As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (full text here)
Luke again inserts historical data to give credence to his narrative as well as place John the Baptist in a specific time in history. Here's a little rundown of the men he mentions:
- Tiberius Caesar - ruled Rome from 14-27 AD, beginning John's ministry in AD 28-29 according to Luke. He was an excellent military commander and government administrator, but eventually problems with the Senate led him to abandon Rome for the island of Capri. By the time he died, he was generally despised by the Roman people.
- Pontius Pilate - known for going head to head on several occasions with the Jews and Samaritans over religious beliefs that conflicted with Roman practices. He was violent and ruthless in his rule.
- Herod Antipas - son of Herod the Great. He inherited Galilee and Perea (where John ministered). He married a Nabatean princess, then divorced her to marry Herodias, his niece and the wife of his half brother. John and others verbally attacked him for this marriage, which Jewish law considered unlawful. Herod retaliated by imprisoning and ultimately beheading John. He is also the Herod involved with the trial of Jesus.
- Herod Philip - another son of Herod the Great. (I kid you not; the Herod family tree looks like a spider web.) He also inherited land from his father but was known for justice. Like his father, he was known as a builder, creating Caesarea Philippi.
- Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene - not much is known about this man apart from a quick reference from the Jewish historian Josephus and an inscription on a temple which refers to Lysanias establishing the street and other things.
- Annas and Caiaphas - Jewish high priests appointed by Rome. Annas was the father in law of Caiaphas and continued to exert power even after the official title of high priest rested on Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the high priest during the ministries of John and Jesus. Caiaphas established the practice of allowing vendors to sell their wares in the courtyard of the Temple. Both men feature prominently in the plot to crucify Jesus as well as attempts to silence the apostles in the book of Acts.
Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah (Is. 40:3-5) in our focus verses. This passage promised the Hebrew people deliverance from Babylonian exile through a path God would provide in the wilderness. John's listeners were promised an even greater path, salvation through repentance and belief in the Messiah. This would be a salvation provided not only for God's chosen nation, but for "all flesh". John was preparing people to humble themselves and turn from their sins in order to be prepared for the salvation that would come through Jesus.
When we seek God's direction, the Holy Spirit will reveal clearly the path we need to take toward repentance in our own lives. The path to holiness may not be easy, but it will be laid out as clearly to us as a straight path over flat terrain.
"I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone." - Isaiah 42:16