We continue our Advent series this morning looking at our three readings, meditating on what it means that our God is the God who comes to His people.
The prophet begins by declaring God’s word to His people, crying, “comfort, comfort!” God says to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her “armies are full” and that her “iniquity is satisfied,” and she has taken from the hand of Yahweh double for all her sins (40:1-2). This comfort is bound up in the fact that a new Exodus is coming. The voice issues a command to turn to the “way of Yahweh” and to make straight a “highway for our God” (40:3, cf. Is. 11:16). The “way” goes back to the first sin after which God guarded the “way” to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), and the story continues in the Exodus where God led Israel in the “way” out of Egypt arrayed for battle (Ex. 13:17-18). Like the original Exodus, Isaiah foretells great upheaval: the topography of the world is going to dramatically change (40:4-5). And in the context of the Exodus we should not miss the fact that the “topography” is primarily people. The “voice” says to cry out that all flesh is grass, it fades and withers, and only the word of God stands forever (40:6-8). This reminds us of the “voice” that thundered at Sinai and how the people cowered in fear and asked that they might not hear the voice any more. But that word is a good word, good news that God Himself will come and rule in righteousness and truth (40:9-11).
Luke says that John fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy when he began preaching a baptism of repentance at the Jordan River. Notice the seven rulers listed in the opening verses of this passage: From Caesar to the high priests (3:1-2). But it is not to any of those seven that the “word of God” comes. The word of God comes to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness (3:2). John is the beginning of the new week, the new creation, a new conquest of the world. He is like Moses and the seven powers are set up as various sorts of Pharaohs. John is also like Moses on the far side of the Jordan promising that Joshua is coming to lead them across the Jordan into the new Canaan. John may appear to be a nobody, but the Word he has received is designed to seriously mess with the landscape (3:4-6). John calls his followers the “children of snakes” and calls them to bear fruit worthy of repentance (3:7). His baptism is also a baptism of “repentance” (3:3). Given the Exodus imagery, John is calling the multitudes to embrace the calling to be the second generation in the wilderness that went in to possess the land. The baptism for repentance is a crossing of the Jordan into Canaan. And if they are baptized, they must take the land though bearing the fruit of repentance which is justice and mercy (3:10-14). This is why they must wait for the Christ who will lead them into the land in the power of the Spirit (3:15-17, cf. Josh 3). This is the good news that Isaiah foretold.
Paul and Timothy identify themselves as “slaves of King Jesus” and address the “holy ones” in Philippi with the grace and peace of God (1:1-2). They rejoice in the fellowship they share in the “good news” from the “first day,” knowing that God will complete the good work in them that He has begun. Paul may have several thoughts in mind as He writes, including the beginning of the gospel in John’s ministry as the “first day” of the new creation, the new good work that God has begun in the world and in us (1:3-6). In that sense, “the day of Jesus Christ” may refer to the coming judgment in 70 AD, and it may also look forward to the final seventh day, the final Sabbath. Paul emphasizes that fellowship by describing how the Philippians are “partakers of grace” with him in defense and confirmation of the good news (1:7). And Paul’s prayer is for this to increase and abound, that their love and knowledge may overflow with the fruits of righteousness (1:9-11).
Conclusions and Applications
One of the great messages of Advent is “repent!” And the challenge is getting this command right. God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), and this still applies, whether you are an unbeliever, a new believer, or an old believer. The command is to repent because the conquest is not yet finished. And the lessons of Joshua continue to be lessons for us. That second generation was faithful in beginning the conquest, but they grew weary and relaxed as time went on. Their great failure to drive out the enemies from the land left their children to pick up the pieces (e.g. Judges). Repentance is the call to continue the work of the new creation by the Spirit, turning the old crooked world into the new heavens and new earth, and this conquest comes through the fruits of justice and mercy and love. And God gently leads us in this way by speaking comfort and grace and peace to us in Jesus, assuring us that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.