I am always amazed by the treasure of God’s Word, and how no matter how many times one reads it, there is always another mystery to uncover. “What do you want me to see today, Lord?” is a good way to open your study time.
This past week, I began reading in Matthew. I somehow got it into my head that I should read all 4 gospels before Christmas. I am craving to look into the way Jesus taught and walked and loved, seeing it all with fresh eyes. Several things have stood out to me, especially as we are beginning Advent and looking forward to celebrating Christmas.
The call to repentance.
The first thing that really caught my attention was how John the Baptist prepared the people for Christ’s coming by calling them to repentance. His response to the Pharisees and Sadducees was to tell them to produce “fruit in keeping with repentance.” The Christ would (and still will) separate those who are His from those who are not. It is in Matthew 5:20, during the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus taught the people that unless their righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. The key was repentance. The Pharisees were basing their righteousness on works, but no one is righteous in and of themselves. It is only by receiving forgiveness of sins that we inherit Jesus’ righteousness. John taught the people to have a heart of repentance. Righteousness is the fruit.
Jesus identified with our sin.
John knew Jesus at the Jordan River when Jesus went to be baptized by him. John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
I used to struggle with this passage. Jesus was perfect. They were being baptized as part of repentance (confessing their sin and turning from it). I had just settled with the idea that Jesus was somehow setting an example for us. There may be much more to it, but when I read this passage again, I saw how when we are repentant, and trust that Jesus was the lamb slain for us and that He is all sufficient, righteousness is fulfilled. Jesus identified with our sin because He was willing to become our substitute. His willingness to take our sin upon Him gives us the opportunity to be forgiven. Without His sacrifice, no amount of regret, sorrow, or mourning would have changed our trajectory. We were headed for hell.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
John the Baptist’s ministry ended as Jesus’ ministry began. Matthew 4:12 begins to tell us that when Jesus heard that John was in prison, he left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum in order to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-2.
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death,
a light has dawned.”
This passage pops for 2 reasons. One is “the land of the shadow of death” corresponds with Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
The land of the shadow of death is not a place as much as it is a condition… it is life without Jesus. Without forgiveness. Without reconciliation with God. You can read this post about Psalm 23 to learn how a shepherd prepares the table lands for his flock so that you can understand more about how God prepares His table for us and provides an escape from our enemy, the devil.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he fulfilled Isaiah 9:1-2. Moving to Capernaum and beginning His ministry of preaching for them to repent because the Kingdom of God was near, He became to the Gentiles, and to us all, the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. He was the great light who saves us all from the valley of the shadow of death.
The second reason these verses popped is because of what comes after Isaiah 9:1-2.
The Baby Would Be Shepherd
How does this point back to Christmas? Read with me, these next few verses from Isaiah 9, some of the most beloved verses we share about the birth of Christ:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.“
Just like David had been a shepherd king, and Jesus is to reign on David’s throne forever,
Jesus walked into Capernaum, the Shepherd King.
They just didn’t know it, but you and I –we do.
Are you, like John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord? He has already fulfilled the requirement for all to receive righteousness.
We have this HOPE. This assurance. It is for certain. Jesus is the Hope of all nations.
Are you making straight paths for Him?
Are you preaching repentance? We look for His return, and we pray for revival, but repentance is the forerunner.