-8)
Joan E. Mathias