Connecting the Generations

The notion of a “generation gap” is not new. It was well established in the 1960’s when I was in my youth. Back then it seemed the younger generation was intent on separating itself from all that had gone before. Youth were determined to be free from constraints and expectations put on them by their parents.

Wearing jeans, having long hair and listening to rock music were signs of rebellion by youth, who did so against the wishes of their parents, to prove that the youth could make their own way and not be subverted by parental expectations.

We had the sense back then that prior to our time things had continued with greater continuity from one generation to the next. It seemed to us that a revolution was underway and that children were cutting themselves off from their parents more seriously than ever before.

I don’t know that the perception was completely accurate. But it is easy to believe that a process of increasing separation from previous generations was underway.

Today’s Disconnect

Today, however, that sense of disconnect from the previous generation is more acute than ever. We now speak not of the young versus the old, but of there being multiple different cultures in increasingly narrow age bands.

The “baby-boomers”, which accounts for my generation, were different to the “veterans” who went before them, and are quite apart from the Gen X’ers who followed. But while both boomers and X’ers are on the scene Gen Y is already upon us. Supposedly the gap between Gen X and Gen Y is as great as between the Gen X and the boomers.  To top it off today’s youngsters are now dubbed Generation Z, or digital natives, who are expected to have yet a different set of values to Generation Y.

It seems that a process of cultural disconnect is accelerating and what may once have been a generation gap is now becoming a gap of multiple generations.

An Anointing Is Needed

With that background take a moment to reflect on the last verses of the Old Testament, in Malachi 4:5,6.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5,6

A prophetic anointing has been promised by God to do what might today seem impossible: to turn the hearts of parents and children toward each other.

So there is an anointing which God provides that is able to do just that, despite how much more difficult it might seem in today’s situation.

Don’t Be Fooled by Labels

While it may seem intriguing to think of today’s kids as different from youth a hundred years ago don’t be too hasty to swallow the idea.

Remember that God created man thousands of years ago and the heart of man has remained the same ever since.  Man’s heart is evil and deceptive, sold under sin.  Man is readily seduced by worldly values, especially those that appeal to self gratification, appease our sense of value and feed our pride (the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life – 1John 2:16).

Men, women and youth were categorised by King Solomon, in the height of his benchmark wisdom, into a few basic distinctions, including fools, wise, evil, angry, and so on.

All the labels in the world, created by worldly observers, may trick you into thinking that there is a real and tangible gulf that should exist between you and those of different generations.  Yet mankind has not changed.  Evil people are still evil people.  Fools are still fools.  Godly are still godly.  And so on.

And people of vast age differences have always been able to relate, despite man’s tendency to be selfish, rebellious and foolish.

Heart Connection

Notice that the intergenerational connection promised in Malachi is not one of mind, interests, fashion, joint ventures, playing on the same team, or the like.  It is all about the heart.  The heart is the heart of the matter.

God, by His Spirit, is ready to create a heart connection between the generations.  It is about the heart and a heart bond.  It is about compassion, respect, care, bonding, love and relationship.

People of different professions, different ages, different political persuasions, with different tastes, abilities and interests, can love one another and care for one another.  That is readily obvious when we see parents care for children who have chosen a vastly different life direction to that which the parent wishes for them.

So God has an anointing which will turn the hearts of the parents toward those children who now seem so hard to understand and so difficult to relate to.  And God has an anointing which will turn the heart of those children toward those parents who seem to them to be so out of touch, irrelevant, overbearing, or otherwise disconnected to them.

Don’t Lose Heart

If generational barriers have invaded your home or put a gulf between you and others, don’t lose heart.  All is not lost.  This is not something that has to be.  God has an anointing that will bridge the supposed gaps and turn the hearts toward one another.

If you are struggling with generational gaps let me suggest a prayer for you to offer to the Lord.

“Lord God, You know that my heart is not perfect before You.  I am susceptible to the same things that distract others.  So I don’t come to You because I deserve anything, but I come to You asking for grace and mercy on me and my family.  I ask You to turn my heart toward my children and those around me who I am distanced from.  And I ask You to turn their hearts toward me.  Give us Your grace so we can love, accept and forgive one another.  Turn each of us toward You, so we each come closer to each other.  Give me such a heart of compassion that I overlook and even hide a multitude of sins, rather than reacting to them and letting them pollute my heart.

Please send Your anointing into me and my family, and bring about a healing.  Remove all the offences, injuries, resentments, distrust, shame, pride, selfishness and other rubbish that has polluted our home and our relationships.  And please glorify Yourself in my family.  Cause Your name to be exalted by what others see that You have done in me and for me, and in my family.  Be glorified by acting gloriously in my situation.  I ask this in the lovely and powerful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Preacher John the Baptist

John the Baptist had an important ministry, in the footsteps of the great prophet Elijah, preparing his generation to receive Christ.

John impacted the nation of Israel and far beyond.  Decades after John’s death Paul met a group of devout followers of God at Ephesus who had been baptised with “John’s baptism” of repentance.  At the same time an orator named Apollos travelled through many nations preaching John’s messages.

Both the Ephesian believers and Apollos had to be brought up to date with the revelation of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of John’s preaching.  Yet for John’s message to have gone so far and wide we see that the impact of his preaching is quite impressive.

What John Preached

The Bible gives several insights into John’s preaching.  First mention is in Matthew’s history of the life of Christ.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matthew 3:1-3

Matthew tells us that John preached in the wilderness and the summary of his message is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand”.  Matthew also tells us John came in fulfilment of a prophecy from Isaiah.

