According to Jesus, John the Baptist has a lot going for him. Jesus labels John the greatest of the prophets.
Crowds of people hikes out into the desert near the Dead Sea to hear John’s message. John offers not sugar-coated platitudes but harsh words pointing out people’s sins and calling them to repentance. His message clearly comes from God. His clothing of animal skins and diet of grasshoppers and honey make him strange. Nevertheless, people listen to what John has to say because he speaks with godly authority.
Despite John’s credentials, Jesus tells his disciples that even “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater” than John. That’s because those of us who are heirs to the grace of God through Christ’s sacrificial death have a direct relationship with God through the resurrected Christ. Living before the blessings that come from God following Pentecost, John knows only of the “works salvation” of the Hebrew scriptures. As post-Pentecost Christians, we are able to have a direct relationship with God that transcends what John preached.
John knew the God who could be encountered person to person only in the inner throne room of Jerusalem’s Temple once a year on what the Bible calls “the Day of Atonement.” Now, because of Christ, we all can have direct access to God through prayer without an earthly priest. Our intimacy is such that we can call God Abba, an intimate word for father. Not even John’s status back then could top the relationship we now can have because of what Jesus has made available for us.
Jesus, thank you for the incredible and direct relationship we can have with God that you have made possible. Help us not to neglect this precious gift but to practice living in your presence daily. Amen.
Isaiah anticipates a future time of total restoration. The desert will bloom, the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the people will return to Jerusalem with joy. Since ancient times, some have understood this as a description of the age of the Messiah. Luke records the song of Mary. After Elizabeth blesses her and her unborn child, Mary praises God for God’s strength, mercy, and generosity. In the epistle, James encourages his audience to be patient as they await the second coming of the Lord. In the same way, we wait for the birth of the Messiah during Advent. An uncertain John the Baptist sends a message to Jesus to ask if he is the promised Messiah. Jesus responds by affirming that he fulfills the messianic expectations in the prophets.
Read Isaiah 35:1-10. When has scripture strengthened you through personal or societal crises?
Read Luke 1:47-55. Those with power interpret scripture differently than those who are oppressed. How can you make room for perspectives other than your own as you interpret scripture?
Read James 5:7-10. When have you had to endure frustration with patience? How have you been strengthened by these experiences?
Read Matthew 11:2-11. What does it mean to you to be greater than John the Baptist?
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