Have you had to wait for a very long time for God to answer a specific prayer of yours? You know that what you are asking is within His will. It matches up with what is promised in Scripture. But, it’s not happening. Do you think God has forgotten you or is ignoring you? Maybe the delay is because God has been preparing the background for answering your prayer today or in the future.
During the years before Jesus showed up for all to see, the Jews might have thought that God had forgotten them. There had been 400 years of “silence” from God. No prophets had been speaking or writing anything from God to the people during that time. But, the last Old Testament prophet Malachi had promised that God would send His messenger in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord.
Although when we celebrate Christmas, we start with Luke chapters 1 and 2—the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. But, God started preparing for Christmas hundreds of years before that time. As I was working on the Bible Study of the gospel of Mark, I was reminded of the many things God did during the 500 years before Jesus came that not only made Jesus’ ministry more effective but also enhanced the spread of the gospel after the resurrection. God was at work in the background to prepare the way for answering the prayers of His people for deliverance.
Consider the presence of the synagogue.
The presence of the synagogue
God promised Israel a Messiah, an anointed one, who would be their deliverer and their king. I talk about that more in one of my podcasts.
But, in 586 BC, Israel found herself in exile in Babylon because of her idolatry. The people were cut off from their temple, stripped of their nationhood, and surrounded by pagan religious practices. They couldn’t depend on those travels to Jerusalem for festivals and sacrifices a few times a year to satisfy their spiritual needs. In their places of exile, though, they carried their scriptures with them, especially the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah. The Jews met together in community groups for worship and reading of their Scriptures in what we now know as synagogues.
As a result, Judaism became a faith that could be practiced wherever the Torah scrolls could be carried. This helped to not only preserve Judaism but also prepared the way for the Christian gospel. The dispersion of Israel that began in the exile accelerated during the years that followed so that by Jesus’ time Jews literally filled every land around the Mediterranean Sea. Jews outside Palestine concentrated their religious life in the study of the Old Testament and the life of the synagogue.
Synagogues were built all over the Greek and Roman world among the Gentile or non-Jewish people. It only took 10 Jewish men in any community to form a synagogue. Thus, the Jews shared the knowledge of the living and true God in their weekly worship times and God-fearing Gentiles in those communities would join them to worship God.
The missionaries of the early church began their ministries among those dispersed Jews, using the weekly synagogue meetings as the platform for sharing the good news about Jesus to the Jews present as well as those God-fearing Gentiles.
God was at work in the background to prepare the way for answering the prayers of the people for their Messiah to come to deliver them. And, part of His work included the dispersion of Jews in the Roman Empire and the development of the synagogue.
What also made the synagogue successful was the ease of having a common language.
The ease of a common language
Do you remember the name Alexander the Great from your world history studies? He was a Greek king who conquered lots of territory from Greece eastward. This action also spread the Greek language and culture to all those conquered nations.
For the next 200 years after Alexander’s conquests, just about everyone in the Mediterranean world learned to speak and write Greek. And, all the ancient documents were translated into Greek including the Old Testament ~200 B.C. This Greek version of the Old Testament scriptures is called “The Septuagint” from the Latin word for “seventy” because it was reportedly prepared by 70 scholars in 70 days. By the time of Jesus, most of those people meeting in synagogues around the Mediterranean Sea were using the Septuagint as their Scriptures.
Paul and other New Testament writers wrote in Greek which could be read everywhere in those countries influenced by the Greek culture. Through the spread of the Greek empire, God was at work in the background to prepare the way for answering the prayers of His people for deliverance. Part of His work included a common language.
Then, there’s what the Romans added to the mix—the Roman road system and relative peace between countries.
Roman roads and “peace”
In the century before Jesus was born, Rome conquered Israel and the rest of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. In his conquest of Jerusalem, the Roman general Pompey massacred priests in the performance of their duties and entered the Most Holy Place. This sacrilege began Roman rule in a way that Jews could neither forgive nor forget. And, Herod, a non-Jew, was appointed king over Israel by the Roman Senate. You need to understand the emotional state of the Jews toward Rome as you read Mark.
Yet, the Romans brought good things to the Mediterranean lands. They brought “peace” to the whole region, although it was a forced peace. Law and order prevailed. Anyone who rebelled was quickly squashed by the powerful Roman army.
And, the Romans were into major construction not only of magnificent buildings but also a system of roads so people could travel from the farthest reaches of the Empire back to mother Rome. This made travel and communication between towns much easier along those roadways. Paul and the other missionaries of the first century utilized those roads for their travel as well as the many shipping options available to them for sea travel.
Through the activity of the Romans, God was at work in the background to prepare the way for answering the prayers of all people for deliverance.
Jesus was born into this environment. But, babies must grow up. This takes time.
Babies must be born and grow up.
Thirty years before the Jewish people as a nation finally heard from God again, He was at work in another way. The angel Gabriel delivered the message to two people that their sons would be the ones through whom God would answer the prayers of His people for deliverance.
But, before that happened, the babies had to be born, experience childhood, and grow up into men prepared to do their work. That took 30+ more years of waiting. Only a few people knew what was going on during this time. And, they didn’t really understand it. But, they did their part in the preparation.
John the Baptist appeared on the scene at the appointed time in God’s plan. Jesus left his father’s carpentry shop a short time later and began His full-time ministry of teaching the people about getting ready for the Kingdom of God to come to them and healing their diseases.
Through normal human birth and development, God was at work in the background to prepare the way for answering the prayers of all people for deliverance. He gets your need for hope.
The need for hope
This world is full of heartache and pain. Chronic illness. Persecution. Poverty. Unrealized dreams. Job struggles. Women and men are in bondage to guilt, fear, destructive behavior, and fatigue due to the burden of responsibilities. Broken relationships leave people with a sense of rejection, worthlessness and extreme loneliness. Add to those any feelings of uncertainty often revealed by the questions we ask about life. When will I find love or a friend? When will I get well? What will I do after graduation or after this job ends?
Sadly, if you have been taught that God has forgotten, is ignoring you, or is punishing you for something you’ve done wrong, you aren’t likely to trust Him for help. This may leave you feeling empty, confused, and without meaning and purpose.
But, God looked upon your life with compassion and provided a solution—His Son Jesus Christ. God in the flesh. God on earth. The God of hope and love.
Jesus was worth the wait. He experienced human life for more than 30 years. He understands every single one of your heartaches. He gets your physical pain, rejection, strained relationships, abuse, grief, and impatience because those were part of His life as well. When you go to Him in prayer, you can trust that He understands, that He knows how you are feeling and what your needs are at that moment.
Jesus is the light that gives you hope for every heartbreak that you experience. Through this study of the gospel of Mark, you will learn about Jesus’ life on earth, how He related to people and why knowing Him brings hope to your life.
God is still at work in the background of life.
I can now look back and see how God was at work in the background preparing the way for answering some of my specific prayers that were within His will. It took time. I had to wait. But, the wait was worth it, and I praise Him for what He did during that time of waiting.
Can you look back now and recognize how God was at work on your behalf or for someone you love? Praise Him for that. Are you still waiting for God to answer a specific prayer of yours? You know it is within His will, matching up with what is promised in Scripture. But, it’s not happening—yet. Maybe our faithful God is preparing the background for answering your prayer tomorrow. Trust Him.
Learn more about God's work in the background from these resources: