Daily Reading & Meditation

Thursday (December 11): "He is Elijah who is to come"

Scripture: Matthew 11:11-15

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 41:13-20
13 For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand;  it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you." 14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!  I will help you, says the LORD;  your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 15 Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth;  you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; 16 You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them.  And you shall rejoice in the LORD;  in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory. 17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. 18 I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys;  I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. 19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;  I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; 20 that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Meditation: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Jesus praised John the Baptist as the greatest person born. Who can top that as a compliment? But in the same breath Jesus says that the least in the kingdom of God is even greater than John! That sounds like a contradiction, right? Unless you understand that what Jesus was about to accomplish for our sake would supercede all that the prophets had done and foreseen.

"Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel"
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed to the forsaken and dispersed people of Israel some 700 years before the birth of Christ that "your Redeemer - the Holy One of Israel" would come to restore his people and to make all things new (Isaiah 41:14ff). When the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel did appear John the Baptist announced his arrival. He fulfilled the essential task of all the prophets - to be fingers pointing to Jesus Christ, God's Annointed Son and Messiah. John proclaimed Jesus' mission at the Jordan River when he exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). John saw from a distance what Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross - our redemption from bondage to sin and death and our adoption as sons and daughers of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

The spirit of Elijah is sent in advance through John's words
John the Baptist bridges the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets who point the way to the Messiah. He is the first of the New Testament witnesses and martyrs. He is the herald who prepares the way for Jesus the Messiah. Jesus confirms that John has fulfilled the promise that Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). Jesus declares that John is nothing less that the great herald whose privilege it was to announce the coming of the Redeemer - the Holy One of Israel.

Jesus equates the coming of the kingdom of heaven with violence (Matthew 11:12). John himself suffered violence for announcing that the kingdom of God was near. He was thrown into prison and then beheaded. Since John's martyrdom to the present times the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and persecution at the hands of violent men. The blood of the martyrs throughout the ages bear witness to this fact. The martyrs witness to the truth - the truth and love of Jesus Christ who shed his blood to redeem us from slavery to sin and Satan and the fear of death. The Lord Jesus gives us the power of his Holy Spirit to overcome fear with faith, despair with hope, and every form of hatred, violence, jealousy, and prejudice with love and charity towards all - even those who seek to destroy and kill.

We proclaim the joy of the Gospel of Christ even in the midst of suffering and violence
God may call some of us to be martyrs for our faith in Jesus Christ. But for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the Gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord Jesus. What attracts others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. He will fill us with the power of his Holy Spirit and give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the Gospel?

"Lord Jesus, by your cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me with joy and confidence and make me a bold witness of your saving truth that others may know the joy and freedom of the Gospel of your kingdom of peace and righteousness."

Psalm 145:1, 9-13

1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever.
9 The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the sons of men your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The Kingdom of Heaven, by Hilary of Poitiers (315-367 AD)

"What violence (Matthew 11:12)? People did not believe in John the Baptist. The works of Christ were held to be of no importance. His torment on the cross was a stumbling block. 'Until now' prophecy has been dormant. But now the law is fulfilled. Every prediction is finished. The spirit of Elijah is sent in advance through John's words. Christ is proclaimed to some and acknowledged by others. He is born for some and loved by others. The violent irony is that his own people rejected him, while strangers accepted him. His own people speak ill of him, while his enemies embrace him. The act of adoption offers an inheritance, while the family rejects it. Sons refuse to accept their father's last will, while the slaves of the household receive it. This is what is meant by the phrase 'the kingdom of heaven suffers violence' (Matthew 11:12). Earlier expectations are being torn apart. The glory that was pledged to Israel by the patriarchs, which was announced by the prophets and which was offered by Christ, is now being seized and carried off by the Gentiles, through their faith." (excerpt from the commentary ON MATTHEW 11.7)


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author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word

Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers.

 
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