Editor’s Note: This week I welcome guest blogger, Daymarr Jackson. In addition to his full-time day job, Daymarr is Faith Church’s youth leader, and a chaplain candidate in the PA Army National Guard. He is at Evangelical Seminary (Kairos) studying for his Master of Divinity. He and his wife, Danielys, have two kids.
How can we have hope in the midst of pain and suffering?
Everybody experiences pain and suffering on some level in this life. Maybe it’s a physical pain. As children we have all fallen down and had to get back up. We’ve all scraped our knee. Some of us have had surgeries, procedures, or operations, or have broken a bone. We’ve had to go through pain, some sort of physical pain, illness. Maybe some of you have had battles with cancer. Or maybe you’ve had loved ones that have battled with cancer. Maybe you have a medical condition like diabetes or fibromyalgia. Or something else that causes pain and suffering in your life. How do you have hope in the midst of this pain and suffering?
And what do we do when it feels like or seems like God is silent?
The nation of Israel was no stranger to these questions, no stranger to struggling with pain and suffering. Sometimes the pain and suffering they would go through was self-inflicted. They were also no stranger to going through long periods of time when they did not hear the voice of God. By the time John the Baptist arrived on the scene, 400 years had passed since the nation of Israel had heard any voice of the prophets.
In Matthew 3:1-3, we read that John preached a powerful and prophetic message telling people, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Other translations say, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
What does this mean? What implications does this have for what we hope for? To understand this, we have to dive into the nation of Israel’s history.
In the book of Isaiah, we read that the nation of Israel had turned themselves over to idolatry and turned their backs on God. Because of that they were taken into captivity. Isaiah was prophesying, telling them that that there would come a place and time that they would repent, and then the Messiah would come.
Matthew 3 quotes Isaiah’s prophecy, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make your paths straight,” directly correlating to what Isaiah was saying, that when repentance came to the nation of Israel, when Israel turned away from their idolatry and their selfishness and turned back to God, that would signify the coming of the Messiah.
In Matthew 3:4-6, we read that many people came to hear John preach, confessed their sins and were baptized by John. What is interesting about this is that it was typical for Jews to baptize Gentile converts, people that were converting from paganism to Jewish faith. They would baptize them as a sign that they were repenting and turning away from their lifestyle. But it wasn’t typical to see Jewish people being baptized in that day and time.
What John was doing was saying that the nation of Israel was turning away from their sin and turning toward God which was fulfilling what the prophet Isaiah said. John is preparing the way for the Lord, making his path straight. John is saying, “The messiah is coming.” The nation of Israel hadn’t heard a prophet for 400 years, but John shows up on the scene preaching a message of repentance, that the kingdom of heaven is near, and revival breaks out. People come from all over to be baptized, but John wasn’t without critics, people who were against this.
As we continue reading in Matthew 3, verses 7-10, the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees showed up. They believed the same thing, that when the nation of Israel turned away from their sins, this would bring the coming of the Messiah. He would restore the nation of Israel, free them from their oppressors, and the Messiah would come and reign as king and bring the fulfillment of all God’s promise to the nation of Israel. But the Sadducees and Pharisees were going about this in a self-righteous way. They believed that it was their righteousness, their ability to hold to the Torah that would bring the coming of the messiah,
But John is telling them, “No, you guys need to repent too. You guys are sinful too. You don’t have it all together. As religious leaders, not only should you be repenting, you should be leading the way in repentance. You have all this righteousness, but no fruit.”
Jesus would come later and say, “You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.” How about you? In the midst of pain and loss, where is your heart? When it seems difficult to have hope, examine your heart. Do you need to repent?
This is the first week of Advent 2022. Advent is a season about preparing for the coming of the Messiah, just like John was helping the people in his day prepare for Jesus. Examine your heart, do you need to repent so that Jesus might have more of you?