High altitude, dry, severe climate? No problem for flowers such as these, which thrive where life seems unlikely. Mindful of the crocus, the prophet Isaiah, when looking forward to the Advent of the Messiah, penned these verses in anticipation of the peace that the Christ would bring to the world:
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2 it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.” (Isaiah 35:1-2a ESV)
Most who read these verses recognize the symbolic meaning of this passage—when Messiah comes, the world which is often dry and full of death will become a place of abundant life. But this is only a shallow interpretation of this passage.
What makes the Old Testament prophets unique among all the seers of old (including the likes of Nostradamus, who has a pop culture following) is the detailed nature of their prophecies. Isaiah didn’t just say flowers would bloom, he mentioned the crocus by name. Nor did he just say that the world would be a better place when the Messiah came; in this prophecy he foretold specific ways in which the Messiah would bring peace to the world. And he doesn’t leave his readers wondering who this Messiah would be, he tells us exactly Who He is by telling his readers exactly what the Messiah would do, some 700 years before His birth.
It is worth noting that when Isaiah looked for some natural phenomena that his readers would have already been familiar with, which would help them understand the impact the Advent of the Messiah would have, that he pointed them to the crocus. The crocus isn’t generally a large flower, nor does it live an exceptionally long life. What makes the crocus unique among flora is when and where it blooms.
In my part of the world, the crocus is the first flower to bloom near the end of winter, often emerging through late winter snows. As such, it is the first sign of new life before spring arrives. It is a hopeful sign of life when most of the world is still frozen and gray.
In Israel, crocuses bloom in every region, but thrive during the fall and dead of winter, in rocky, desert dry places. They are small, colorful splashes of life in places where life seems most unlikely. The ancient reader would have immediately been reminded of the bright, lively purple and yellow blooms of the crocus when Isaiah mentioned them. They would have naturally known the hope that is birthed at the sight of such blooms. None of Isaiah’s original readers would have lived to see the birth of the Messiah, but the faithful reader longed with hope for the day that He would come forth—a splash of life in a dying world.
Isaiah was given the great foresight to tell his audience of the Messiah’s coming, and also showed how the Messiah would begin to restore life and hope to people plagued by death and despair:
“Say to those who have an anxious heart,
‘Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;’” (Isaiah 35:4-6, ESV).
Here Isaiah moves from general prophecies of reassurance and hope to a list of four miracles that will verify Who the Messiah is. When John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus if He was the Messiah Who was to come, or if they should look for another, Jesus performed three of these miracles in their presence. He gave sight to the blind. The lame walked. The deaf heard. (Matthew 11:2-5)
He didn’t need to tell them that He was the Messiah, instead He did what Isaiah said the Messiah would do. The prophetic words spoken about Him hundreds of years before His birth verified He was the Messiah.
For those of us who live in the time between the times of the Messiah’s first coming in grace and second coming in glory, Isaiah’s words are as powerful now as they were for his first hearers. We are prepared to celebrate the Messiah’s birth and all that He managed to accomplish by preaching, teaching and healing during His earthly life. Considering its eternal significance—like the crocus’s mid-winter bloom in a desert wasteland—Jesus’ earthly ministry demonstrated that God’s return to His creation brings about life and healing for those whom He touches.
We are keenly aware that the Christ-baby was born and destined to die. Through His death and resurrection, He brought about peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. This peace is not limited to those Whom He touched during His earthly life, it is given freely to all of humanity.
The faithful live confident of the peace of God, knowing that just as the Messiah met the physical needs of those around Him, He has also met our greatest spiritual need.
The prophet foretold it. Jesus did it. We believe it.
True faith, founded in a deeper knowledge of this passage doesn’t give us some cheap, nebulous, feel-good sorta hope, but a real, deep and meaningful hope based on Christ. He will come to finish what He has begun. When He does, then we will fully understand how true the prophet’s word is. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!
Tagged: abundant life, Advent, Christ, Christian, Christian theology, Christmas, Church, Crocus, desert, end times, flora, Glory, God, Grace, hope, Isaiah, Isaiah 35, Israel, Jesus, Lepley, Lutheran, Matthew 11:2-5, Messiah, Old Testament, Our Shepherd, Pastor, prophecy