Prophets and Promises
Remember when you were a little kid, and Christmas was coming?
Or maybe your birthday, or Chinese New Year.
you can’t wait for the yummy food, the party, the presents!
You are counting down the days,
Mummy, how much longer?
Then you get a bit older,
now you are waiting and hoping for that special person to come.
Maybe girls dream about a handsome prince and their wedding dress
And what if you were in prison?
Locked up for many years,
In your little room, you make a big circle on your calendar.
That’s the day you are waiting and longing for.
The day the prison doors will open, and you will be free!
What are you waiting and longing and hoping for right now?
What is the thing you most of all want to happen?
this year we are reading through the book of Luke in the Bible.
It tells the story of Jesus
but today we’ll start back in the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible,
It tells the story of Israel, the Jewish people.
Most of the time, it’s not a happy story.
there were bigger, stronger countries all around Israel.
They attacked them, burnt down the cities.
They made the people of Israel captives, prisoners.
Early on in the Old Testament, God seemed very close to Israel.
He rescued them from their enemies
But the people did wrong things.
They kept turning away from God, so he often seemed far away.
Both physically and spiritually, they weren’t doing too well.
They weren’t really free
But it wasn’t all bad
throughout the Old Testament, God sent men called Prophets.
They brought special messages:
come back to God, they said, love and obey him again.
And they made many promises:
Good things that God was going to do in the future.
Sometimes it seemed like God had left them.
one day, the prophets said, God would come back.
He would put everything right that is wrong in the world
Maybe my favourite prophet in the Old Testament is Isaiah.
Who else likes him?
Let’s look at some promises God made through Isaiah:
Your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Isaiah 35:4-6 (page 543)
God will beat up the bad guys, and rescue his people – a bit like Superman!
It’s even better for people who can’t see, or can’t hear, can’t walk or can’t speak.
when God comes, he will heal them, make them all well!
Here’s another great promise from Isaiah about when God comes:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
Isaiah 61:1-2. (Page 565)
To “anoint” is to pour oil on someone’s head
in those days, they did that to a new king.
This is a promise about a great King that God would send one day.
A good king, who’d free the people, punish their enemies, and rule forever.
That was good news!
the Hebrew word for “anointed” is “Messiah”.
The people of Israel were waiting and hoping and longing,
for this great King, the anointed one, the Messiah to come.
When would this happen, when would the Messiah come?
They didn’t know,
but the prophets talked about a messenger, who would come first.
Someone who would say, “Get ready! The time is nearly here.”
we see it in the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi:
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.
Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come… “
Malachi 3:1 (page 730) 
Well, after Malachi,
God didn’t send any more prophets with messages.
for over 400 years, the people of Israel were waiting for God’s promises.
Waiting, hoping longing – it was hard
When would God’s Messiah come?
The Time Has Come!
That 400 years brings us to the New Testament of the Bible, and the book of Luke.
Now the people are captives to the Romans
At the start of Luke, people are still waiting for the Messiah.
We meet an old man called Zechariah.
He is sad, because he doesn’t have any children.
one day, an angel appears to him.
Zechariah is frightened
the angel says:
“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John…
He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”
Luke 1:13-17 (page 779).
A man who prepares the way – have you heard that before?
Could John be the messenger Malachi talked about 500 years ago?
If he is, what does that mean? – The Messiah is coming very soon!
Well, John was born like the angel said,
when he grew up, he lived out in the desert, the wilderness – maybe he liked tramping!
and he started to preach:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’
Big crowds of people came to hear John, they were excited:
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie his sandals.”
could John be the one they were waiting for?
No, says John, I am not the Messiah, – but stay excited, because he is coming very soon!
As a little kid, it could take so long for Christmas to come – Daddy, how many days?
But at last, it was Christmas Eve,
in New Zealand, some of us put out a big sock.
In the morning, your sock would be full of presents.
Who here did that?
I guess that is how the people felt.
It’s like Christmas Eve:
Time to hang up the sock, time for presents – the big One is coming!
John had a cousin, born just a few months after him.
Who was he?
Jesus – imagine your Christmas stocking with a little baby looking out!
One day, when Jesus had grown up.
he went to the church of the day.
They called him to read from the Bible.
He opened at the Prophet Isaiah, and read this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Then Jesus began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Luke 4:17-21 (page 784)
Have you heard that before? – it’s what we read from Isaiah.
It was like finally waking up on Christmas morning.
It was like waking up in your prison bed for the very last time.
Crossing the last day off your calendar – today, you will be free!
At last, after hundreds of years,
The promise of Isaiah is being fulfilled says Jesus,
it’s happening now – this very day!
In the next chapters of Luke, Jesus does these amazing things that Isaiah promised.
He makes sick people well again, people who couldn’t walk start running around.
He sets people free from evil spirits.
Last week, we saw how Jesus even brought a dead young man to life.