Matthew’s assertion that John fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah is confirmed by Dr Luke, who did his own research into the life and Christ and recorded his findings in the gospel of Luke.  Luke discovered that John’s father saw an angel which foretold John’s birth and said John would fulfil the very same prophecy Matthew records, see Luke 1:13-17 and also Luke 3:2-6.

Dr Luke summarised John’s preaching as Matthew did, with a simple sentence, but adding detail Matthew did not mention.

“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” Luke 3:2,3

Isaiah Summary

Six hundred years before John the Baptist the prophet Isaiah spoke about him and what he would say.  Matthew declares that John is the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah found at Isaiah 40:3-8.

“The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hill will be made low: and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.  The voice said, Cry. And he said, What will I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withers, the flower fades: because the spirit of the LORD blows on it: surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God will stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:3-8

Isaiah gives a rich insight into John’s message, summarised by Matthew’s simple account.  We see that John was to preach in the wilderness, which Matthew recorded happening.  John would also “prepare the way of the Lord”, by getting the people ready to receive Christ, which the gospels record taking place.

The preparation for Christ was to involve making a straight path, lifting up the lowly, humbling the proud, removing the deviations and the bumps.  John’s simple and direct message levelled the field, directing all the people, great and small to take the same step of repentance.

All Flesh Is Grass

I love the prophetic account given by Isaiah about John the Baptist’s ministry.  The New Testament historians don’t give any insight into how this prophecy was fulfilled, so let me bring it to life for you as I see it.

“The voice of the Holy Spirit directing John said ‘Cry’! And John the Baptist said, ‘What will I cry?’ The Spirit told John to cry out ‘All flesh is grass and will wither, no matter how beautiful it looks, but God’s Word will never wither or fail.’”

At this point I see John standing in the wilderness, alone.  How many other people are going to be in the wilderness?  None.  Only lost shepherds and crazy people are hanging out in the wilderness, unless maybe someone is on their way to the Qumran community at the top end of the Dead Sea.

So John shouts at the top of his voice, into the barren hills, “All flesh is grass. Whatever you are doing it is a waste of time.  You need to be listening to God, because He is real and what He does lasts.”

John’s voice echoes across the scrubby landscape.  And off in the distance one or two lonely souls hear him preach and are immediately gripped by the Holy Spirit.  They are cut to the depths of their heart and hurry home to get their friends and family to come and hear this voice.

So powerful was the message, given in obedience to the Holy Spirit, that an audience quickly grows as people hungry for God are gripped by this simple, humbling message.

Malachi Prophecy

Isaiah was not the only one to prophesy about John the Baptist.  Four hundred years before John the prophet Malachi spoke of one coming in the spirit of Elijah to impact the hearts of the people.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, otherwise I will come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5,6

We know that John is connected to this prophecy because of the angel that spoke with John’s father.

“But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias: for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. ….. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17

You will note in that angelic message that John fulfilled the prophecy given by Malachi.

Putting it Together

Recognising that each description of John’s preaching and ministry is in itself a summary, but that each should be complimentary, we can now put them together to create a picture of John’s preaching.

John was a voice crying in the wilderness, so he did not start with a big city crowd.  He had to build an audience in a place where an audience was hard to come by.  And he did.

He did it by preaching what the Holy Spirit told him to preach.  The message humbled man, exposing man’s temporary and meaningless existence.  The message also exalted God, by showing that God’s Word endures and cannot be changed.

John’s message called for repentance by levelling all humanity before God, all with the same need to repent before God.  John introduced a new expression of humility, that of baptism by immersion to testify to a change of heart.

John’s message focused people on the Kingdom of God, which has two points of significance.  The presence of God challenges our sinfulness before Him, calling us to repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.  For those who have found that forgiveness, the presence of God promises God’s blessing and grace in their lives.

The depth of repentance called for by John prepared people to accept Christ.  It also changed their heart, not just to God, but toward those in authority and those they are responsible for.

Modern Day Equivalent

A modern day John the Baptist would still preach the same message.

“Repent before God, because God is at hand.  God will judge your sin and is also ready to bless your obedience.  Stop living for personal agendas and recognise the temporariness of your life.  God’s purposes are profoundly more wonderful than all those other things that consume you.  Turn around and start living for God, in the fear of God.”

A modern day John would not start out with a big audience, but with a Spirit anointed message.  He would speak with such destiny that the message would do the job.  He would not buy and audience or rely on marketing hype to get heard.

And a modern day John would expose in people’s hearts their pride, rebellion, selfishness and independence.  He would call them back to living the way God wants them to, rather than for their selfish, secular agendas.

John Baptist’s preaching moved a nation. His message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Today that would be “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.

Jesus Preached the Same Sermon

The significance of John’s sermon is endorsed by the fact that Jesus Christ took up that same message when He began to preach.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

This is the message destined to prepare hearts for Christ.  This is the message that Jesus preached.  And this is the message that the early church preached as well.  Paul the Apostle reminded the church leaders in Ephesus about his preaching that had built that church years before.

Acts 20:21 “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Just as John called people to repent, so did Paul.  The Kingdom of God being at hand was the basis for repentance.  Because God is real and is present to deal with us, we must have repentance toward God, but we also have great reward in our faith in Jesus Christ.

As I summarised it above, the message is, “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.