Advent 2 – John the Baptist Sunday

Mark 1:1–3 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [2] As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, [3] the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

I always like to call the Second Sunday in Advent John the Baptist Sunday. Just as Jesus dominates the Christmas season, John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Jesus, dominates the Advent season.

John the Baptist, is the last of a long line of Old Testament prophets. There were many prophets throughout the Old Testament but leading up to John there had been no prophesying for about 400 years. That must have been interesting when John showed up and tried to convince people that he was a prophet.

The first prophet mentioned in the Bible was Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. He is called a prophet in Genesis 20 but none of his prophecies are recorded in the Bible.

Some prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and the twelve prophets that are called the minor prophets, wrote down their prophecies and they were included in the Bible. Their writings are named after them.

Other prophets, like Elijah, Elisha and Micaiah did a lot of prophesying but their writings were never collected into a book that made it into the Bible.

The Old Testament prophets did not practice separation of church and state. Many of them prophesied against the nations that surrounded Israel, calling them to repent and turn to God.

Prophets are not always chosen from the clergy. The prophet Amos was a shepherd and farmer before God called him. Elisha was plowing when Elijah called him to be a prophet.

Prophets did not always serve willingly. Elijah got so frustrated at one point he wanted to die. Jonah ran the other way when God asked him to go and prophecy against Ninevah.

Although some prophets wrote and some did not, some served willingly and some did not, they were all persecuted.

In Matthew 5, verses 11-12, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

In Acts 7, verse 52, Stephen asks, [52] Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.”

Do we have prophets today? The office of prophet seems to have ended with John but prophecy continues. This is what Peter says on the Day of Pentecost, quoting from the prophet Joel:

[17] “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; [18] even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

This passage indicates that prophecy will continue until the last days. It also mentions women prophesying. There were female prophets mentioned in the Old Testament.

Paul lists prophecy in his list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12. Then in chapter 14, verse 1 he says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (I Corinthians 14:1)

There were false prophets in the Old Testament and in Matthew 7 Jesus warned against false prophets.

Imagine being a prophet, getting a message from God that you were to deliver. What if it was a message that you knew was from God but would not be accepted? We all like to deliver good news. What if it was bad news?

The prophecy of Isaiah that Mark quotes from in the top of this post would be easy to deliver:

[1] Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. [2] Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

If anyone who refuses to do anything that God asks them to do, God will simply find someone else to do his work. It never goes well for those who refuse to do what God asks them to do. The same is true with those who refuse to prophesy.

Maybe you won’t be asked to prophecy so then your job is to listen and do what God is telling you to do through his prophets. And again, not to do what God tells us to do is never good.

Even though we humans cannot possibly know anything about the future, the people of the world are always prophesying. The latest popular prophecy is that if we don’t do something about climate change soon the world is going to be destroyed. We’ll see how that prophecy turns out. Already number of dire warnings that people have made about climate change have not panned out. Corporations, economists and politicians spend millions of dollars trying to determine what people are going to do.

Let me now make a prophecy: In the most comforting and tender words possible, God wants you to know that your warfare is ended, your iniquities have been pardoned and you have received from the Lord’s hand double for all your sins.

And it is all possible because of the baby whose birth we are about to celebrate. Jesus Christ came into the world to stop the warfare, the warfare between us sinners and our holy God. By dying for us on the cross and rising again from the dead Jesus has paid for all our sins and brought us complete forgiveness.

But are you ready to receive this news? John the Baptist, prepared the way for the coming of the Savior by urging people to repent of their sins. Unless we acknowledge our sins we are not prepared to receive the good news of sins forgiven and peace with God.

So that’s a quick overview of prophecy in the Bible. John the Baptist came before Jesus to prepare the way. His coming was prophesied by Isaiah. He came and made the Lord’s way straight by calling people to repent of their sins. He didn’t resist the Lord’s calling but went and did his job.

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