The Face of Grace
Pencil sketch by JC Chambers
Part three in a study of God's grace from the book of John.
Does God force us to obey Him?
“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” John 1:6-7
In the final book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi prophesied that God would send a final Old Covenant prophet to the earth.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. ‘See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:4-6
In the Old Covenant, the responsibility for transmitting covenant requirements rested on the shoulders of parents. This being the case, Malachi predicted that God would dispatch “the prophet Elijah” to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.” By warning their children to obey the Law of Moses, parents would prevent God from cursing the nation.
Malachi also predicted that this final old covenant prophet would “prepare the way” for the coming of the “Lord.”
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.” Malachi 3:1
Jesus Christ is the “messenger of the covenant” that Malachi foretold. He came to inaugurate the new covenant. “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”
Jesus identified John the Baptist as Malachi’s “Elijah-like” prophet. He came to “prepare the way” for Jesus by confronting the children of Israel and challenging them to honor the Old Covenant.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” Matthew 11:12-14
Prior to His own coming to earth, Jesus described God’s kingdom as “forcefully advancing.” According to Jesus, God historically revealed Himself through “forceful men.” He used John the Baptist as a case in point.
John the Baptist’s diet? Locusts and wild honey. His clothing? A scratchy tunic made of camel’s hair. His manner? Forceful. He rebuked a king and ended up being beheaded for it.
John the Baptist represented God’s kingdom forcefully.
Jesus Christ represented God’s kingdom gently.
With Jesus’ arrival, the days of God revealing Himself through “forceful men” came to a close. A new “child-rearing” approach would be needed. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” Matthew 11:29
“Forceful” is out.
“Gentle” is in.
On this side of the cross, God doesn’t force men and women to follow Him. Nor does He warn parents to “put the fear of God” into their children.
Jesus made a clear distinction between Himself and all who preceded him as God’s spokespersons . . . John the Baptist included. As the Son of God, Jesus claimed to be the “Word” through whom God fully and finally revealed Himself to the world.
With Jesus arrival, the days of forceful spiritual influence were over.
The days of gentle spiritual influence began.