The New Testament Part II: The Herald of the King

Zach Keele
Friday, February 28th 2014
Mar/Apr 2014

If you are opening up a new business nowadays, soft openings are a common way to go. With this soft opening, you can work out the kinks and begin building some hype. Then after a few months, the grand opening extravaganza explodes with sales and balloons. The soft opening gives the business time to get some publicity.

In a similar way, the birth of our Lord was a soft opening. Mary’s song did not get played beyond the ears of Elizabeth; the angels’ choir performed Handel’s Messiah, but a few scraggly shepherds were the only ones in the audience; and Herod’s massacre quickly squelched the tidings of the Magi. The greatest news in human history dawned on the horizon, but it was a cloudy day. Instead of parades in Jerusalem, all we find is Mary treasuring these things up in her heart.

And this soft opening did not go viral. Instead, like fireworks in the backcountry, it gave its light and then went dark. The accounts in Matthew and Luke leap from infancy to adulthood, the so-called “lost” thirty years of Jesus. The King walked unknown among mortals. What was our Lord waiting for? He was waiting for the herald.

When in faith Nehemiah stood upon the newly sanctified wall, his telescope roamed the hills for those beautiful feet. His ears strained for the voice crying in the wilderness: Jeremiah promised a return to the land’check; Isaiah foretold of a rebuilt temple’check. But where was that wilderness herald? Where was the voice preparing the way for the Lord, to mark the true end of exile, to announce the second and greater exodus redemption? Malachi dressed this herald in the mantle of Elijah. This herald had to come first; he was the grand opening of the Messianic advent. He was the trumpet of the glory of the Lord. As Nehemiah’s cry rose to heaven like smoke in the breeze, “We are slaves” (Neh. 9:36), this herald was out of earshot.

And so God’s people listened for this voice. Our Lord waited for the herald to cry out. Then the day arrived. East of the Jordan, dressed in camel hair, the herald mounted his pulpit, and the appearance of this herald shook the pages of history. Mark even borrowed language from Genesis by calling it the beginning of the gospel. Crowds of people flocked to John the Baptist; he was the one for whom they and their grandparents had been waiting. Thousands washed themselves in his baptism. They might have missed the soft opening, but they were camping out in line for the grand opening.

And what they heard from John’s sermons only excited them more. John the Baptist told them that the one coming after him was greater than he. The coming one was mightier, baptizing with the Holy Spirit. When the priests and Levites questioned John about who he was, John could only answer with the words of Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” The implication was clear. The one after John was the Lord himself. Goose bumps tickled the people as they dreamt of the splendor just around the corner. Goodbye, Rome. Hello, glory! The grand opening was cracking up to be everything they expected, and more.

But then who showed up? Who came after John the Baptist? Jesus of Nazareth strode onto center stage. John took the spotlight off himself and pointed it on Jesus. And yet the people scratched their heads and exchanged curious looks: “A man from Nazareth? Where is the glory in this? The Scriptures says nothing about Nazareth. Surely we received the wrong memo.” Without a doubt, Christ’s healings and signs wowed the crowds. They marveled at his authoritative teaching. But something wasn’t quite right for the people. After the five thousand were fed, they attempted to make Jesus king, but he ran away. Who does this? Even John the Baptist, using his one phone call from prison, asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus did not fit the popular expectations. His armor did not shine as they hoped.

Why was this? The people were reading the right section of Scripture; their scrolls were opened to Isaiah. But they were not reading carefully. They read only the good parts and skipped the not-so-juicy parts. In hope they memorized the upbeat portions of Isaiah’s Servant Songs, but they fast-forwarded through the slow songs. The people could not admit to themselves that Isaiah’s servant was the Suffering Servant. The only enemy in their crosshairs was a political one, an external one. The crowds were blind to the real foe, the enemy within: sin. There was one line in John the Baptist’s sermons that fell on deaf ears, one balloon in his grand opening that burst off hard and pointy hearts. When John’s eyes first opened to Jesus, the sentence leaped from his lips: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Like a master jeweler, John set two sapphires in gold. The Lamb of God is the Paschal blood that shields from wrath and gives birth to a second and greater exodus. The Paschal Lamb sires the new and better covenant. Yet the “one who takes away sin” is the bull hide of the sin offering (Lev. 4) whereby forgiveness is received. And it was in this skin that the Suffering Servant was clothed (Isa. 53:12). This was the crown John beheld on the head of Jesus’a crown of death and blood, a crown of sacrifice and thorns. The way of the cross was the glory of Christ. The path of death was how Christ slew our true adversaries, Sin and Death.

Therefore, on the eve of his death, our Lord gave his own version of John the Baptist’s line: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for the forgiveness of sin.” Although the eyes of the world are blind to this glory of our Savior, may we behold with the eyes of faith this gospel grand opening, especially every time we bless the cup.

Friday, February 28th 2014

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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