Please read Isaiah 35 v 1-10 and Matthew 11 v 1-15 and then pray; Almighty God, open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word, things that prophets longed to see, which have now been revealed by the Holy Spirit through your most Holy Word. Amen.

Advent is all about preparing to celebrate the arrival or the appearing of the One who was to come. The promise of the One to come began way back in Genesis 3:15 immediately after the fall of humankind as God pronounced judgment upon the serpent who had so masterfully deceived Eve:

Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Here, right at the beginning of the salvation story, we are told that the One who was to come would be capable of crushing the serpent’s head and humiliating him to the dust – and yet the One to come would also suffer himself; his heel would be struck by the serpent.

As the Old Testament story unfolds, we learn that the One who was to come would descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he would come out of the tribe of Judah, from the stump of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1) from the line of King David, Jesse’s son. A unique child would be born; a son would be given. He would be born in Bethlehem, David’s town. (Micah 5:2)

Jesus Christ was the One to come – the promised Messiah, King, and Lord. He would bruise the serpent’s head. Joseph was told by the angel of the Lord not be afraid to take Mary as his wife even though she was already pregnant and the child was not his:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

Jesus was that promised child, the One to come as foretold by the various but harmonious prophetic voices of the past. In Chapter 11 of Matthew’s gospel – a prophet of notable distinction, John the Baptist, who is languishing in prison, raises a question about the identity of Jesus, even though he had personally baptised him, and witnessed the dramatic descent and resting of the Spirit upon Jesus as he stepped out of the river. (John 1:32-34). The holy power of that event never left John’s mind.

John the Baptist sends some of his own followers to ask Jesus for a definitive answer to a specific question: Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else? John had heard what Jesus was doing, but he wondered about his own fate. Would he not be freed by the Messiah, and would not the Romans be overthrown? When would decisive judgement come? He had imagined that such clear judgment would come with the arrival of the One who was to come. But that had not happened. He found this perplexing and unnerving.

Jesus is clear in his answer to John’s followers but he does not give a direct “yes” or “no” answer. He tells John’s followers to return to John with the relevant news, the good news, that;

  • The blind receive sight.
  • The lame walk.
  • Those with leprosy are cured.
  • The deaf hear.
  • The dead are raised.
  • The good news is preached to the poor.

What Jesus is making clear is that the kingdom has arrived with him, and here is all the evidence to prove it. This is the evidence that was expected to be seen and heard according to the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 35: 5-6, 61:1). The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord had fallen upon Jesus after his baptism by John, and he was now working wonders, demonstrating the presence of the Kingdom through healing, and bruising the serpent’s head by expelling demons and raising the dead. Much of this work was being done and shared amongst the poor. Jesus was exceptionally good news!

Jesus was assuring John that the Kingdom bursting with good news had arrived; however, the fullness of the Kingdom awaited a future time. Final justice would be seen to be done then; all evil would be crushed, and God’s people would share a new heaven and a new earth filled with righteousness, justice, and peace. The Kingdom would come in two stages. This was the revelation given by Jesus in his teaching, and especially through his parables. The Kingdom was here now, as could be seen through the healings etc… and would be advanced through the work of Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 10), but it would not fully arrive until Jesus had died, risen, ascended and come back into the world a second time. And the advancement of the Kingdom now, in this present age, would be violently opposed – and John’s imprisonment was evidence of that – and so is the whole history of the persecution of the Church and opposition to the good news contained in the bible. (11:12)

John the Baptist’s disciples leave Jesus and return to their imprisoned prophet, a prophet who will soon be executed – a faithful prophet who will have done his supreme work – the work of preparing the way for the One who was to come. It is because John the Baptist was so integral to this “preparing the way ministry,” that he is acknowledged each advent through the lighting of a candle, normally on the third Sunday of this important season.

Jesus continues to talk to the crowds at length about the remarkable John. And by doing this – Jesus will present more evidence as to why he is the One who was to come.

What have people seen in John? What marked the life of this extraordinary prophet? Jesus highlights three things that were all significant about the personality and prophetic voice that would prepare the way for Messiah and that were true of John:

  • The forerunner would be a man attached to the desert, the wilderness; that would be his home and ministry base.
  • He would be someone of power, fearlessness, and courage; he would be resolute and not swayed or bent by any kind of pressure.
  • His clothing would be basic and could in no be described as “fine.”

