The Way to High Places

A couple of years ago I went hiking the high places of Summit County, Colorado. Tramping and hiking the old-fashioned way – with USGS topo map and compass.  On one of the days we headed out for Eccles Pass at the summit of the Meadow Creek trail, about 13,500 feet.  Once we got above 11,000 feet the trail and the markers were mostly covered in an early October snow.  Easy to lose your way.

It was at that point we ran into some other folks.  While we were headed to the Pass, they were looking for Lilly Pad Lake.  We had been there the day before and knew that it was about 2,500 feet lower in elevation and about 4 miles or so East.  They were hiking the new-fangled way with a hand-held GPS device.  And they showed us the dots on the screen and assured us the lake was nearby. Continue reading

Everyday thin places

The Gospel of this second Sunday in Advent points to John the Baptist as, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…’ ”

Advent is a time when we commemorate the adventus of Jesus — his coming, arrival, or birth into the days and nights of our world. At Advent Christians look forward in expectation of Christ’s future coming, to that time when God will culminate what he has now only inaugurated, when he will finish what he has started, and will fulfill what he has promised. Continue reading

Finding the wilderness

The Gospel of this 2nd Sunday in Advent points to John the Baptist as, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…’”

Advent is a time when we commemorate the adventus of Jesus — his coming, arrival, or birth into the days and nights of our world. At Advent Christians look forward in expectation of Christ’s future coming, to that time when God will culminate what he has now only inaugurated, when he will finish what he has started, and will fulfill what he has promised. Continue reading

Preparing the Way: salvation

4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents the theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (2:30-32). Moreover, in describing the expectation of the people (3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (2:25-26, 37-38). Later, in 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9: eschatological preaching), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14: ethical preaching), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18: messianic preaching). Continue reading

Preparing the Way: repent

…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert

Luke’s phrase in 3:2, “the word of God came,” is reminds us of Luke’s core and central focus on God. The phrase clearly identifies the source of divine inspiration behind John’s work but also puts us on notice that Luke’s emphasis on God as the story’s primary actor will be carried forward and enlarged. Other evidences of this most intrinsic element show up in this section—for example, the citation of Scripture by the narrator (3:4–6) who thus presents God’s own perspective on John’s ministry, by Jesus (4:4, 8, 12) who is engaged in a process of discerning the way of God, and by the devil (4:10–11) who tries to garner the authoritative voice of God for his own agenda of frustrating God’s purpose; the activity of the Holy Spirit, God’s empowering and guiding agent (3:16, 22; 4:1); the voice of God, heard by Jesus and Luke’s audience, breaking into the narrative in a way that echoes his voice to Israel in the past (3:22); the genealogy of Jesus (3:23–28), showing Jesus’ relation to Israel’s past, recalling significant aspects of the story of God’s interaction with his people, and testifying to the relation of Jesus to God as his Son; and above all the account of Jesus’ test in the wilderness (4:1–13), pitting the aim of God and the design of the devil against each other. Continue reading

Preparing the Way: history

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

The chronological data of these verses reflects the conventions of Greco-Roman historiography as well as a pattern found in some Jewish prophetic books (Jer 1:1-3; Ezek 1:1-3; Hos 1:1; Isa 1:1). Luke seeks to place his “orderly account” (Lk 1:1) within the context of “world” history. In addition, this writing, addressed to “Most Excellent Theophilus” (Lk 1:3), places the events within the context of the rulers and times (and some historiographic forms) that Theophilus would know. It is likely that he was some type of Roman official. Continue reading

Preparing the Way: context

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Continue reading

The One Coming: John’s message

Baptism-Jesus“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John’s message is telescoped to focus upon a single theme, the proclamation of a person still to come who will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. As seen in the Notes, it is not clear what Mark means by this expression, nor is it clear that John understands the very messianic terms he uses – at least in their fullness. In referring to this new Baptizer, whose dignity overshadowed his own, John avoided traditional messianic terms. The precise identity of the Coming One remained hidden, apparently, even from John. Continue reading

The One Coming: John

John the Baptist is a crucial figure in the history of revelation and redemption. In retrospect, his appearance in the wilderness was the most important event in the life of Israel for more than three hundred years. The absence of a prophet throughout this period had been interpreted to signify that the prophetic task was accomplished. Yet all clung to the hope that the “faithful prophet” would appear, the Prophet like Moses, whose coming would signal the events of the “last days” (Deut. 18:15–19; 1 Macc. 4:42–46; 14:44). The very fact of John’s appearance was an eschatological event of the first magnitude, and signified that the decisive turning point in the history of salvation was at hand. It was John, the preacher of radical repentance, who initiated the messianic crisis. To speak of the gospel of Jesus is to speak of the good news which began with John. Continue reading

The One coming: more questions

Baptism-JesusQuestion 3: What was meant by “Christ”? Is it a title? Is it part of Jesus’ name?

  • The Greek christos is used to translate “anointed” or “Messiah.” It might have made sense to a Greek audience. But it would be hampered by its first century usage to refer to wrestlers who had “greased up” before their match to make it more difficult for their opponents to gain a tactical hold on them during the match.
  • The uses of “Messiah” or “anointed (one)” in the OT do not help much in understanding Jesus as Messiah.
  • The word is used of “the anointed priests” (Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16, 6:22; 2 Maccabees 2:10)
  • The word is used of the king. (Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel)
  • The word is used of Cyrus, the Persian King (Is 45:1)
  • The word is used of the prophets (Ps 105:15; 1 Chr 16:22)

Continue reading