Year A – Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

Matthew 11:2–11  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Overview – This important passage tells us about John’s doubts and Jesus’ word of assurance to John, as well as the astounding word that, “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” It may be helpful to remember that in the era just before Jesus came, the Jews wanted to know if the exile was over. On the one hand, they were back “in the Land” from Babylon (at least many were). They had walls, a city, and a temple. On the other hand, they were still oppressed by foreign powers (the Herods and Rome). Had God returned to Zion in fulfillment of the prophets (e.g., Is. 40:1-10)? Now enter John.  John was preaching a “baptism” of the renewal of Israel. Theologian Colin Brown wrote, “John was organizing a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea as a preliminary to recrossing the Jordan as a penitent, consecrated Israel in order to reclaim the land in a quasi-reenactment of the return from the Babylonian exile . . .”  In addition to the “crossing,” John may have sprinkled water on people as they passed, as a ritual of cleansing. This is suggested by the words of Jesus about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matt. 11:7). This could be merely metaphorical, but throughout the Bible such branches are used to apply rites of cleansing (Lev. 14). “A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there…” (Num. 19:18). “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7). It is unlikely that John physically immersed all the people in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). John’s baptism focusing on crossing the Jordan makes more sense of the theme of Israel’s renewal and the end of exile, just as God was returning to Zion in the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth.

Insight – We all experience doubt. Perhaps one of the reasons for John’s doubt, despite the work he had done and the works of Jesus which evidence Him as Messiah, is that John’s story was not working out according to plan. John the Baptist was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John clearly “prepared the way” for Jesus. However, let us recall that Elijah completed his difficult prophetic ministry, but then was taken off to heaven! 2 Kings 2:11: “As they [Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” This is “swing low sweet chariot” situation for Elijah. But what of John? John was imprisoned by the Ahab and Jezebel of his day and ultimately was murdered by them (Matt. 14:3ff). How may we understand this? Jesus said that John was more than a prophet, John prepared Israel to receive Jesus. John’s life and death are emblem of the One for whom he prepared the way. Jesus was not only the Anointed King, but, as even John taught, the Lamb of God. So this Messiah of Israel would also be murdered as part of God’s plan of redemption for His people.

Child Catechism – Who was John the Baptist and what did he do? John the Baptist “prepared the way” for Jesus by calling Israel to repent by leading them through Jordan river in baptism.

Discussion – What does Jesus mean by saying that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John]”?

Prayer (BCP Collect for the Baptist) – Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by the preaching of repentance: lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example, constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year C – Second Sunday of Advent – Luke 3:1–6

Luke 3:1–6 NKJV – “1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ””

Summary – The theme playing in the symphony of Advent 2 readings  is the Preparation of John the Baptizer for Christ’s ministry, which still call to mind the theme of the final (escatological) purification. For example – Mal. 3:2: “But who can endure the day of his coming.” Phil. 1:6-11: “[He] who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ . . .the harvest of righteousness” Luke 3:6: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All of this is due to God’s covenant faithfulness (“messenger of the covenant,” “the oath that he swore” Luke 1:73). Therefore, because of God’s covenant faithfulness, He prepares His people for His salvation in Christ.

The Lord Prepared the World Historically – It happened in history, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea.” Tiberius was Roman emperor from 14-37  (A.D., anno Domini) which makes this about 28 A.D.

The Lord Prepared Israel Prophetically – Isaiah and many prophets had promised both the judgment of Israel (in the flesh) and the salvation of remnant Israel. Israel was to cling to the promises that the place would be “leveled” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Lord Prepared His People Spiritually – The Word came to John in the wilderness (outside of the temple). For those who were spiritually prepared, he preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Insight – Have you ever awaited the arrival of someone special to you, perhaps a family member or old family friend? Sometimes doing this we prepare what we will say, how we will respond, questions to ask . . . In the time of John the Baptist, the people needed to recognize the corruption of their temple and place their hope in Messiah through repentance. We must also Prepare. Repentance is often picture as a complete change, a 180 degree turn. But in our lives as believers it is more like a midcourse correction of a ship or a space ship. You will not land on the moon without little shifts. What “repentances” would change in your course to know Christ’s full salvation to keep your life from being flattened?