We know John lived an ascetic existence in the desert from an early age. (Luke 1:80) People had to go out to the wilderness to hear him. He ate wilderness food, including wild honey and locusts. He wore a garment made from camel hair with a leather belt. His preaching on repentance was strong and resolute. There was no compromise in his message of “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.”

400 years before John the Baptist was born, the final prophetic voice of the OT era heralded news about a future figure who would be preparing the way for the Lord’s coming. The prophet Malachi proclaimed that God would send His messenger ahead of the Lord to prepare the way for him. (Malachi 3:1) This messenger would be Elijah-like in the way he spoke and presented himself. (Malachi 4:5) John the Baptist’s father Zechariah the priest, had been told that his son would set out in the spirit and power of Elijah. (Luke 1:17). Jesus confirms that John was the Elijah to come. John was the one chosen to prepare the way. John was the promised messenger who would precede the promised Messiah. (Matthew 11:14)

So, if John’s identity is so clear, if he was the Elijah to come as Jesus maintained, the one who would prepare the way – then it is also clear that Jesus is the Messiah for whom the way was prepared so thoroughly by John’s preaching and baptising ministry. As John had already proclaimed and pointed out himself, Jesus was the “Lamb of God who was destined to take away the sin of the world.” Jesus was/is the Christ. (John 1: 29-30)

John’s ministry proved Jesus was the Christ. Jesus’s ministry proved that He was the Christ. Wisdom is proved right by her actions. (11:19b)

Jesus also states that John was paradoxically both “the greatest” and yet also “the least.” (Matthew 11:11) In Jesus’s estimation, John was the greatest of all the prophets who had lived because of the significance of the ministry to which he was called (preparing the way for Jesus) and the outstanding faithfulness toward the execution of this ministry. However, Jesus goes on to elevate higher those who have now entered and tasted the long-awaited Kingdom which John had proclaimed was now at hand. John’s ministry was indeed privileged, but the privilege of those now entering the Kingdom is even greater. Those “in Christ,” who have been born again into this kingdom of light which has now come with Jesus, are far more privileged. Many prophets longed for that which Christians now possess.

Is Jesus the One whom the world has been waiting for, or should we expect another? Jesus is the One. Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is Lord. Does this uncompromising message delight or offend you? (11:6)

John’s prophetic ministry proves it to be the absolute truth!

The uniqueness of Jesus’s miraculous conception proves it. (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1: 34-37)

Jesus alone fulfilled all the OT messianic prophecies. (Matthew 11:13, Luke 24:25-27)

Note that Jesus’s sinless life points to his supremacy – he stands alone.

Note also Jesus’s powerful, authoritative, matchless teaching, including his good news to the poor.

Note also Jesus’s healing miracles, authority over disease, and demonstration of the kingdom’s arrival.

Note further Jesus’s authority over evil and the way he alone crushed the serpents head.

Note well Jesus’s authority over death. He raised the dead by his own authority. He himself was raised from the dead by the Father and lives forever.

Note also Jesus’s authority over the elements. Even the winds and waves obeyed him.

Especially note Jesus’s resurrection, ascension and promise to come again.  We wait in hope!

Jesus presently builds his Church (through baptising her with His Spirit and fire as John prophesied) and the advancement of His kingdom throughout the nations is happening just as he predicted to the twelve. The gates of hell shall not prevail.

All that was said of God in the OT, is said of Jesus in the NT. All that was said of the Messiah in the OT was fulfilled by Jesus in the NT. What more evidence does anyone need?  It is all there for you to see. Jesus is the One. The only question which remains is this: Do Jesus offend you? Do his demands cause you to stumble? (11:6) Or are you drawn to worship and follow him? How will you personally respond to the evidence which boldly announces that He is the Saviour of the world? The time to make your decision about Jesus is now. The evidence means that you cannot sit on the fence. It is time to make your mind up. Repent for the promised Kingdom of heaven is now at hand. This was the dual message of John and Jesus. (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) This is what must be presented to the world today until the time when the One who was to come, comes again in great power and with awesome glory.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – be all glory, honour, and praise. Amen!

Revd Peter J Clarkson (11.12.22)