Easter Without Hindsight: “Should we look for someone else?”
Although, strictly speaking, he might not have seen himself as a disciple of Jeshua, we’re going to start by looking at John, the Baptist. In a sense he set the scene against which Jeshua’s own disciples saw their rabbi.
Many of the Jews in the Holy Land (and the diaspora beyond) felt that their God had been silent for centuries. They remembered God promising that he was their God, even if, for many, that promise had morphed over the years into a belief that God had given, and would restore to them, a homeland. Rebel leaders, like the Maccabees, had come and gone, Israel had been freed and annexed again.
Each year the Jewish people celebrated their festivals. At Passover they remembered their escape from Egypt. So why did God seemed silent?
Seeing the Baptist must have seemed like waking from a nightmare. Like a prophet out of ancient scripture, he appeared in the desert, wearing camel hair clothes and eating locusts and honey. Few fathers would have considered him a suitable match for their daughters but it seems (Mark 1:4-6) that most of them headed into the desert to be baptised by him anyway.
The Judaism of the Temple spoke of freedom but didn’t really they really teach what freedom might mean. At Passover though, the Jews still celebrated God rescuing them from slavery to Pharaoh, their escape across the Red Sea and then crossing the River Jordan into a promised land.
John turned that story into a present-day drama. Each person baptised literally came through the waters of the Jordan but they weren’t leaving ‘Egypt’. They were leaving the world of ‘sin’ in which John said they were living. As a nation they had been looking the wrong way and had becomes rebels against God. Repentance is the process of turning round and going the other way. ‘Repent,’ John cried.
Someone great is coming after me, John added. ‘I’m just baptising you with water. When he comes he will baptise you with the spirit of God!’
Quite who John thought this person was isn’t clear. Perhaps he would have used the word messiah but even John seemed uncertain what messiah would look like. A few years later, when he was in Herod Antipas’ prison, John heard what Jeshua was doing. Had John thought that messiah would be like the ancient prophet Elijah, striding through the Holy Land bringing down fire onto the heads of Romans and sinners alike? Instead, any of the stories John was hearing were about shock and scandal when Jeshua befriended the same sinners.
John was no stranger to upsetting people; he was in prison, after all, for denouncing King Herod’s marriage to Philip’s (his brother) ex-wife. Still, John sent some of his own disciples to ask Jeshua if they should look for someone else.
Jeshua (Mt 11:4-6) sent a message back: “Tell John… the blind see…the lame walk…and the poor hear the good news. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.” Jeshua believed he was messiah but instead of calling fire onto sinful heads or attacking the Roman’s to establish a free Judea, he was teaching about a God who restores. The sort of prophesy Jeshua had in mind was Isaiah (chapter 35): “Say to those who are fearful ‘be strong, do not fear’…. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy.”