The Long-Expected Jesus

We enter once again into the season of year where we repeat the greatest of all stories, remembering the coming of Christ into the world in order to fulfill God’s redemptive plan of the ages. As always, telling this story involves a lot of rehearsing of familiar narratives. The challenge is to bring a fresh angle and unique consideration to something so very well-known.

Our series this year is an attempt to truly humanize the characters involved. These are folks not terribly different from most of us, going about their lives while little expecting to be given a role in the greatest story of them all. And so we want to bring them alive in fresh ways, speaking through their voices and attempting to tell a story as it likely looked from their perspective.

So to begin with our devotionals, let’s try to drop in on the world and context into which Jesus would come. It was indeed a non-stellar era of Jewish history. The Romans ruled the roost. The religious leaders of the Jewish nation were mostly self-serving and therefore sell-outs to the iron-fisted world power. A dissident group of Zealots imagined and dreamed of overthrow and political solutions, yet the minority of those in Israel who were faithful to God understood the core issues to be spiritual in nature (now there’s a timeless truth!).

There remained in Israel a hope and expectation of a promised Messiah figure as portrayed by a vast array of Old Testament prophets dating back many hundreds of years. But wow … talk about waiting!

Let’s illustrate it this way: We think that the Pilgrims coming to America was a long, long time ago. And that is true, being about 400 years. That is how many years had passed in Israel since the most recent of the Old Testament prophets had made a prediction of a coming Messiah. Other prophecies went back even 1500 years.

And so, Israel waited; the world waited. False messiahs came and went. When would the true fulfillment come, and what would it look like?

Even those who wrote about it wondered concerning these questions. All they could do under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was write some foggy pieces of the story. What they could see was interesting indeed. At any given time they held in their hands and minds a couple of very colorful pieces of a larger puzzle. They could tell that the whole picture of the entire puzzle, when completed and revealed, was going to be the most amazing thing ever. Their pieces were interesting in their own right. But they could not put it together, and that was frustrating for them to be writing about something they even knew they would not live to see.

Peter wrote about this, saying …

1 Peter 1:10 – Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

The entire collection of details and puzzle pieces is amazing. We can see that the ancient Scriptures prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a woman — a virgin, of the family of Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Judah > David, born in Bethlehem though going to Egypt, named Immanuel and called the Son of God, a Nazarene bringing light to the Gentiles, being falsely accused and forsaken and put to death as the sacrifice for sin ……. And that’s just the beginning of details. And people doubt the Scriptures!!  And today they doubt the second coming of Christ as well.

Among the early songs of each Christmas season is the 18th century Charles Wesley hymn that captures the essence of these thoughts today …

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

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The Limits of Prophetic Vision (1 Peter 1:10-12)

The most immediate danger of idolatry is not spiritual death (though that comes later) but spiritual boredom.  When we measure our spiritual experiences against the yardstick of comfort, our idols possess limited effectiveness. Idols, after all, wear out; their effects wear off.  The result is an unending thirst for novelty: a new worship album, a new Bible study, a new religious project—even a new church community.  It’s little wonder why Americans change churches as often as some might change drycleaners.

This also might prompt us to mistake spiritual “busyness” for genuine intimacy with God.  We assume that if we’re happy, God must be pleased with us. And if we’re unhappy, then perhaps it’s time to try something new.

Worse, when suffering inevitably comes, we are confronted with the inadequacy of our tokens of comfort.  Where does that leave us?

Peter says that nothing—nothing—compares to the promises of God himself.  He says that if anything, Christians should rejoice in knowing that God’s promises came true in the person of Jesus:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)

In her commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes points out the great contrast between the past and present.  In the past, prophets looked forward to the arrival of Jesus; in the present we celebrate it.  In the past the Spirit revealed God’s future through prophets; in the present the Spirit told us of their fulfillment.  In the past, God’s messengers strained to know God’s future with certainty; in the present even the angels strain to gaze into the truths of the gospel.

So, Peter is saying, the sufferings that Christ experienced wasn’t an interruption in God’s plan; it was a vital part of it.  That means that the suffering that you and I might experience is likewise a part of an unfolding story.

Boredom produces a wandering eye—always flitting to “what’s next.”  But Peter said that even though God’s messengers spoke of “what’s next,” the arrival of Jesus is a joy that surpasses their anticipation.  What other message could possibly bring this kind of satisfaction?  What other hope is there?

Angels never get bored with the gospel.

And neither should we.