The prophet Isaiah seems to have harsh words for the Israelites.
They are “worms” and “maggots”. Isaiah is apparently not a friendly or polite prophet!
Actually, the prophet is not being insulting, but making a point at the depth to which the Israelites have plummeted. Remember, Isaiah is making sense of two catastrophic situations that have engulfed the Israelites- Assyrian invasion of 720 BC and the Babylonian invasion of 587 BC. Both events reduced the lands of the Israelites to ruins and wastelands and left the people bereft of their wealth and power. All seemed lost. The Israelites seemed to the world to be nothing more than worms and maggots, at least that is how they felt.
Isaiah’s point is that this might be how the Israelites seem to the world, or even how they feel about themselves, but God sees them differently. He doesn’t see worms and maggots, but the people that he chose from all the nations for a special mission. He doesn’t think of his people as a lost cause, but can see what the Israelites in their sufferings cannot see- new possibilities.
God will act and he will restore what seemed hopelessly lost.
The restoration of the Israelites would be the work of the Messiah. The covenant would be restored. The king would return. The scattered and lost tribes would be brought home. The captives would be freed. The afflicted would be healed. The temple would be rebuilt. The enemies of Israel would be defeated.
Isaiah foresees all this, and we believe that in Christ the Messiah has come and he has restored his people.
It is the purpose of the Gospels to demonstrate the ways in which Christ the Lord reveals himself to be the Messiah. If we are attentive to the Gospels, we can see and understand how Christ is the Messiah, but also, that in Christ, God has come into the world to be not only a Messiah for the Israelites, but for the whole world.
The Gospels are not just biographies of the Lord Jesus or a spiritual version of a self-help strategy. Instead the Gospels are a sophisticated and sustained argument about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. The Gospels are making the case that the Lord Jesus is God and Messiah and he is worthy of our adoration and allegiance. Once we accept who the Lord Jesus is, we are faced with a decision- will we make our lives a gift for him? Will we place ourselves at his service?
In his Gospel, Christ provides insights about the mysterious identity and mission of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was an Israelite priest who left his service to the Jerusalem temple and called people away from that shrine, and insisted that Israelites prepare themselves for a new temple, one that God would reveal.
This temple is the Body of the Lord Jesus himself. God in Christ establishes a new temple, a temple not made of stones by men, but a temple made of flesh and blood by God.
John’s testimony to this mysterious and wonderful revelation would eventually cost him his life. Like Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, John would position himself against corrupt worldly powers and these powers would rage against John and finally kill him.
Christ makes reference to John the Baptist with the cryptic words “the kingdom of God has suffered violence and the violent take it by force (or “bear it away”).
Christ’s words are about John’s willingness to give up his life, rather than give up the mission that God had given him. It further means that the Kingdom of God will belong to people like John, people who are willing to make great sacrifices and endure great suffering. The revelation of the Kingdom of God will be withheld from the lazy, the indolent, the self-pre-occupied. It belongs to those who are willing, like John the Baptist, to take risks and to give their lives over in service to the Lord.
There is nothing soft or therapeutic about discipleship. Christ’s way is a demanding way and he resists our attempts to accommodate his way of life to our needs for comfort and security. We cannot live as disciples vicariously or defer responsibility for our mission, but each of us must give our lives to Christ and place ourselves at his service.
What will Christ ask of us? We must discern the answer to this question, knowing and accepting that whatever he asks, it is his call, not ours.
As extreme as the Lord’s gift of mercy is, so also extreme is the Lord’s insistence that we give up everything and follow him and be willing to take great risks so that the Kingdom of God might be revealed.