(For an explanation of the meaning of the Season of Advent, please see “Introducing Advent to Evangelicals” under the “Advent Devotions” tab.)
Isaiah 1:1-20; Matthew 24:1-51 or Mark 13:1-37 or Luke 21:5-36
The Season of Repentance Begins
We have before us very powerful passages of Scriptures calling us to repentance and watching. (The reason why both the Old Testament and Gospel passages are listed is because the Gospel passages are prescribed for preaching in worship whereas the Isaiah passage is for personal devotion.) We begin with Isaiah. He is called the “Prince of the Prophets” and for good reason: no other prophet has so many passages related to the coming and passion of our Lord, nor do the others speak so eloquently. But he also calls God’s people to repentance without the least bit of reserve. He refers to their stupidity comparing them to oxen, their numbness regarding their own festering wounds, and their rank hypocrisy mixing worship with injustice. He compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah, the wicked cities God overthrew in the time of Abraham, their faithful patriarch (Genesis 18:16-19:29). But lest they despair, he offers the possibility of redemption – the constant theme throughout Isaiah: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” So already in the first chapter, Isaiah foreshadows the coming One, the Messiah, who shall take away the sins of the world.
Our Lord’s “Olivet Discourse” in the Gospels presents many questions, but that should not be our focus. For purposes of full disclosure and for those who want to know what Matthew 24:34 (also Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32) means, I do not try to untangle which verses refer to the destruction of the temple (which occurred later in A.D. 70) and which to our Lord’s second coming. I take the entire passage as referring to both events as the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple represented a catastrophic event of monumental proportions to any Jewish hearer at the time Jesus spoke. But most important are the lessons taught. First, our Lord said that he would return, though not right away. Second, that after he was gone, and especially before his return, things are going to get really bad. Third, also after he was gone, many would rise up, each saying that he was the Christ, and don’t believe them. Fourth, you will be persecuted for being his follower, even by members of your own family. Fifth, even so, stand firm and persevere knowing that your eternal reward will soon follow. Sixth, Jerusalem will fall and be “trampled until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled.” Seventh, our Lord will return and everyone’s going to know about it. Eighth, and most important, no one knows when this will happen, so WATCH! “Watch” means be faithful, persevere, stand guard. Don’t begin to say to yourself, “It’s not happening today, so I’ll indulge in a little sin and ask forgiveness later.” (Refer to Matthew 24:48-51.)