Summary: Jesus comes in fulfillment of the prophecies of a new king who would restore the Kingdom of God and with the means to achieve that end.
Do you remember last week, when Roy was relating the story of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones, how he pointed out that although much of what Ezekiel prophesied came true in the years immediately following the return from exile, it didn’t all come true.
Let’s just briefly revisit the passage at the end of Ezekiel 37. "I will make them one nation in the land,... and one king shall be king over them all. ... 24My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. 25They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore. 27My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28Then the nations shall know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore." (Ezek 37:22-28 NRSV)
It’s a far-reaching prophecy. One king, David; one shepherd - the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (Ezek 34, Jn 10)); a place of blessing where God’s people will live forever; an everlasting covenant of Peace; God will dwell with them; God’s Sanctuary, that is his Temple, will be among them forevermore. All that, following on from the prophecy of the dry bones being filled with the breath of God. It’s a great picture, isn’t it? But it has just one flaw. Have you seen the flaw in the picture? Roy actually pointed it out last week.
The flaw is that the people of Israel were the same then as they were before the exile. The priests are still fallen human beings some of whom will use their position for personal gain. The kings who’ll arise when they return from exile will be just as bad as the kings they had before. Even if they happen to get a good king his reign will only be temporary. Before long he’ll die and be replaced by someone else who’ll probably turn out worse than those who came before. So at first glance this prophecy appears to be doomed.
But then, that’s the interesting thing about prophecies. Sometimes looking at a prophecy is like looking at a mountain range. When you approach the mountain range from a distance you can see the mountains very clearly outlined against the sky. But then, as you get closer, perhaps climbing up into them, or flying over them, you realise that beyond the first row of mountains is another; and another and another.
At first glance this prophecy looks like it’s all about the return of the nation from exile; but then as you go along in history another possibility arises. The prophets begin to speak of a remnant of Israel, a small percentage who remain faithful to God, around whom God will rebuild his kingdom. As we come to the New Testament, Luke records for us the stories of Simeon and Anna, two people who are recorded as waiting for the consolation of Israel, for the redemption of Jerusalem. Just two of a tiny minority who were ready when God finally acted to fulfill that prophecy of Ezekiel; ready when John the Baptist came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of one crying out in the wilderness: ’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight;’ as John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mk 1:3-4) And what happens, "People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." A remnant was ready.
And so Mark begins his gospel account with these words: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Now we miss the significance of that through over-familiarity. First, ’Good News’ is code. It’s a phrase that jumps out of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant who would come announcing good news to the oppressed, whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains because he announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Then we gloss over the word ’Christ’ as though it were Jesus’ surname, perhaps forgetting that it actually means anointed one; that is, the one who comes as God’s anointed king; who comes as the new David, and like David, anointed by God long before he’s anointed by us as our king.