Meditations on “The Big Picture” 14. Out of another Long Silence
Mark 1:4 And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
I suspect that we are so familiar with the Gospels that we don’t see the next big step in the history revealed through the Bible. Israel had been resettled in the Promised Land after the Exile, there are some encouraging and challenging prophetic words we see in some of the minor prophets and then all goes quiet for over four hundred years. There had been a previous four hundred year silence from heaven in the period when Israel were settled in Egypt and the Lord was waiting for the right time to deal with both Pharaoh and then the Canaanites. Now in this present four hundred year period there are various upheavals in Israel and of course eventually the might of Rome takes over control of the Land, but heaven remains quiet and nothing is added to the Old Testament canon.
We tend not to think about this but it is the equivalent of nothing happening in our own country since say 1700. That’s a long time back for nothing to happen. Yes, life had gone on in Israel. Rome had exercised control and appointed Herod the Great as king of Judea under Rome. Religious life had carried on as normal – well, actually Herod had built up the old Temple, the one built after the exile, and made the new one quite spectacular. There were clearly spiritual or religious factions and as far as power within Israel itself was concerned it appeared shared between Rome and the priesthood. And so life just carried on with most people, we would assume, oblivious of impending activity by the court of heaven. There obviously were a spiritual minority, alert and awaiting a break in the silence of heaven: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Lk 2:25,26)
But mostly, life just carried on, and then came John the Baptist. The first sounds from heaven had come a number of years previously when an angel from heaven came to Zechariah a priest and told him that his aged wife Elizabeth would have son – and this was John the Baptist. Shortly afterwards the same angel from heaven came to a young girl named Mary and told her she would conceive and have a son to be named Jesus, and so it was. And so follows what we call the Nativity with angels turning up for shepherds and wise men from the East turning up with financial resources, and of course Jesus being born somewhere out the back of an inn in Bethlehem. Strange circumstances that we now almost take for granted courtesy of annual nativity plays. And then silence for approximately thirty years we think and then it all starts happening.
Yes, John the Baptist is first on the scene preaching in the wilderness calling people to repentance and then baptising them in the River Jordan as a sign of being washed clean by God. In modern times he would be reported in Christian magazines and be referred to on Christian TV but then news of him spread by word of mouth. Crowds came and among them, Jesus, who shortly started his own ministry, roaming the Galilean countryside telling people that God’s rule was about to break about – and it did. Later on the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter summed him up: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he explained it to Cornelius, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:38,39) but Jesus himself perhaps explained it best and most briefly, when speaking to John’s disciples: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)
Without doubt these three years of Jesus ministry must have been THE high point of human history with so many people being healed, dead being raised, and miracles being performed; this was truly the reign of God, the kingdom of God breaking loose on the earth. But here is the challenge as we look across the earth today. Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) Anyone? Faith is the only criteria. To do what Jesus did? “To preach good news to the poor….. to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) and “preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Mt 10:7,8)
Is this what we see when we go into the synagogue, sorry, church, every Sunday morning? It feels sometimes like we are in the time waiting for the end of the four hundred years of silence, with church just carrying on from week to week. Yes, there are exceptions and yet there are many little glimmers of light but does the Church generally match these descriptions above? Perhaps it’s time to get down on our knees and stay there until it changes. Until we can get up and go and do these things with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “Our father in heaven, may your name be glorified, may your kingdom come and your will be done….”