Not unlike us, Jesus was born into a time of now and not yet. God had been silent on the scene for four centuries and the earth was feeling its pregnant anticipation of the Messiah. When Mary was visited by Gabriel she accepted her assignment but, like the rest of us, did not understand the complete concept of what it would mean to host the Savior in our very beings.
Sometimes, two millenniums removed from the events surrounding Christ’s first advent, we get the idea that everyone who was present at the time of Jesus had a full realization of what was happening around and inside them. We negate the part of their humanity that was not omniscient and could not see the various ends in their lives from the beginning.
A couple thousand years of previous theologians’ work on display in our Sunday School classes gives us the preposterous notion that all the messages of the prophets of old would have been readily available in their minds as they are in ours as they shopped for groceries, took care of their animals, and cleaned their homes, but clearly that was not the case. After all, we know who Isaiah was referring to, didn’t they? Not quite.
Even John the Baptist, who the gospel writers tell us was sent in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus, wasn’t exactly sure of what he was seeing. From prison, he sent word to his cousin asking for clarity. Is Jesus the long-anticipated One, or should they look for someone else.
Sometimes we miss that last part — from prison. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for a Savior who would not save him. Jesus built a ministry on healing, performing miracles, and promises to “set the captives free” while John, his relative and prophet, sat locked up in a cell.
That’s because even Jesus was called to live in a time of now and not yet. In Luke’s meticulous account of the Good News he writes:
“As they heard these things, he (Jesus) proceeded to tell them a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately,” (Luke 19:11, ESV)
It’s not an absurd expectation, that the kingdom of God would appear immediately. When they figured out who He was, the people traveling with Jesus must have assumed He was coming to declare His kingship. Why wouldn’t He? God has been quiet, obviously waiting for the right time, and now here’s Jesus. He’s not like the other teachers; He has authority. Then why does He keep contradicting Himself? The kingdom of God is here and is coming? Which one is it? The kingdom of God is now and not yet.
Especially nearing the end of 2020, we’re all searching for answers to questions that elude us. Why did God let this happen? Why sickness? Why now? What does this mean for the Church? My children? Our stability? And countless other questions that may even remain unformulated. Ones we’ll think of decades later when we remember the aftermath.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t even have an answer.
I just know that we’re still living in a time of now and not yet. Mary gave birth to Jesus in pain. Joseph struggled with shame. Anna the prophetess was a widow. Lazarus died. John was never released from prison. All of this heartache and pain happened in the presence of Jesus, not unlike the heartache and pain of this year.
We often can’t make sense of what we saw in Jesus’ life on earth. He healed some and others passed away. He spoke clearly to some and in parables to others. Some He touched and others remained somehow out of reach. Some were released from prison and some remained captives. But there’s a very important mistake we can’t make when parsing all of this. We cannot equate our suffering for apathy on His part.
Jesus cried with those who were hurting. He lost loved ones. He Himself felt the sting of betrayal. His first advent showed us in the flesh what we have struggled to understand throughout human history — we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15).
A time is coming when Jesus will wipe every tear and make every wrong right. It’s just that even though we plead and pray for that time to be now, we have to settle for not yet. In that way, we’re not unlike Jesus. Jesus had to settle for now and not yet too. His birth, life, death, and resurrection were filled with the joy and pain of being human as well as the love and power of being God.
And even though we may never fully understand how the now and not yet work together, we can trust the One who does.