The sometimes not-so-good thing about detailed scripture study is that you very rarely make it very far very fast. Today, after a good half hour of study, I finished the first three verses of Matthew 3, which make up part of next week’s lesson. The good thing, of course, is that I wound up pondering those three verses in full, and of course, part of that pondering included researching the scriptures given in the footnote.
The surface of the verses seems very simplistic; John the Baptist began his mortal ministry, preaching that we must “Repent..: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, in which one would cry in the wilderness for people to make his paths straight.
The second and third verse grabbed my attention almost immediately, especially as I began studying the footnotes. I began to ponder why the Lord would need to send John the Baptist. What was so special about this man that an angel would visit his father and foretold of his birth? The answer comes in Alma 9:25, where the Lord proclaims that He sends angels to proclaim repentance, thus saving his people from destruction.
John spent his time preaching repentance. As his followers listened and obeyed, their hearts were softened. They became humbled. Anyone who has sincerely repented knows that, in doing so, we become more malleable, more sensitive to the promptings from the Holy Ghost. As those who listened to John repented, they prepared themselves for the coming of Christ. Because they were sincerely striving to keep the commandments and put themselves in tune with the Lord, they were better able to recognize the Savior when He arrived. They may not have recognized the full scope of His work, but they were able to accept His words and His teachings as truth when they heard them. I began to wonder, then, how many would not have been prepared to receive the Savior had not their hearts been softened first by the teachings of John.
Isaiah prophesied that John would command others to “make (the Lord’s) paths straight.” Missionaries in this dispensation have been commanded to do the same. If you look at D&C 33:10, missionaries are to command this generation to repent, to prepare the ways of the Lord, and to make His paths straight. The Lord then commands us to be baptized, which one would surmise is one way to make those paths straight. Turn next to D&C 65, a short section filled with latter-day exhortions. After being instructed to keep His paths straight, we are commanded to pray and to make known the Lord’s works among the people. Verse 5 tells us to prepare the inhabitants of the earth for the second coming of the Lord.
Much as John prepared the way for Christ’s mortal ministry, we have an obligation to prepare the way for His second coming. Latter-day Saints are blessed with the “good news” of the gospel. As we lead our family, friends, and neighbors to recognize Christ and to draw closer to them, we prepare them to receive the Savior upon His return. Are you serving as John the Baptist did, softening the hearts of those around you?