Merciful King: The Promised Herald

Matthew 3

“‘I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.'” – Matthew 3: 11

John the Baptist is a popular name among Christians, but the One who came after Him was far greater – and that man is Jesus.

Back in the day, if a king intended to make a proclamation to his people, he did not have television, the internet, cell phones, nor all the fancy gadgets we have today in order to reach people.

No, a king employed a man called a “herald” who would go to public places and project his voice outward to the townspeople while reading from an officiated decree. That way all the people in the land would know the king’s plan.

In God’s world, He is King. So, He obviously intended to have a herald Himself. [John’s birth story can be found in Luke 1; the confirmed prophecy of John as Christ’s herald is Isaiah 40: 3.]

But what did John the herald proclaim?

Repentance: Like all the prophets before him, John desired that his people would turn their hearts back to God and give up habitually practiced sin.

The Kingdom of Heaven (at hand): True salvation through Jesus Christ – the moment by moment life of Jesus on Earth, as He walked among us as a man.

Where did he proclaim these two ideas?

The wilderness/desert: Unlike a traditional herald, John was not dressed up and primped in order to please the masses. He dressed strangely and had a strange diet. In fact, he may have seemed like a lunatic. Whereas a traditional herald would be proclaiming the news for his king in a public and easily accessible place, John obeyed the Lord and went to the Jordan River. God’s Word through this man was so powerful that he didn’t have to go to them; they came to him. Flocks and flocks of people came to this strange man in the middle of nowhere. And their lives were changed forever.

But then trouble came. The snakes. Having heard of the popularity of water baptism, the Pharisees and Sadducees decided to be baptized as well. But John denied them. Why would he do that?

Two reasons:

Pharisees: Once it seemed like “the cool thing to do,” the Pharisees considered adding the sanctity of water baptism to their religious ideas, without considering the serious commitment of their hearts back to God the Father. Religious tradition contradicts the will of God, that we truly desire Him above our own outward appearance of holiness. We are not meant to change ourselves in order to get closer to Him, but we strive to get closer to Him on a relational level, knowing that Jesus changes us by His power and His sacrifice.

Sadducees: First of all, the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection (Matthew 22: 23 – 33), let alone anything having to do with spiritual matters. They were well-educated in humanistic tradition as well. With this in mind, let’s look at the purpose of baptism:

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” – Romans 6: 3 – 4

Baptism mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Without belief in Jesus as a once-living man, his death on the cross, his burial in the tomb, and his resurrection and ascension, baptism means nothing. So, like the Pharisees, the Sadducees intended to put on a show, not knowing in their minds what they were meant to do. So much for being well-educated.

But then there was Jesus, at the water’s edge, insisting to be baptized by the man who was unworthy even to hold his sandals. Why would Jesus get baptized if He did not need repentance, if He Himself was the Kingdom Come? Love. Humility. Obedience.

And the Father adored His obedience.

Are you a voice calling out in the wilderness? Do the words of your mouth carry witness to others about whom Jesus is? Would you consider yourself a herald for the King?

“‘The main character in this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.'” – The Message

Merciful King: Guiding Light

Matthew 2

“When [King Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.” – Matthew 2: 4

Chapter 2 of Matthew is a map of prophecies, all leading to Jesus.

In the Old Testament, God (YHWH) set forth a plan, spoke it to specifically chosen men (the prophets), that they would record his plans for the future to the future generations.

With that in mind, we see that King Herod called to himself a group of people who were trained to read the prophetic writings, make sense of them, and then report the prophecies to him in understandable words.

This group of priests and scribes had decided in their hearts not to serve the Almighty Lord but to serve a king of men. Over the years, they dedicated themselves to knowledge in the Old Testament, to recording every letter of the Law, and to adding mystical interpretations and religious notions to the simplicity of scripture. In a sense, these teachers worshipped knowledge and hated the simplicity of scripture.

Here is the map, that with their knowledge they could not decipher:

Micah (5: 2, 4)Straightforward enough, God said that His Son would be born in Judah, in Bethlehem. [I personally enjoy this prophecy, because it speaks volumes about the heart of God. My interpretation: “Although you may feel you are nothing, Bethlehem, I will make you great. My Son will come from you.”]

Hosea (11: 1): “Out of Egypt I called my son.” This refers to the flight from Jesus’s birthplace to Egypt, until the appointed time, which meant they would then need to flee from Egypt. And so they did. [This reveals the omniscience of God and the desire to keep His son concealed until the appointed time.]

Jeremiah (31: 15)Although King Herod had set out to annihilate any hope of the Messiah coming to power, he could not kill the child he so desired to slaughter. He succeeded in murdering almost all children two-years-old or under at the time. Although God knew and empathized with the aching hearts of the women in Ramah, He also knew with certainty that they would have hope again, because His Son would redeem them.

Isaiah (11: 1): “He would be called a Nazarene.” It’s another way of saying that he would be a “netzer” – or “rod.” This refers to the root of Jesse, His lineage. And yet, the prophecy is far more specific. After King Herod died, the family settled in Nazareth of Galilee, and there Jesus grew up.

There are two types of people in the world: those who desire to snuff out the Light (King Herod and the scribes) or those who desire to worship the Light (the magi).

The scribes – teachers of the law – had the answers, but they missed the plan. They had the map but missed the Light.

On the other hand, simple astrologers saw a star, and by faith they knew the birthplace of the Lord. They went to worship Jesus and did not despise Him.

Do you have all the right answers and yet miss the Light? Or do you look at God’s creation and have faith that He holds all things together?

Take a breath and marvel at the skies. Have faith that you don’t need to know everything, that all things come to pass as He has written. He’s the best Author there is. (Hint: In His story, Light prevails in the end.)