Today, I’m thinking about the following passage in Scripture: “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John (the Baptist) might be the Messiah.” (Luke 3:15). My question is, after all these centuries of waiting for the Messiah, why were the people now suddenly filled with such expectation? It seems to me that they would be going about their business as usual, yes, but with the same expectation as their ancestors, until now when they heard the preaching of this stranger. The stranger was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist while feeding on locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). Who would listen to such a man preaching repentance at this time, unless there was more to the story? Well, there may just have been more to the story.
Flash back for a moment to the night Jesus was born (just thirty years earlier). A group of Jewish shepherds experience a vision of an angel who give them a message saying that the Messiah had been born that night in Bethlehem. The vision includes a multitude of heavenly host praising God (Luke 1:8-13). Like anyone who might experience such a vision, they were afraid, but then curious. They went to see if they could find this newborn. They found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the cave, Jesus lying in the manger. Luke then says, “When they saw this they made known the message that had been told them about this child (by the angel). All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18). It would seem that yes, thirty years later, “all who heard it,” quite possibly the entire Jewish population, would have had high expectations.
Along the way, their expectations may have blossomed further what with Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents. (Matt 2:16). Certainly, it would seem that their expectation would have blossomed even further with the story of Simeon and Anna at the presentation in the temple. We are told that Anna “… gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem,” which quite possibly again was the entire Jewish population of Israel. (Luke 2:38). And then there was the story of the finding of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple after He missed the departure time of Joseph, Mary, and the others, for their journey back to Nazareth from Jerusalem after the feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41-52). Luke says that “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers” and that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” At least these teachers would have experienced some sense of expectation.
Now consider again the attention John the Baptist was getting, despite being dressed camel’s hair and feeding on locusts and wild honey. With expectations running rampant by this time, it seems to me that this was not really an odd phenomenon. John said the right things and, for a time, they thought John was the Messiah, until the moment when he baptized Jesus. Luke says, “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22). Wow! It would be an understatement to say that the expectations were satisfied!