It’s like, after years of being lonely.
at last, you met the wonderful girl, the magic guy.
She is the one!
He is the one I’ve been waiting for!
That’s a bit how they felt.
It’s all so exciting: at last, he’s come – Jesus is the One!
Doubt and Disappointment
Meanwhile, where is Jesus’ cousin John?
Well, John is not having such a good time.
In fact, something terrible has happened
There was a king called Herod.
He disobeyed God and did a lot of wrong things.
John told Herod to stop, and he wasn’t happy:
King Herod put John in prison. Luke 3:19-20
The next time we meet John is in today’s passage:
******* Luke 7:18-23 (page 787)
So John is sitting there in King Herod’s prison.
He remembers all the promises of the prophets – like we read in Isaiah.
He remembers how Jesus said, “these Scriptures are being fulfilled – today!”
He hears from his friends how Jesus is doing amazing things, like bringing the boy to life.
so Jesus is the One, God’s Messiah.
Come to set his people free.
Come to release the captives from prison.
Yes! Says John
I am in prison, but Jesus is the Messiah, and he’s my cousin!
any day now, Jesus will be John out.
That big day on the calendar must be getting close!
But the days pass, the sun rises… the sun sets, and nothing happens.
It’s dark and horrible in here. John is hungry and unhappy
The Messiah is supposed to beat up the bad guys, and rescue the good guys!
But the good guy, John, is in prison,
and the bad guy, King Herod – he’s having a party.
Sitting in prison, maybe John started to doubt, to ask questions
Is Jesus really the Messiah?
Or did I get it wrong?
“Are you the coming one, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Or maybe John was just impatient.
why doesn’t Jesus get on with it?
Kick out the Romans, set the people free.
Beat up King Herod, set me free!
Maybe John’s really saying: Jesus, hurry up!
What about you and me?
Sometimes it’s wonderful being a Christian.
God answers our prayers.
Jesus heals us and sets us free, like he did 2000 years ago, like Isaiah promised.
At other times, we may feel like John in prison.
When was the time in your life you most badly wanted something,
you waited so long, you prayed so hard, you thought it was coming.
But it didn’t happen.
Or it did happen, but not the way you hoped.
What if Christmas morning comes at last, you’re so excited.
Your stocking looks big – full of presents
You open it… It’s just some old newspaper inside.
Or you get out the ring, you ask the big question, “Will you marry me?”
your dream woman says … “no!”
Maybe you have been trying to find a job, or get your New Zealand permanent residence, but still, nothing.
When were you most disappointed – when you didn’t get what you waiting for?
There is a Christian author, Philip Yancey
He wrote the book “Disappointment with God” (1988).
Before he wrote it, he talked to a lot of people.
On the first page, he writes this:
“I found that for many people there is a large gap between what they expect from their Christian faith
and what they actually experience.”
Does that sound like you?
I think it sounds like John?
You know about God’s promises
You hear about God helping other people, healing other people.
But you are in the dark prison.
You start to ask:
Does God really love me?
Does God really care?
Is God even there at all?
If Jesus is the Messiah, why doesn’t he rescue me?
Is Jesus really the answer, is he the one.
or do I need to keep looking somewhere else in life?
Do you ask those questions sometimes?
Looking for Answers
They are good questions.
in this life, bad things can happen to good people
God sometimes seems slow to keep his promises.
we often can’t understand why
the Bible doesn’t always have simple answers.
But it gives some ideas that may help.
Let’s read on and see what we can find.
******* Luke 7:24-28 (page 787)
When I feel disappointed,
one of the things that helps me most is that
people in the Bible often ask these hard questions.
In the book of Hebrews, there is a list of many great Bible heroes.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith,
yet none of them received all that God had promised.
They sometimes felt hurting or disappointed, impatient or even angry,
because God seems silent, or slow to rescue them.
if you feel like that, you’re not a bad Christian or a failure – you’re in good company!
If people like John had some doubts and questions, it’s okay for me! ,
So what happened to John?
Jesus came to set prisoners free,
but John never got out of prison.
King Herod had a big birthday party.
You could say, John the Baptist was a very special guest, with a very special invitation… (Picture)
At the end of our reading,
Jesus says John was the messenger Malachi talked about. (27)
the greatest of the prophets.
the most important person who had ever lived.
Yet those in the kingdom of God – that’s we who know Jesus – are even greater than John! (28)
how could that be?
When life is hard, and we feel like John did in prison.
I think we have one big advantage
here’s the difference:
John the Baptist died soon after our reading.
But you and I live after Easter.
On Easter Friday, the crowds watched Jesus die.
“He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” …They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
It’s a bit like what John may have asked:
If you are the Messiah, save me!
John never got out of prison.
Jesus never got off the cross.
God did not rescue Jesus either.
