Imagine living a life of oppression and fear. Oppressed by the government and authorities of Rome. You’re living in the shadow of a godless, evil empire. The only “gods” they recognize are their leaders. They lift them up as gods, and the leaders encourage it. “Caesar is Lord!” they declare. Their governors lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want. They are consumed with power, authority, and the almighty drachma. There are no rules when it comes to governing the people. The leaders get away with murder, literally, and so do many of the soldiers and troops that work for them.
The people are taxed beyond what they can pay. Many of your fellow Jews have joined their ranks to become wealthy. They can add whatever taxes they want on to the normal tax in order to keep some for themselves. They thrive off of your misery, just like the Roman soldiers.
The temple is just as bad. People are greedy and only think of themselves. Sure, you can buy an offering at the temple, but not without paying a high price. For many, that’s the only way that they can acquire what they need. How can a person live with so many taxes and offerings on a simple family’s income?
And the laws are burdensome. If you break any of them, you have to make a sacrifice. And there are so many (613, to be exact, plus all the different interpretations by the Pharisees and rabbis, which puts the number at well over 1000!). Plus, with each law you break, there is a different type of sacrifice you have to perform. It’s so hard to keep up!
“There has to be a better way,” you think. And then you remember. As a child, your parents used to tell you about the prophets of Israel talking about one who is to come, the Messiah. “He will come to proclaim good news to the poor and set the captive free!” your dad would say. “Yes, and he will come to deliver salvation to all people,” your mom would chime in. The stories were exciting and you couldn’t wait to hear the next one. “Tell the stories again,” you would plead.
“I could use some good news right now,” you mutter to yourself. Someone bumps into you. “Sorry. Hey, have you heard the news?”
“What news?” you ask. “There’s talk about the Messiah coming,” the stranger says. “What’s new about that?” you reply cynically.
“Have you noticed the bright star in the night sky?” the stranger asks. “Sure. Who hasn’t?”
“Well, apparently, it’s supposed to signify the coming of the Messiah. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
Amazing, indeed, you think to yourself. But you are afraid to hope. People and prophets have been waiting and hoping for hundreds of years. Why now? Why this place? Could we be so lucky, so blessed? Your heart leaps at the thought. What if it’s true? What if, right now, there is a baby being born that would grow up into a man that would bring justice, hope, and freedom? You’ve always thought that freedom was just a fantasy, a dream that would never come true.
How will he free us? How will he defeat Rome? How will he deliver us from all this evil? You wonder at the thought. And, for just a moment, you let yourself hope.
1.) Imagine yourself as a Jew living during the Roman occupation. What would there be to hope in? When all the buzz began about the birth of the Messiah, how would you react? Would you be a believer or a cynic? Can you blame someone whatever their response?
2.) What gods do people serve today? Are we that much different than in Jesus day? What “saviors” do people look for?
3.) How would you relate the Gospel to someone who doesn’t know it? What is the Good News of Jesus Christ? Did He only come to take away our sin, or is there more to it than that? What did Jesus come to restore?
4.) What is the link between the prophets and hope?
5.) In what or whom do you put your hope? How would you describe your hope and faith to a non-believer?
For further study:
Isaiah 55, 58, 59, 60, 61