Isaiah 40:3-5 and Prophecies of Jesus

hqdefaultOne of the main tenets of Christianity is that there were many prophecies from the Old Testament, hundreds of years old, that were fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Many of these prophecies come from Isaiah and are reported to be anywhere from almost 800-600 years old by the time of Christ (depending upon who is calculating the dates for Isaiah’s composition). This passage is one of the better-known ones:

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
    Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
    and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
    Uneven ground will become level,
    and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
    and all humanity will see it together;
    the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

Here is a perfect example of how prophecy has both a present dimension for the people hearing it and a future dimension that gives even more insight into God through it. In the present, this is a statement of fact that God is going to bring his people back from exile. Their journey will be God-ordained, God-protected, and God-provided. What would ordinarily seem treacherous will be easy because the Lord is involved, and the entire world will see the power of God when the people arrive home.

In the future, this is a statement concerning the incarnation of Jesus. John the Baptist is the voice in the wilderness and he prepares the wilderness of people’s souls for the coming of the Lord’s glory in Jesus Christ. This is a powerful message that through Jesus, the spiritual exile in which humanity has existed since the Garden of Eden is ending. It is also a powerful message that the fullness of God’s glory is seen in Jesus.

From our vantage point in the present day, we can see both the original and future meanings of the prophecy and it can help us understand just how gracious and powerful God is. Thanks be to God!

Luke 3:15 and Great Expectations

baptist3I’ve always been amazed at how quickly crowds surrounded John the Baptist and Jesus.  Of course a lot of it most likely had to do with the fact that God was, at that very moment, acting in a great way.  But there was something more.

The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. (Luke 3:15).

It really is no wonder the people were filled with expectation.  Look at all that had gone on before this point.

1. Zechariah is rendered mute coming out of the Temple, and there was a crowd to see this fact.

2. When John is born and Zechariah can speak once again, a great crowd was around and heard the prophecy concerning John.

3. When Jesus was born, the shepherds were explicitly told the Christ had been born, and they told everyone around them what they saw in the fields.

4. When Jesus is taken to the Temple for the purification rites, Simeon and Anna both proclaim to all who would listen who the baby was and what God was going to do through him.

5. When Jesus was twelve he attracted a huge crowd in the Temple as he asked questions and answered other questions.

6. Not in Luke’s Gospel, but according to Matthew all Jerusalem was in an uproar when the magi arrived from the east and consulted with Herod about the King of the Jews being born.

Fast forward thirty years, and it really is no wonder people were full of expectation!  Most of the people in the region would have either seen or at least heard of what had happened years earlier and expected God’s redemption to begin with power.  The reality that God was about to act was palpable and everyone knew something great was about to happen.  So it is no wonder when someone like John shows up hearkening back to Elijah, someone who was supposed to precede the coming of the Lord, that people would remember just thirty years ago and anticipate God’s action.

Passive Benevolent Behavior

Much of what passes as evangelism today is telling people how horrible they are so that they can understand the enormous love and grace the gift of salvation is.  Christians try to make people feel guilty and miserable so they can make them feel better later.

This is Passive Benevolent Behavior.  (Yes, I made that up).  Unlike the flip-side of passive-aggressive behavior, in which someone acts nice and friendly in order to cut down, belittle, humiliate, or obstruct someone or something, passive-benevolent behavior acts meanly with the goal of being nice in the end.  Make people understand how guilty they are so they can feel hopeless in their guilt, and then offer a solution to the problem.

It is no wonder the West is becoming increasingly less Christian.  When as Christians talk about Good News, and then start talking about how awful someone is, there is a problem.6a00e552e3404e8833013488e3c77b970c

The main problem now (other than the fact that intentionally trying to make someone feel like they are worthless is emotional abuse), is that this line of thinking about sharing the faith, the Good News, doesn’t work any more because people generally don’t feel guilty any more.  Things that were unthinkable fifty years ago, and unspeakable twenty years ago, are an accepted part of society today.  And there is no guilt over that fact.

When well meaning Christians try to evangelize by pointing out how bad and guilty people are, and then offer the way out, they are following the “John the Baptist School of Evangelism.”  This is the type of evangelism that calls a sin a sin in the most direct and confrontational way and let the chips fall where they may.  John the Baptist could only be successful, though, in Judea.  There he was speaking to a group of people (first century Jewish people) who had a common culture and a shared understanding of right and wrong thanks to the Law and Prophets.

John the Baptist would not have done well in Athens.  Paul (in Acts 17) takes a completely different approach to sharing the Good News.  There is no shared culture or understanding of right and wrong.  And there certainly was no guilt over having altars and idols to every god in the known world.  Paul was a very faith-filled Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah.  As a Jew, he would have been disgusted by the idolatry in Athens.  John the Baptist probably would have had even more harsh words than calling them a “brood of vipers.”

Yet Paul takes a completely different approach.  He doesn’t try to make the Athenians feel guilty over an obvious (by Jewish Scripture standards) sin, but he uses what he can in that culture to point to Jesus Christ.  Paul remembered that, first and foremost, the message of Jesus is a message of Good News, and not a kind of good news that can only be understood and accepted once people understand how worthless, hopeless, and disgusting to God they are.  What kind of a message is that?

We would do well in the Church today to remember that we are in the Good News business.  Let us not be passive-aggressive or passive-benevolent, but rather let us offer the same kind of hope, love, and grace that Jesus did and Paul did in Jesus’ Name.