Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The story of Jesus does not begin with His birth in Bethlehem. The entire Old Testament is the story of a people who were to be the heritage from which the Messiah descended. Their customs, the events of their lives, everything was all part of the greater story of Jesus. He didn’t just appear out of nowhere, the way was prepared for Him.
Hundreds of years before that night in Bethlehem under the star, God was already making it known through His prophet Malachi that He would send Elijah to prepare the people for their Messiah. They were not only expecting the Promised Messiah, but also His forerunner, who it so turns out was John the Baptist.
Before we can really understand the significance of the Christmas story, the ministry of Jesus, the death, burial, and resurrection – we have to understand that Jesus came from a real history of real people with real stories. His birth was foretold and expected, but it was also part of a larger narrative. To understand Jesus we must understand His people. Christmas is the climax of a promise given by God to His people, a promise to send someone to save them. He sent Himself.
Luke 24:21a But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…
Have you ever looked back on something in your life and realized how foolish you looked for not seeing what was right in front of you? The story in Luke’s account of the Gospel about two disciples who were talking while they traveled, just days after Jesus’ death on the cross, makes one wonder just how foolish they felt as they looked back at their encounter with Jesus.
As they walked along sulking that this man they had followed, who that had placed their trust in as the promised Messiah, the one who would redeem His people Israel, the resurrected Jesus actually joined them. These two of His disciples recounted the story of Jesus’ crucifixion to Him (because they didn’t recognize Him as being Jesus) and expressed lament over the fact that He hadn’t lived up to their hopes. We look back now and wonder how on earth the risen Lord could have disappointed anyone’s hopes, but these Jewish men had been awaiting a Messiah who would establish an earthly kingdom to save them from their oppressors and Jesus did not do that. No, instead He was killed by those oppressors. This fell short of what they had wanted from Him.
But Jesus came to do so much more than just save Israel from an oppressive government. He came to bring reconciliation with God, to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. But the men didn’t know this yet because they were so focused on their own expectations. Can’t we do that sometimes? Don’t we sometimes expect God to answer us in some small way and when we don’t see it we get all upset with Him, when really there’s a much bigger blessing in store if we’d only open our eyes? The guys in this story opened their eyes and eventually saw Jesus for who He was and what He came to do. That’s hope for all of us.