Sunday, December 8, 2013

Waiting for an Announcer and a Savior

All through the Old Testament, prophets kept repeating how something big was coming. A man would someday be born who would change everything, and another man would prepare everyone for Him.

It all started in a garden. Satan used a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to do the one thing God had told them not to do. When God confronted them about it, He gave them punishments. One thing He said to the snake is important to what we are going to learn today.
Genesis 3:15
And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.
Hundreds of years later, Jacob lay on a bed in Egypt with his sons gathered around him. He was about to die, and as was custom before dying, he gave a blessing to each of his sons. He had something interesting to say to his son Judah.
Genesis 49:10
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
More centuries passed. King Saul reigned over Israel, and when he died, David took his place. David ruled for many years, and Solomon became King after he died. After Solomon’s death, the tribe of Judah and a couple other tribes couldn’t agree with the rest of Israel who should be the next King, and the nation of Israel split into two. David’s dynasty continued in the nation of Judah. During the reigns of four Kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah), God sent a prophet named Isaiah. He prophesied so much that it filled up a whole book! He had some interesting things to say about what was to come!
Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.

 Isaiah 9:6-7
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. 
Isaiah 40:3
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
At the same time as Isaiah, God sent another prophet named Micah. He had this to say:
Micah 5:2
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
More years passed. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led an attack on Jerusalem, defeating King Jehoiakim and taking many people from the kingdom of Judah away to Babylon. Among those was a prophet named Daniel, and he served several Kings of Babylon. The angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel in dreams, and gave him some messages to tell Israel a lot of stuff about the promised Savior, such as when He would come. A few kings after Nebuchadnezzar, Darius was King of Babylon, Daniel was still alive, and God sent the prophet Zechariah with some more things to say, such as this:
Zechariah 9:9
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
    Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I expect we’ll learn about when that prophecy came true in a couple months.

Sometime after that, a guy named Malachi came along and prophesied this:
Malachi 3:1
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
The prophets talked about two men who would come. One would tell about the guy who was coming, and the other one would be the one he was talking about.

Israel and their ancestors went through a lot. Adam and Eve got thrown out of a garden paradise. Noah built a boat to save mankind and animals. Abraham went on an epic journey from Ur to Canaan. God saved Jacob (Israel) and his sons from a horrible famine by making Joseph a ruler in Egypt. They then endured 400 years of slavery, and 40 years of wandering before they finally got to return to their homeland. They had judges and kings. The Assyrians took the nation of Israel captive, and the Babylonians took the nation of Judah captive. Judah got to go home after 70 years of captivity, but it was never the same. After the time of the prophets, there were 400 years that aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Other books tell about how during that time they were ruled by an empire that didn’t let them worship God, and they did bad things to the temple. A family named the Maccabees led the charge against their oppressors and defeated them. Then they had to purify the temple. The Jews still celebrate the purification of the temple. In fact, they just celebrated it last week! It’s called Hanukkah.

So it was that about a century and a half after the first Hanukkah, a priest named Zechariah and his wife really wanted a child. They were getting on in age, and he and Elizabeth kept praying and praying for a kid. Zechariah was alone in the temple one day, burning incense like he often did to worship God. Suddenly, he was surprised to notice someone next to the altar right near him! It was an angel, and he could tell that Zechariah was a bit scared. So the angel said, “It’s OK, Zechariah. Don’t be scared. God has heard your prayers, and Elizabeth will have a son. Name him John. He will bring lots of joy, and the Holy Spirit will fill him even before he’s born! But be careful. He must never drink alcohol. He will lead many people to God, and he will prepare the way for the Lord.”

Zechariah was a bit skeptical. “How can I be sure?” he said. “We’re too old to have kids.”

The angel replied, “I’m Gabriel. God sent me, and since you didn’t believe me, guess what! You won’t be able to talk until what I said happens.”

So Elizabeth got pregnant, and Zechariah couldn’t say a word. Literally. He couldn’t talk.

Six months later, Gabriel showed up again, this time to a girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary, and she was engaged to a guy named Joseph. Imagine her surprise when she looked up and saw an angel! He said, “Hey, favored one! God is with you!”

Mary had never seen anything like this, and she didn’t know what to make of it. But she was pretty scared too. So once again, Gabriel had to tell her not to be scared. He explained, “You’ll have a child, and you need to name him Jesus. He’ll be great, and he’ll be the son of the Most High God. He will sit on the throne of his ancestor David, and he will rule over Jacob’s descendants forever.”

“Wait, hold on,” Mary said. “How is that possible? I’m a virgin! It’s impossible for me to get pregnant yet!”

So Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come on you. The boy who is born will be holy, and he will be the Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth is pregnant, and she’s an old lady! In fact, she’s been pregnant for six months now. Nothing that God says will ever fail.”

“OK,” said Mary. “Let it happen.” So Gabriel left.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy was probably news to Mary, and she decided to go visit her relatives in Judea. Mary was still a ways off when she saw Elizabeth and called to her. Just as God had promised Zechariah, the Holy Spirit came on the baby in Elizabeth’s tummy. Little baby John couldn’t contain his joy, and he jumped in excitement! Elizabeth called to her young relative, “Hey, Mary! You are blessed among women, and the child you’re gonna have is blessed! What an honor to have the mother of my Lord come visit! As soon as I heard you call, the baby in my tummy jumped for joy! You are blessed for believing that God will fulfill His promises to you!”

So Mary said, “My soul glorifies God my Savior. He’s seen little ol’ me, His servant, and from now on, people will call me blessed. He’s done amazing things and brought down strong rulers, but He’s lifted up the humble. He fed the hungry but sent the rich away emptyhanded. Just as He promised Abraham and all our ancestors, He has helped Israel.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months and then went home.

Pretty soon, the day came, and Elizabeth gave birth. Eight days later, it was time to name the baby. The priests almost named the boy after his dad Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “Wait a minute! His name will be John!”

Now everyone was confused. It was normal to name a child after a relative. They didn’t have any relatives named John. So they decided to get a second opinion. They asked Zechariah, who still couldn’t talk. He asked for a writing tablet, and then he wrote on it: “His name is John.” As soon as he finished writing, he discovered he could talk again! So they named him John, and the news began to spread.

Then Zechariah prophesied: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel! He has come and redeemed them! Just as He promised through the prophets, he has raised up salvation in the house of His servant David, to save us from our enemies and show mercy to our ancestors. He promised Abraham that He would rescue us from our enemies and would make sure we could serve Him without fear and in holiness for all our lives. You, my son, will be a prophet, and you will prepare the way for the Lord. You’ll tell people about how God will save them and forgive their sins because of His mercy. The light of God’s mercy will be like the sun shining on people who were in darkness, and it will help us to walk in peace.”

Mary, meanwhile, was still pregnant. But that’s another story for another Sunday. John grew up and lived in the wilderness until he started to appear publicly.

Just as God promised the snake in the Garden of Eden, Jesus came along and crushed Satan’s head, but not before Satan struck Jesus’ heel. More about that at Easter time. Just as God promised Isaiah, a child was born of a virgin, and He was a wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. As God promised Isaiah and Malachi, John called from the wilderness, preparing the world for his relative Jesus. Just as God promised Micah, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. As God promised the prophet Zechariah (not John’s father), Jesus would one day ride into Jerusalem on a colt. As God promised through Gabriel, Jesus was born just when Daniel said He would be born, the priest Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth gave birth to a child in her old age, and a young virgin gave birth to a healthy baby boy who would save the world.

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