In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,We make preparations for all sorts of things: for birthdays, weddings, holidays, funerals, and more. Whether it's baking a cake or sending out invitations, most big events require preparation.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:3)
The biggest event in history, the coming of the Messiah, also required preparation. John the Baptist was the man who did the preparing, just as Isaiah prophesied:
A voice cries:Think of the impossibility of John's task. He, a mere man, had to prepare the way for the Son of God— for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords— for the very One who sustains the universe by the power of His word!
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
So great was John the Baptist's task that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother's womb! To put it loosely, John was born again before he was born. From the earliest stages of his life, he was led by the Spirit (Luke 1:15). That's not to say that John lived a perfect life. No, he was still fallen, still in need of the Saviour.
John preached a message of repentance. He was convinced that Israel was unclean in God's eyes, and in order to prepare for the Messiah, repentance was needed. Soon enough, repentance came. Perhaps not on the scale that John had imagined, but it came. People from all over the country heard his preaching, everyone from the common citizen to the Pharisee, even soldiers.
Eventually, John finished his preparation. He stepped aside from the spotlight, recognizing that he had to decrease and the Messiah had to increase. How else could the words from Isaiah, written shortly after the prophecy cited by Matthew, be fulfilled?
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)