Amazing as it may seem to Christians, most people in the world know little or nothing about Jesus Christ. When I became a Christian in 1971 most people I talked with knew something about Jesus. Very few people followed Him, but they knew something about His Life. Christmas was still observed openly in communities and schools. Fast forward almost 40 years and most people I talk with know little about Jesus. Many young people today grow up in homes where no one goes to church, no one has a Bible, and no one knows about Jesus.
Go back 2,000 years ago and even fewer people knew about Jesus. He would have been a young teenager in 10 A.D. It must have been interesting for Jesus to attend classes at the local synagogue and hear teachers telling people about Israel’s promised Messiah. The teachers were teaching about Jesus because He is Israel’s Messiah! When Jesus was just 12 years old He stood in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem amazing the teachers of the Law with His knowledge of God’s Word (“And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” – Luke 2:47)- appropriate because Jesus is the Word of God.
Jesus started His earthly ministry during an amazing time in Israel’s history. A traveling prophet named John was calling people to repent of their sins. Israel had not seen a real prophet of God for 400 years. They had lots of teachers, but no prophets. The word prophet is from the Hebrew word nabhi. It means “to speak, to announce, to show, to declare.” The idea of the word is of someone speaking on behalf of another. A true prophet of God spoke the oracles (Hebrew dabhar – divine word, utterance) of God. John (later known as John the Baptist) spoke the words God gave him and people listened to what he said. They recognized by what John said and the way he lived that he was a true prophet of God. They had read about Israel’s historic prophets, but had never met one in person.
What was John’s message from God?
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8
Here’s some background to what makes these verses so amazing. Most of Israel’s prophets (pre-exile, exile, and post-exile) lived between the 9th Century B.C. and the 6th Century B.C. But there was one man of God who prophesied during the 5th Century B.C. (approx. 450-400 B.C.). His name was Malachi and he was the last Hebrew prophet before John the Baptist. The name Malachi means “my messenger.” God had a message for Israel that would ring in their ears for 400 years before God spoke again through a new prophet. Malachi’s message was simple and clear: “I have no pleasure in you’, Says the Lord of hosts, ‘Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.” (Malachi 1:10). Malachi also wrote these words about what God had planned for Israel’s future. It should look familiar to us.
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, ‘Says the LORD of hosts. ‘But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness. ‘Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem Will be pleasant to the LORD, As in the days of old, As in former years.” Malachi 3:1-4
Do you see it? God promised to send “my messenger,” another Malachi, to Israel. That was going to be John the Baptist. Do you remember what the angel revealed to John’s father, the priest Zacharias?
“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17
The Prophet John was going to “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” He would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” That’s exactly what Malachi said the next “messenger” would do. “And he will prepare the way for Me.” Notice carefully what we see here. Malachi prophesied that the next messenger would prepare the way for “Me,” meaning God since He was the speaker. John preached “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.” Malachi prophesied that God was going to walk among the people of Israel. John prophesied that he was preparing the way of the Lord. Who was this “Lord?” John said, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That One was Jesus Christ — the Lord God of Israel!
The fact that Israel did not embrace their Messiah when they saw Him is a stunning commentary on the power of sin. Malachi wrote to Israel that God loved them because they were His chosen people, but that God would punish them for their many sins against Him and each other. God also promised He would send them their Messiah, the Sun of Righteousness, Who would bring healing in His wings.
“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 4:1-3
Malachi prophesied about the coming of Jesus Christ centuries before Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary. John the Baptist called the people of Israel to repentance and pointed them to the One Who would bear their sins in His Body on the Cross.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” John 1:29-30
Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world! Isn’t that exciting? We know — personally know — the Lamb of God. Wow!
One more thing about who Jesus is — God told the people of Israel through Malachi that He took no pleasure in them and would not accept an offering from their hand (Malachi 1:10). God also told the people of Israel through Malachi that through the promised Messiah God would once again be pleased with Israel: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem Will be pleasant to the LORD, As in the days of old, As in former years.” (Malachi 3:4) That is the Lord Jesus Christ we love and serve. He is the One the world must know.