I Hear the Prophet Callin'

My church is busily preparing for Christmas. Snatches of the cantata we are rehearsing run through my mind—sometimes the same line with maddening frequency. Today's line happens to be the name of the cantata and I can't get it out of my head. The brain is filled with "I hear the prophet callin', 'Prepare the way of the Lord.'" (Pepper Choplin, Lorenz Publishing Company, 2009).

As I sat down to do my devotional reading this morning, I was pleased to discover that my journey through the Old Testament has officially ended for this year and I am now reading through the New Testament. Guess what was on the agenda for today?

The Book of Matthew begins with Joseph's genealogy. It's always been a curiosity to me why his family tree is emphasized here since he was not the biological father of the Messiah. I suspect (though I confess I haven't researched this) that the key to that question is found in Matthew 1:17: "Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ." There is a prophetic connection rather than a biological one. The time for the coming of Christ was announced from Old Testament times. That Joseph was from the royal line of David was a "hook" that had significance to Matthew's Jewish audience since the Messiah was to come through the Davidic line.

Then we have the fulfillment of another prophecy announced in Matthew 21-23 when the angel appears to Joseph with this message: "'She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'—which means, 'God with us.'"

When Herod found out through the wise men from the east that a king had been born, he called his experts together for a consultation as to where this child might be found. Once again the prophecy was there for all to see. Matthew writes: "When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied, 'for this is what the prophet has written…" (Matthew 2:4, 5).

Later when Joseph was told to take his family to safety in Egypt because Herod was about to murder innocent children in his eagerness to destroy this child king, Matthew says: "So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son'" (Matthew 2:14, 15).

Just verses later, Matthew reminds his readers that the death of the innocents was also foretold by the Old Testament prophets. Matthew 2:17 says: "Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'"

When Joseph returned from Egypt he wasn't convinced that going back to his home town was a good idea so he chose to take Mary and the young child, Jesus, to Nazareth. By doing so he fulfilled yet another prophecy: "…and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene'" (Matthew 2:23).

Years later when Jesus was about to begin his public ministry, the words of the Old Testament prophets were recalled again. The Lord's cousin, John the Baptist, appeared to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God in the form of the King's own Son. Matthew 3:1-3 says: "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

As the Lord began his public ministry he followed a game plan that had been foretold in the Old Testament. After his cousin John was put in prison, Jesus left Nazareth to live in Capernaum. This fulfilled another prophecy: "Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned'" Matthew 4:12-16).

So, in just four chapters, Matthew has made a point of showing his Jewish readers through their own literature that Jesus Christ was the Messiah that they were waiting for. It is generally acknowledged that Matthew's account of the life of Christ was specifically designed for a Jewish audience and he wastes no time in taking them from the familiar territory of the prophets into the unfamiliar territory of the Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

I hear the prophet callin', but the sad part is that though he still calls today, many Jews have not heard, or understood, his message. Perhaps this is a good time to pray for all those who work among the Jewish people scattered all over the world. The message is the same as it was in John's day: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

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