Tag Archives: Matthew 3

Herald

Herald (CaD Matt 3) Wayfarer

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

Matthew 3:1-3 (NIV)

The “herald” is a long-standing historical figure across many cultures. The role of the herald was to go before a king or queen to announce his/her impending arrival so that the royal subjects could prepare to greet the monarch appropriately. In the story of Daniel, it was a herald who told the Babylonian people how to respond appropriately (bow) before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (Daniel 3:3-5). God, through the prophet Habakkuk (note: one doesn’t get to quote Habakkuk very often), ordered that His words be written down so that “a herald may run with it” (Hab 2:2).

The Hebrew people of Jesus’ day were abuzz with Messianic experts teaching and lecturing on who the Messiah would be and what it would look like when the Messiah arrived. It is not unlike the abundant number of authors and lecturers today who wax eloquent on when the Second Coming of Christ will take place. For the record, the so-called experts of Jesus day were dead-wrong in their predictions. Since “nothing is new under the sun,” I tend to assume that today’s experts are most likely dead wrong, too. But they certainly do sell some books.

Remember that Matthew’s writing was motivated by sharing with his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. One of the Messianic tidbits of which Matthew’s audience would have been well aware was that the last of the prophets predicted that the prophet Elijah would appear before the “Day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). They would have connected Matthew’s description of John the Baptist with Elijah.

Description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8:

“He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

Matthew’s description of John the Baptist:

“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.”

Matthew’s audience also believed that the Messiah would be a King, and they knew that every king has a Herald.

John the Baptist was Jesus’ Herald. Later in Matthew’s account, Jesus will acknowledge that John was the embodiment of Elijah that Malachi prophesied, but the “experts” didn’t recognize him for who he was. John’s rather impressive backstory is recorded in the opening chapters of Luke. Jesus and John were cousins. They knew each other. Their brief exchange in today’s chapter seems to reveal that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus knew that John was His herald.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself ruminating on two things.

First, I was reminded that in each of Paul’s letters to Timothy he referred to himself as a “herald” even before claiming to be an apostle and teacher. As a follower of Jesus, I’m charged with being an ambassador of Christ’s kingdom on earth. I guess that makes me a herald, as well. I’ve never really thought about that before.

Second, I’m reminded that later in Matthew’s account John himself sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one?” (Matt 11:1-3). In today’s chapter John seems to have no doubt. Later, he does doubt. I wonder if even John had preconceived notions about what Jesus would do and how He would present Himself to the world. Jesus certainly didn’t immediately fulfill John’s prophecies of judgment and a baptism of fire.

So, as a self-proclaimed herald of the King of Heaven, I’m reminded that it’s a very human thing to be confused about who Jesus is. I’ve observed many who judge Jesus based on the description they were taught by so-called institutional experts or the description of Jesus they’ve been given by clownish televangelists hawking their own books and building their own personal kingdoms on earth.

Which, is why, time-and-time-again, I bring my chapter-a-day journey back to the primary source material of Matthew’s account. I try to let go of preconceived notions. I try to shut out what others have said about Jesus. I once again read the account with fresh eyes and an open heart. I want to meet the King of Heaven anew, that I might be an effective and honest herald on earth.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Firing a Warning Shot Across Religion’s Bow

But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Matthew 3:7-10

As Jesus appeared on the scene, the political landscape in the land of Palestine was a complex one. The Roman Empire occupied the territory and the occupational forces maintained law and order. Rome maintained regional civil ruler which gave the residents of the area a local authority. Herod the Great died a few years after he slaughtered all the baby boys of Bethlehem, and his rule was divided between his sons. If you were Jewish, however, your life and religion was subject to the authority of the High Priest and religious leaders who managed the Temple in Jerusalem. It operated much like a city-state under Roman authority. The temple had its own currency (thus the need for the money changers that Jesus would throw out) and economy.

Both Rome and Herod knew that the Jewish people held allegiance to their religion above any civil ruler. They’d been living under one foreign power or another for over 500 years. Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans had all occupied their land. The Jewish people had no allegiance to any of them. They High Priest and religious leaders ruled their people through their intricate system of laws and held the power of salvation by cutting people off from making their sacrifices or deeming their sacrifices unacceptable. Religion had become a powerful racket.

John the Baptist was a prophet, an outsider, and a troublemaker for the status quo. People flocked to the wasteland outside of Jerusalem to hear him preach a message that resonated with those marginalized by the Righteous Racket of the Temple’s power brokers. John told people to change their hearts, to repent of their sins, and he washed them in the waters of the Jordan rather than insisting they go pay exorbitant currency exchange rates to purchase “official” temple goods for sacrifice at the Temple. In other words, the more popular he became, the more he cut into Temple profits and represented a potential for uprising that threatened the power of the Sanhedrin’s powerful syndicate.

So, the High Priest sends envoys to check out this vagabond upstart. John wastes no time. He fires a prophetic shot across their bow. One is coming who will change everything. Tectonic plates in the spiritual realm are going to shift and the Temple’s racket will be no more. The first shot in a conflict is fired which will ultimately lead those same religious racketeers to pay 30 pieces of silver for Jesus’ betrayal and they will stop at nothing until He is executed.

Yet, just like Herod the Great in yesterday’s chapter, in God’s economy those who stop at nothing to cling to power will ultimately find it slipping from their grasp. The Jesus they executed would not stay in the grave, and His followers would “turn the world upside down” within a generation. At the end of that same generation the Romans would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and with it they would torch all of the Jewish genealogical records. If you can’t substantiate who is from which tribe then you can’t determine who the Levites are, or who descended from Aaron and qualified as a priest. The Temple and its sacrificial system were no more.

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing

featured photo courtesy WallyG via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 3

“What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” Matthew 3:10 (MSG)

I’ve been fascinated by the reports of radioactivity coming out of Japan. Just the other day a plane load of passengers from Tokyo arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and set off the TSA‘s radiation detectors. How interesting radioactivity is. We can’t see it, feel it, hear it, smell it, or taste it. But, it’s there. I wasn’t even aware that airports had detectors for those things.

Imagine a hand-held device like a Geiger Counter. It also detects an energy that can’t be seen, felt, smelt, heard or tasted. It’s a Life Detector, and measures the amount of Life welling up inside our spirit and radiating out of our life. What would this Life Detector reveal about me? Would it show Life radiating from me in increasing measure and pegging out the needle? Would the needle barely register a blip on the screen as my soul slowly becomes dead wood?

The further I get in the journey the more I realize that the needle is moving each day for each one of us. Life is either growing more fully inside of us or it’s seeping slowly from our souls. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.

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