As the Romans soldiers hoisted the cross, with Jesus nailed to it, the Son of Man was being lifted up and he was drawing all humanity to himself (John 12:32). The crucifixion was designed to be a slow and painful method of execution, and it was common for those condemned to die on the cross to live for several days. We know that Jesus, and his condemned companions, were on the cross only a few hours. But for those hours, Jesus was conscious and even spoke. He spoke to his mother and her companions. He spoke to one of the condemned thieves. On the cross he prayed. Many condemned persons have recited desperate prayers as death approached. But Jesus’ prayer was different. Jesus, “God with us,” prayed a prayer of intercession: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
A few years ago I received a call from my brother very early one Sunday morning. In a voice that sounded very distressed he said, “Dan, I need you.” I ask, “Tim, what’s wrong?” He explained to me that his eighteen year old daughter, Danielle, had been killed in an automobile crash. I immediately left Bainbridge for the three hour drive to Baxley to be with my brother. The night was very dark – no moon and no stars. It seemed as if the whole world had been overcome by the dense, dark night. When I arrived at Tim’s home we embraced and wept together. Then Tim asked, “Dan, why did God take my baby from me?”
The Lenten season lasts forty days, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Forty is a number that is deeply rooted in the biblical tradition. For forty days and nights as the rains fell upon the earth, the future of humanity, and of all life on the earth, was protected within the confines of the ark of Noah. The inhabitants of the ark remained for forty more days as they waited for the flood waters to recede. Moses spent forty years of his life as a shepherd in the wilderness, a fugitive, separated from all he knew as one who had been raised in the home of the Egyptian pharaoh. Later, he spent forty days on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God. The liberated Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years, following the fiery cloud. Elijah spent forty days fasting on Mt. Horeb, a faithful prophet who was being persecuted by an evil king and queen. Both Moses and Elijah spent forty days on the mountain of God in prayer and fasting.
Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:9-10).
The prophets of ancient Israel declared that Yahweh is the One who fills the earth with the glory of His presence (Isaiah 6:3). The prophets were theologians par excellence and their theological expectations are fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here selected passages are interpreted via a Trinitarian model to demonstrate how the prophetic writings reveal God’s mission to rule all the nations of the earth.
The Universal Dominion of Yahweh
Yahweh is not a parochial deity whose dominion is limited to the geographical borders of national Israel or whose influence is limited to the Temple in Jerusalem. Isaiah’s throne vision of Yahweh (Isaiah 6:1ff) serves as the inauguration of his prophetic ministry and as an introduction to the canonical prophets. In this vision, Yahweh is presented as the Sovereign King of the universe, whose glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3; also 40:5). The “glory” of Yahweh speaks of his presence, influence, and power.
The people of Israel were a people expecting deliverance from Roman domination. They desperately wanted to be free from Roman soldiers, Roman taxes, and Roman culture. As God had redeemed their ancestors from Egypt and Babylon, they now placed their hope in a new deliverer, a messiah that would embody Moses, Joshua, and David. They were also expecting revival. They desperately wanted a revival of Jewish culture and religion. They wanted to hear the thundering words of the prophets once again, sing their psalms of praise anew, and see the glory of God descend upon the Temple. As the people heard the thundering words of John the Baptist calling the nation back to the wilderness, back to the Jordan River, they heard his call for corporate repentance. Maybe this fiery new prophet was their long awaited messiah! They asked, “Are you Messiah?”
The Baptist replied, “Messiah is coming and he will bring the Spirit and fire.” These words resonated in the ears and hearts of all who heard. Anyone familiar with the preaching of the ancient prophets knew that God had promised both the Spirit and fire.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
There are some things that we need to forget as we “press forward.”
We must forget our resentments. We need to let go of these resentments because they poison our lives. Issues must be resolved. They color our whole perspective of life. Let the new year provide us with an opportunity of both offering forgiveness and seeking forgiveness. Once Peter asked Jesus about the limits of forgiveness and discovered that mercy has no end (Matthew 18:21-35).As Christians you and I have been the recipients of God’s grace and mercy. We have been set free from the power of sin and the guilt that can cripple the spirit. As Christians, we are commanded to be just as gracious and merciful to those who have offended and injured us. In doing so we set them free of their sin against us and we set ourselves free of the bitterness and resentment that clouds our mind and poisons our heart.
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light (John 1:6-8 NASB).
We don’t often think of John the Baptist when thinking of Christmas. As far as I know, there are no Christmas hymns dedicated to him, he does not appear in the manger scene, and he does not appear in any Christmas play that I’ve seen. But in the observance of Advent, the person and message of John the Baptist is significant in our preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
John is “a man sent from God.” The last words of the Old Testament prophets were, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5 NASB). Malachi preached during the post-exilic period of Israel. It is common to refer to the time between Malachi and Matthew as “the silent years.” While I would not refer to them as the silent years (there was a lot going on!) it is true that for generations there was no prophetic voice. The appearance of John the Baptist stirred the hopeful imagination of the people that their day of deliverance was at hand. The Jewish leaders of Jerusalem send a party to inquire of John, “Are you Elijah… are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21). Although John denied it, Jesus later affirmed that John did come in the spirit of Elijah (Matthew 11:14); John is the forerunner of whom Malachi prophesied. As the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23), John personifies the collective voices of Israel’s prophets from Moses to Malachi. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets.
Trust is basic to the well being of all human relationships and institutions. Trust is about the proper use of power. When power is properly exercised leaders are deemed to be worthy of trust. A breach of trust occurs when power is abused.
A culture of trust must be built upon the foundation of covenant with God, and the human community.
A proper relationship with God is expressed in a proper relationship with others. The building blocks of covenant community are:
Honoring parents and elders (Exodus 20:12; 1 Timothy 5:1).
Reverence for human life (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-25).
Fidelity to the marriage covenant (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-32).
Respect for the property of others (Exodus 20:15, 17; Ephesians 4:28).
Promotion of justice (Exodus 20:16; Matthew 23:23).
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at Your presence…” (Isaiah 64:1 NASB).
The absence of God makes us keenly aware of our need of God’s presence!
This prayer of Isaiah reflects a time when God seems to be absent from Israel and Israel is removed from the land of Promise. The perceived absence of God is painful to the point of being unbearable. It seems that there is a vast veil that separates God from the earth. God’s absence means that the people are alone in hopeless despair. This forces a cry of lament: “God, tear apart the heavenly veil and come down!” God’s presence causes a cosmic cataclysm. The heavens are rent, mountains quake, and nations tremble. God’s presence is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).