We’d be waiting for Grandparents to arrive, with the children clamouring at the window to catch a glimpse of them. The visit had been planned well beforehand, and keenly anticipated. Suddenly, one of them would shout – ‘They’re coming!’ Sure enough, before long the promised visitors would be in the house. Then, at the end of the visit would come the inevitable question, “When are you going to come again?”
This week’s readings highlight similar planning, anticipation and questions about the coming of Jesus – right down to the vital issue of ‘When are you going to visit us again’?
v 3. The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
The Jews of Jesus’ time keenly anticipated the coming of a Messiah. They were living under the strict rule of the Roman army of occupation, and more than anything they longed for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman oppression and allow them to live as a self-governing independent nation. This was more than a vague hope, they saw a coming Messiah promised in their ancient literature – what we call the Old Testament. One of their great Prophets, Isaiah, had foretold the coming of a Messiah some 750 years earlier. He had also foretold the appearing of a forerunner, someone who would prepare the nation to welcome this Messiah. Thoughtful observers felt that John the Baptist was this forerunner and the whole of God’s plan for their future nationhood was at long last coming to fruition.
Matthew wrote his account of the life and ministry of Jesus especially to help Jews see how Jesus fitted in to their national consciousness and history. After outlining Jesus’ genealogy as a well-connected Jew, Matthew explains about the role of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus to go public in announcing His role as God’s appointed servant. This part of the Gospel story is more than a brief introduction to the larger tale – it is essential in connecting both John the Baptist and Jesus to the ages-long plan of God to redeem a people for Himself.
The story of Jesus does not begin at 0 AD; it stretches back into Jewish history, and further still into the eternal plan of a gracious and caring God.