So Jesus knows what it is like to feel that God has forgotten you
on the cross, he called out,
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34, Psalm 22:1)
In Jesus, God has been in the dark prison with us.
For me, that’s one of the best things about being a Christian.
Sometimes we don’t understand, but on Easter Friday, our God suffered with us.
But there’s more!
You and I live after Easter Sunday.
When Jesus died, his friends were very sad and disappointed.
When Jesus rose from the dead, they were full of joy and happiness.
And Jesus said it was all part of God’s plan:
Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true….
it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.
Luke 22:37, 24:46
Easter Friday looked like the biggest disappointment you could imagine.
– what could be worse than death?
It looked like all God’s promises had failed.
But through the cross, through Jesus’ death, God was fulfilling his promises.
He was bringing us new life.
So Easter Sunday gives me hope.
Even in my darkest time, when I can’t see God, I can think of Easter.
God is still there, and will bring me life.
It’s wonderful when we experience answers to prayer, God rescues us from trouble,
we see God’s promises happen.
But in this life, we do not experience God’s promises in full. 
We don’t always see answers to prayer when we want.
Maybe Christmas Day is disappointing – just some rubbish in the sock.
Sometimes relationships don’t work out.
We don’t yet experience the full freedom and happiness that God promised,
When that happens, remember what Hebrews said about the great heroes, like John:
None of them received all that God had promised.
We are in good company.
Remember that on Easter Friday, Jesus was in the dark prison with us.
Remember that on Easter Sunday, God turned death and disappointment into new life.
And look at how Hebrews continues:
None of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Hebrews 11: 39-40, NIV
Why does God sometimes seem slow to keep his promises?
Why do we have to wait so long?
so that something better will come in the end.
Even more perfect – everyone together with us in heaven, at God’s great party!
Jesus died, Jesus rose to life, and one day, Jesus is coming again.
That is the real thing to hope and wait and long for.
That day will not disappoint us.
It will be better than we can imagine.
When Jesus returns, we will see all of God’s promises in full.
It will be totally worth the wait.
What is the best present you ever had?
What is the thing you most wanted and didn’t get?
What are you most waiting and hoping for now?
Why were people excited when Jesus came?
Why was John impatient or disappointed?
In what way are we greater than John?
What helps you when God seems slow to answer?
 God will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
Isaiah 25:8 – one day, no more crying, no more death!
 In Isaiah 40:1-5, we read that The people of Israel have disobeyed God. So God has punished them, like being in prison. But the day is coming, when the time in prison, will be over. God is coming to set them free.
So someone is shouting, make a smooth straight road for God to come – like a king.
It’s like the Royal wedding a few weeks ago. The royal family had a long drive through London.
Do you think there was rubbish lying around on the streets where they drove?
Do you think there were roadworks, bumps or holes. So the cars would be bumping around.
Maybe their hats would fall off! I’m sure it was all perfectly clean and smooth.
That is what Isaiah is saying here. Make a clean, smooth road for God to come to his people. also Malachi 4:5-6
 for example, there was an old man named Simeon.
He was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.
 See Zechariah’s prophecy when John is born-Luke 1:76
 At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness…
Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”
Luke 3:2-6, from Isaiah 40:1-5 (page 782)
 There’s a whole book in the old testament, the book of Job. About a good man who has terrible pain and suffering. A bit like John, Job is disappointed. he asks God what is going on. He finds that God is God, and we are not.
 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth… All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. Hebrews 11: 13, 39-40
 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?…
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
2 Peter 3:4,9
 a theme of the Gospels is Jesus being challenged to prove who he is, by being the sort of Messiah people expect and disappointment when he’s not. The devil says “if you are the son of God”-turn stones into bread, jump from the temple roof. When her brother dies, Martha said to Jesus, “if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) on the cross, Jesus is repeatedly challenged, “if you are the Messiah… The King of the Jews… Save yourself and us” (Luke 23:35-39). The EmmausRoad (Luke 24:21). “Has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6) All rather like John’s possible implicit challenge here-if you are the coming one, get on with it: for a start, get me out of prison!
 for lovers of Narnia, Aslan is not a tame line-not a circus lion who does tricks and jumps through hoops when we ask him to. He comes and goes when and where he wills.
 Isaiah was traditionally sawn in half.
 and after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and after the church has spread through the world, becoming a light to all nations (Isaiah 49:6)-further prophecies that John didn’t see fulfilled
 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.
 For Jesus, first came pain and suffering and death.
Then came the happiness of new life – resurrection.
And it’s often the same pattern for us.
Sometimes we suffer, we hurt, and God does not seem to answer,
in a small way, we share in Jesus’ suffering and death.
And so we will also share the new life of his resurrection
 Jesus fulfilled the promises of Isaiah and the prophets on a small scale, for a few people. Jesus fed thousands of hungry people. But around 20,000 people starve to death in our world, every day.