Isaiah 40:1-11 • Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 • 2 Peter 3:8-15a • Mark 1:1-8
Isaiah can be a confusing book to read, especially if you attempt to read it straight through. For instance, our Isaiah reading last week, we found Isaiah talking to the Hebrews as the exile was ending and they were heading home. This is confusing since we know that Isaiah was not alive when the exile was over, or, when the exile took place. There are two theories for this confusing presentation. The first theory is that chapter 1 through chapter 39 details the pronouncement of judgement, then, in chapter 40, Isaiah begins to speak to the future as he details the exile, and finally, chapter 55 begins the prophesy about the return from exile and slavery. The second theory is that the book of Isaiah is actually three different books (I Isaiah, II Isaiah, III Isaiah) written by three different authors during the three different time periods (first Isaiah written by Isaiah). Regardless of the theory, the truths are the same and the depiction of God and humans is the same.
Our reading this week is from the pivotal chapter 40, it is a comforting passage as the people have been through a deep time of trial and trauma – the defeat and destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. Now they are slaves or headed in that direction. They are devastated and are not able at this time to process any more messages of judgement. They feel forgotten by God, the feel that God has gone silent, they feel deserted – later, it will be an appropriate time for the talk of correction. To understand how all of this finally happened read Isaiah 39, it is actually a very easy read. King Hezekiah, of Judah, had invited the current King of Babylon to come visit the palace – during the visit Hezekiah showed off everything, the riches, the military, everything. Hezekiah paved the way for the judgement of the Hebrews by showing the enemy billions of reason to attack and conquer Judah. Then, when Nebuchadnezzar became King the time was right and the conquering began.
If you read chapter 39 decide what was the Hezekiah’s motivation to reveal the wealth of Judah, and why did he interpret Isaiah’s prophecy in the way he did?
Read this passage, and the Isaiah passage, with a comforting, consoling, and encouraging tone of voice to get the warmth being communicated to a people truly in need of a warm voice.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Peter is primarily writing to the same groups he wrote to First Peter, the seven churches in Asia Minor (this would include the church at Ephesus and at Laodicea). These believers are facing isolation and persecution from the outside of their faith community but also there is dissension within. There has been a parade of false teacher who have easily confused and misguided the believers. Peter is calling them back and calling them to be together, unified. He uses common dystopian imagery, not unlike today, that was often used in Roman and Jewish literature, philosophy, and theology. However, even though this passage is often taught with a core purpose of speculative end times scenarios, it is actually about the here and now. Peter is calling them to a growing life striving for holiness, a life of patience and waiting, all the while making the most of their lives for themself and for others in and outside their faith.
As we saw last week, the gospel of Mark does not have the birth narrative, it begins with the arrival of the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptizer. This is the comforting prophesy in which we hear echoes of Isaiah from our Isaiah reading for this week. Isaiah provides the devastated Hebrews with comfort by signaling that the time of God’s silence is coming to end – the Messiah is near as the forerunner becomes a public figure.