That’s a Strange Question

December 15th, 2019 The 3rd Sunday of Advent (Cycle A)

Psalm 146:6-10, Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 4:2-11

His whole life centered on the work in the desert. He labored in the wilderness: baptizing, preaching, and preparing the masses for the Messiah’s coming.  The people came. The crowds grew. Finally, one day he saw Him: The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! The Lord allowed John to baptize Him. The heavens opened. The Holy Spirit descended. The voice of the Father boomed with approval.  It was glorious! It was amazing! It was mission accomplished! The Baptist was ready to give up the limelight for his Lord. “He must increase. I must decrease” (John 3:30). But now, in prison, John is having second thoughts. Apparently, Christmas (the first coming of the Messiah) was not turning out to be what he had expected. There was no popular uprising around their king. No Roman revolt. No righting of all the wrongs. No part for John to play in the new administration. He had to ask himself, “Did I miss something?” John sent his disciples to Jesus with a question. “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

It seems to be a strange question considering the events surrounding our Lord’s baptism. Jesus gives us some insight. First, he validates John as tops in the “Who’s Who” of Old Testament prophets. No one had his credentials: a miracle birth like Issacs’s, the power of Elijah, and the subject of prophesy (Malachi 4:5-6, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, Matt 3:3, Mark 1:1-3).  Jesus then declares the least in the kingdom of heaven to be greater than the Baptist. HUH? You must see the context to tie it all together. The problem with prophesy is that it is only clear in hindsight. Before it occurs, it remains pixelated. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual for the prophets themselves to admit that they had no idea about what they were writing down under God’s inspiration.  So, before Jesus’ resurrection anything relating to the Messiah was best guess. We, on the New Testament side of the cross, have more facts and can explain the gospel of salvation to the world. We have a better revelation than John did and the higher calling of the Great Commission to spread the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus also plants a redirect in John’s Messianic focus with an answer from our reading today: The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear… (Isaiah 35:5-6). By this the Lord demonstrates that He is on course and encourages John not to trip over what He is doing. The imprisoned prophet must learn to be open to God’s plan as it unfolds.

Our Old Testament readings in Isaiah 35 and Psalm 146:6-10 harmonize in their Messianic message and flow easily into Jesus’ mission mentioned in Matthew 4. Yet, there is so much left in these prophesies to be fulfilled. Ironically, this places us in the same position as the prophets of old (we are still at best guess) when it comes to the Bible’s sequence of End Time events. Prophesy is a present from God. The Old Testament prophets saw the box all wrapped up. After the resurrection, the present was opened, and we find that it’s a puzzle made up of many pieces. It’s a better understanding, but still way beyond our comprehension. These perplexing parts can only be put together by our heavenly Father. So, we look on, make our best guesses as the picture unfolds, and wait for the Lord to finish it.

James encourages us to be patient as we go to our reading today in James 5:7-10. Every day brings the fulfillment of all prophesies and Jesus’s return (second Christmas) just a bit little closer. “Wait for it…wait for it,” he says. In this third week of Advent, let’s prepare our hearts for second Christmas in the same way we get ready to celebrate the first Christmas:

Live large. Don’t let the petty things in get in your way. Be generous. Be loving. Be forgiving. 

Live holy. Walk with God now! It’s good practice for heaven.

Live faithfully. We don’t have to understand what God is doing. We need only to trust and obey Him as He unfolds His plan for us as He works His will on the world stage.

Live aware. Like the wiseman, who were the only ones that seemed to know what was going on that first Christmas. Jesus encourages us to know the signs of our times (Matthew 16:3).

The first Christmas and the life of Jesus caught everybody off guard. Even in looking toward the second Christmas, I can guarantee you that it won’t be how we expect it. One thing I can say is that it will be glorious, it will be amazing, and for those who look forward to His coming, it will be…mission accomplished!

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