Summary: "Jesus is YHWH himself, bringing people back from spiritual exile, the returning King himself, bringing the long-awaited circumcision of the heart by the Holy Spirit."
Last week we stood on the edge of the Promised Land, and we were given the choice, by YHWH, between life and death. However, the simple option of choosing life, of choosing YHWH, or loving Him fully and others equally, we discovered, is only possible through radical heart surgery – circumcised hearts, and that would only come when YHWH himself would bring His people back from spiritual exile and they would live with YHWH as their king, with Him dwelling/tabernacling in their midst in His holy temple.
Between Deuteronomy 30 (which was last week’s sermon wrapping up the sermon series on the Exodus journey) and Mark 1 (which is this week’s sermon, starting off a series in Mark’s gospel)… between Deuteronomy 30 and Mark 1 lies the history of YHWH and the people of God that was marked out in brief in Deuteronomy 28. Initial obedience. Quick turning away to other non-gods by people, priests and king. Eventually, nations from afar coming and besieging the people, bringing destruction and the scattering and exile of a remnant. Then the remnant returning… but the history of Deuteronomy 28 is incomplete… the return was not complete, because their hearts were still in exile, they were under the thumb of other nations, and YHWH had not returned to their midst in His holy temple.
People were longing for the day when YHWH would bring circumcision of the heart, when as Joel prophesied (2:28), YHWH would pour out His Spirit on the people. And as Ezekiel (11:19) and Jeremiah prophesied (31:33), YHWH would put His Spirit IN his people, and give them new hearts to fulfil God’s law of love for Him and for all.
Isaiah 40 is a famous prophecy that the people held dear, a prophecy where YHWH speaks comfort to an exiled people - that their exile is at an end. Though the grass withers and the flowers fall, the Word of YHWH endures forever and God would be faithful to His word, and His promise of return. Isaiah announces this in terms of YHWH making a way for His rescue, so that He can bring His people back from exile, and that He will come to be with His people. His glory will be revealed for all to see. “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power… [to rule]” (Isaiah 40:10).
Isaiah speaks of a messenger climbing up a high mountain to shout the good news for God’s people to hear.
People read Isaiah 40 and they longed for the good news that YHWH was returning to his people to rule them, to bring them back from exile, they longed for the message of comfort that their spiritual exile was over, their sin was paid for.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’
“A voice says, ‘Cry out.’
“And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
“‘All people are like grass, and all human faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’
“You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young…” (Isaiah 40:1-11)
Added to this expectation and hope that Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled, was the added detail of other prophecies like Malachi’s - that the messenger who would announce this return from spiritual exile and the return of the King YHWH, the one getting people ready for the returning King, this messenger would be the returned prophet Elijah.
Malachi 3:1-4:6 “3:1I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.