Comment (5th December 2010)

Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12


    These readings remind us how the prophets prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah.  

    Isaiah lived about 700 years before Christ, at a time when the Assyrians were building their empire. They acted with great cruelty, and once a nation capitulated its people were exiled and scattered all over the empire, so that they could never be a nation again. In Isaiah’s time the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by them, and the Assyrian armies came to the gates of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah where he lived. Isaiah was an important prophet in the court of the king of Judah; yet that did not stop him doing strange things like walking about naked and barefoot for three years as a sign (Isaiah 20:3) of impending disaster.
 
    Much of Isaiah’s prophecy consists of warnings. But there are also messages of great hope, and today’s passage is one of them, foretelling the day when a descendant of King David (son of Jesse) would usher in a new age of righteousness and peace which would involve the whole of creation.
 
    John the Baptist was a contemporary of Jesus, and in many ways he was the last of the Old Testament style prophets. His message concentrated on judgement: the reign of righteousness cannot not begin unless evil is expelled, so make sure you are on the right side! Salvation of God’s people involves both rescue from God’s enemies, and justice being seen to have been done. Prophecies of judgement were simply warnings. What John also offered was something new: baptism as a sign of being one of God’s people, forgiven and ready for God’s king.
 
    What John did not know was that the Messiah was coming to plant the seed of the kingdom, rather than to reap the harvest. The latter will happen when he comes in his glory at the end of this age. Now is the time for salvation, so that when he comes for judgement and the new age there will be a harvest of all nations ready for the king.

Questions
 
1) How are the messages of Isaiah and John relevant to today? 
 
2) How do these passages add to our knowledge of who Jesus was?