Recently, I had the best time celebrating the graduation of my son and of my daughter in law. They were both awarded their master’s degree in Nursing Anesthesia.
I am so proud of them, because I know some of what was behind these degrees. I remember the days when my son was young, and hated schoolwork. I think of how he had to do extra work to get in to the college he wanted to attend, and how he ultimately made the decision to switch from music to nursing, and rose to the top of his class. I think of how difficult it was for him to go back to square one of not knowing anything and learn a new specialization, after being a respected ICU nurse. Then recently, I know it was hard for him and my daughter in law to be newly married and have to be separated for all kinds of clinical rotations in all kinds of locations.
But they pushed through and made it. And now they have great careers ahead of them.
There’s a life lesson in this. We want the gain. But are we willing to go through the pain?
Today’s reading speaks to this question in an amazing way. Check it out —
And they asked him , “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” Mark 9:11-13
There are all kinds of cool things to discover about this passage.
First, let’s look at what the teachers of the law were talking about when they said that Elijah had to come before the Messiah would appear. They were referring to Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” This is the last thing written in the Old Testament. It places readers on the edge of their seats, anticipating the Lord’s coming.
Second, how would Elijah come? In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel prophesied about John the Baptist, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17) Elijah came as John the Baptist. John wasn’t the physical embodiment of Elijah (John 1:21), but he had the spirit and power of Elijah.
Third, looking more deeply at these two verses gives us insight into what the coming of Elijah/John the Baptist would be. Malachi 4:5 is followed by, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Luke 1:17 goes on to say, “He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.” (GWT)
The job of John the Baptist was to help people repent. Then they would be prepared for Jesus to come, and ultimately, be in line for the final judgement.
I totally love how Jesus worded this: “Elijah does come first and restores all things.”
How wonderful it is that John the Baptist came to restore! Through preaching repentance, he came to get people back the close relationship with God they were created to have.
For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. I Peter 2:25
We long for this restoration, to be right with the Lord, to be safe and comforted in his arms. And we can have this now on earth.
But we will have it infinitely more in heaven. Jesus went on to say, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” You see, Jesus was talking about a progression of restoration. First, Elijah would come, and people would repent. Then, the Messiah would come, and he would suffer, die and be resurrected. This would open the way for men to have their home with God forever.
Here’s the coolest thing — look how Peter’s words in Acts 3:19-21 sum this all up: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21
Repentance brings restoration. It’s the path to the achievement of God’s will. On a personal level, it’s the path to the things we need and want.
The question is, will we go through the pain to get the gain?
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isa 30:15
During the holidays, my heart’s desire was to have a wonderful Christmas with my family. But I had to constantly work at repentance for this to happen. I had to keep denying my worry, anxiety, anger, grumpiness, fear, and especially, pride of thinking that things had to go a certain way. I had to decide, over and over again, to trust God more completely, and find delight in pleasing him.
Sometimes it was the small stuff. I remember one morning before Christmas I woke up and saw that Ken had been eating the cookies I had baked the day before. It had taken a lot of energy to get the cookie making together, and ride herd over my rowdy grandkids to roll and cut out shapes, and then decorate them. I felt like the cookies had to last all through Christmas. I was so grumpy!
I had to wrestle to be righteous. Isn’t it funny? It takes work to have a happy life. And it’s the same thing in other areas. It takes work to have a good marriage. It takes work to have a functional family. Like my son and daughter in law, it takes work to have a good career.
John the Baptist gave us the key. We need to do the work of repentance. This will bring us to the things we long for.
Yet we will still have tragedy. After all, John the Baptist was executed. Jesus alluded to this in the reading, “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished.”
That is why the promise of a final restoration is so important. That is why we continue to repent, even if we don’t see the fruit of it. Being completely with God will be so incredible. It will give us everything our heart ever longed for, and even things we didn’t realize we longed for.
“The biblical meaning of the word ‘restoration’ is to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition. The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure.” (From a church website.)
The gain will be far greater than the pain. Let’s remember that, and let it motivate us. May it be our life’s work to help others to be restored as well.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. II Cor 5:20