‘A Sign of Hope’

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Luke 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John the Baptist played a very important role in God’s plan of salvation. He was the forerunner sent before Christ to prepare the hearts of the people to receive Jesus as their Savior. Gabriel told Zacharias that John would go ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.’These words come from the Old Testament book of Malachi.

Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

Our Bibles are divided into two sections: the Old and the New Testaments. Though in most Bibles this division is only one or two pages, these few pages represent 400 years of difficulty and spiritual darkness for the Jewish people. To understand why Luke begins his Christmas story with the birth of John, we must consider how Malachi closed the Old Testament with his prophecy. In the book of Malachi, the Lord is rebuking the nation of Israel for their spiritual waywardness.

Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ 7 “You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ (deserves no respect) 8 And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” says the Lord of hosts. 

Though Israel pretended to serve God, they did not love Him. Their lack of love was revealed in the insincerity of their worship. Instead of giving God their best, they kept the best for themselves and offered Him the leftovers. Therefore, God warned them to repent of their sins before a day of judgment.

Malachi 3:1 Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.

During the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments, the nation of Israel wandered about in spiritual darkness. God was completely silent before His people. No prophecies were written. No miracles were performed. No prophets preached to the people. In addition to the silence, the Jews were overrun by 3 pagan nations. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. By the time John was born, the Jews were defeated and discouraged. They were much like Zacharias who had prayed for God’s help but seemed to receive none.

But God was not finished with His people. “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” (Malachi 3:1) John the Baptist is sometimes viewed as an eccentric religious fanatic. He was “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4) His preaching was without much charm or finesse. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) John was rough around the edges, but he was sent with a very special purpose. He was the voice crying in the wilderness of humanity, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Join me again tomorrow as we conclude our studies. Until then, God bless you, Brethren.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version

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