Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-11 ; Mark 1:1-8 ; 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Power, Perception, and Principle
Our theme this Advent is “Why?” We will be taking passages and asking questions like “Why this person?” or “Why do it this way?”, etc. This week, all three passages are used to describe a foundational event for the Incarnation – the heralding of His coming. John the Baptist gave a powerful message that hearkened back to a prophecy from Isaiah.
It was a message with great impact, and had a particular focus (which, admittedly, some people didn’t like). In the passage in 2 Peter, we are given some critical insights into why God did it the way that He did. Since some of the most frequently asked questions are “Why did God need to send Jesus?” and even more so, “Why did He have to die?”, we can get an idea of what was behind God’s actions.
We can’t get into it in great depth, because we only have today, and we have Communion. Still, we should be able to touch on the basics and lay a groundwork for you to build on with your own studies.
Let us begin by asking, why John? What was so special about him? The answer, in short, really is credibility. He was the son of a priest, and so was trained in the Scripture and in the sacrificial system and theology. He knew what was intended. He was a cousin of Jesus, so John probably knew him growing up, and could probably act as a character witness, if you will.
He was raised as a Nazarite. That was someone who didn't cut his hair and didn't drink any alcohol at all, only unfermented fruit juice – which frankly was kind of dangerous in that day and age. He spent years in the wilderness as a hermit.
Not that that is grounds for giving someone credibility, but in those days, many who were known to be exceedingly deep in their faith would often go by themselves for long periods of time to meditate and commune with God. In some ways that's the foundation for monasteries we see today. All these things gave him credibility when he began to speak in such a prophetic manner.
Then we might ask, OK, he was a good guy, so what was his message, and why was it so on point? Now it wasn't really declared so much in Mark. It's declared far more in the other Gospels, particularly Luke. But the crux of his message was to repent, to turn around. That's what it means, literally, to change your mind, or your view. It speaks of a 180 degree turn. And to prepare for the coming of the King/Messiah.
He utilized the prophesy from Isaiah, and that wasn't accidental. The prophecy in Isaiah occurs at a place in the book where one of the “good kings” has just been told that the country will be overtaken by foreign invaders, and they will lose everything. That's in chapter 39, and the king is Hezekiah.
However, in the following chapter, which many people say transitions from the Old Testament to the New Testament, if you will, in its perspective, Isaiah says that God promises some things. He promises that His people can take comfort in knowing it will come to an end, that is, that time of tribulation and oppression; and that God not only will have not forgotten them, but has plans for something great!
The people need to prepare for Him – even while oppressed and exiled. The primary way for doing that was by repenting, and changing your life around. In the Gospel of Luke, in 3:10-14, John even gives specific advice about lifestyle to some of the crowd that ask him what to do. I would note, in passing, if you look at that, it's interesting because some of the soldiers asked something, and those soldiers were probably Roman. So John was impacting not just the Jews, but even some of the Gentiles, with his message. Talk about a precursor of what was to come!
We see also with Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, that his initial message was “Repent, for the kingdom [or rule] of God is at hand.” And some of his last messages before the Passion were (as we have seen in the last couple of weeks) to “watch” and to “be ready” for his coming again. So we have this consistency of message.
The epistle of Peter reminds his readers of that message once again. He reiterates the apocalyptic message of Christ, with the call of destruction of what is known and familiar and the introduction of what is new and beyond imagination. He reminds them of the need to be ready, and gives an interesting twist on things to help believers be patient.
You see, they were undergoing persecution – heavy persecution – at the time, and much of Peter's advice in his epistles is about how to live as a persecuted believer in that country. It might be something that we need to familiarize ourselves with, if things continue the way they have.
What Peter gives the believer is a perspective for patience. He points out that God, who is in eternity and outside of time, can insert Himself anywhere, any time. Therefore a thousand years is like a day to Him, but a day is also like a thousand years to Him. This is not as paradoxical as you might think. It is all relative to what God wants to do, and what His plans are.
He also gives a reason for this seemingly long wait. And of course back in those days, it had only been fifty or seventy years. Now it has been two thousand years. But this reason is based on the character of God. You see, God has chosen all who will be saved, and as Jesus said, “Not a one of them has slipped from my grasp”.
God is patiently waiting for everyone who will respond to the gospel to do so. In many cases, that may mean waiting for them to be born! Or for them to be witnessed to. He is giving everyone the chance to accept or reject the gospel; to change their lives in repentance and start following Christ; and to make the changes long-term that show a readiness for Christ to come again.
People, as strange as it may sound, this is good news! This is good news for you, and good news for those around you who still need God in their lives! There is still time! But this good news comes with a warning: God isn’t going to wait forever. In order to fulfill His promises, Christ will come again in power, and on that day, the judgment will come and it will be too late to try and change things. That's why you need to be doing it now.
So what does this all tell us? What can we take away from these Scriptures and this idea that is consistently present in them? First, God is in control. He has the power, and the plan. He used John as the most credible witness of his time to announce Jesus' coming as the Messiah. Now, God has chosen each one of us to announce His coming again. He has given us consistent instructions throughout the Bible, to guide us and inspire us in doing what is right for ourselves and to prepare the way for His coming.
The second thing that we can learn is that God has given us His perspective, not only on how to live, and what His ultimate plans are, but also how He sees things. We may not be able to completely understand, but we can get enough to be patient as we wait, and to, as it says in Galatians 6, “not tire of doing good,” and to openly “give reason for the hope that is within us” (I paraphrase that from 1 Peter 3).
Until that day comes, we need to live by those principles that will honor God and draw others to Him. By doing so, we stay alert and are ready for when Christ comes again. One of the ways we strengthen ourselves for this task is by taking Communion. Reminding ourselves of how much God loves us, what He was willing to undergo for us, and the victories He gained for us, help us to stay on track ourselves.
As we move into this Advent season fully, let us determine to remember both aspects of this season, as we celebrate what has been done, in the birth of Christ as Savior, and look to what will be done, as Christ comes again as King, by our God and King, Jesus.
I didn't write the words to this praise chorus, but on your own, if you want to look up the song “All Hail, King Jesus” on YouTube, it's a wonderful little chorus, and as soon as I finished this sermon, it started running through my head. I recommend it to you.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.