Isaiah 62:10-12 (ESV) – 10 Go through, go through the gates;
prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
clear it of stones;
lift up a signal over the peoples.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
“Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.”
12 And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
Preparation is an important part of any serious endeavor. No one goes after something without first preparing for it, or else if they do they are doomed to failure.
As a runner I know this only too well. Last year, I had set myself a goal to run the marathon for the second time. The first time was back in 2008 and after seven years, two kids, one degree, and a host of other life experience I felt like it was time to get back to that distance.
The first part of the year went great. I slowly built up my mileage, plotted the build-up, planned the nutrition I would need, registered for my race, picked a pre-half-marathon tune-up race, got the proper shoes, everything. Jules was totally on board and supportive, making plans to come and cheer me on, getting the food I would need, and even planning the hotels we would need to stay in for race weekend.
Then in the fall, an old injury kept nagging me and nagging me and nagging me. I would take time off, then get back to it. A couple of runs in, it would nag me again. I kept at it. I ran the half-marathon tune-up, but the injury had left me so ill-prepared that the race itself was nothing short of a nightmare. I have never wanted to quit a run so badly, but I finished – knowing that the marathon was not going to happen. Between the injury and my relative inability to get ready, I knew my preparation would be totally insufficient.
The prophet Isaiah did not have a very popular task. As one who pronounced judgement on God’s people for their lack of covenant fidelity and proclaimed their ultimate exile, Isaiah was not a well-liked man, especially by those in power. Throughout Isaiah’s prophecies, however, he gives the people glimmers of hope – hope of a future restoration and salvation – hope that God had not abandoned them or forgotten his covenant promises.
The question they had to deal with was, “will you be prepared?” Would the people be able to recognize God’s salvation when it came? Would they be ready to be the people God had called them to be? Or would they be left sucking wind and unable to cross the finish line?
Are we prepared?
Salvation is a gift from God and is, from first to last, an act of his gracious will, but we have some responsibility in the equation – a God-empowered, God-enabled responsibility. So how do we get prepared to really receive salvation and allocate it as the driving force in our lives? What do we do to “prepare the highway, clear the stones, and lift up a signal” in us?
I don’t have all the answers, and I think there is some subjective aspects to this, but at least part of it has to do with a deep and utter recognition of our sinfulness. I’m not talking about a daily self-flogging for indiscretions and moral failures, I’m talking about the regular confession before God that utterly takes stock in our individual guilt. What are my particular sins that I do not want to talk about? Where are the spiritual warts and blemishes I try to hide with religious make-up? This takes some honest, soul-searching, and gut-wrenching prayer. It may entail another person. It may not. But it is honest.
That’s important because the second part of preparation is related to it. I think we need to regularly commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus. Too many times, we focus exclusively on Easter and we skip pass Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We see the Lord’s Supper as being solely a religious act for the people of God rather than personal act for repentance before God. Regularly observing the sacrament, following the liturgy of the season, digging into the latter chapters of the gospels, among other things all prepares us to be grateful for the glory and majesty and undeserved love God gives us.
These twin disciplines should not leave me feeling guilty, but rather more loved and more valued, because if God did not spare his own Son despite the wretchedness of my sin, how much must he love me! He thinks I have a value that trumps my failures and shortcomings.
I do not always prepare very well to live into my salvation. I forget that the motions of faith are designed to be exercises of the soul so I may be a grateful and joyful disciple. It’s one of the reasons I took up this task (though imperfectly) to read the Scriptures in a reflective way during this season, because I need to grab hold of the preparation regularly and routinely. Only then am I better prepared to live as the holy person God calls me to be.