Jesus returns to the Galilee – Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:14-15, John 4:43 (Harmonized)

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- Meaning in the Transitions -

While in Seminary, one of my professors remarked that I had a gift for finding meaning even in the transitions. This will be a case in point. Our passage transitions Jesus from his early ministry to the beginning of his popularity. He left Galilee as an unknown and returned as a celebrity highly sought after to preach in the local synagogues.

Mar 1:14b, 15, Luke 4:14-15, John 4:43-45 (NIV84) 43 After the two days he left for Galilee.14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,  44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, 14proclaiming the good news  of God. 15 “The time has come ,” he said. “The kingdom of God  is near . Repent  and believe  the good news !” and everyone praised  him.

Context

In our travels with Jesus, he had left Judea near Jerusalem and travelled through Samaria to get to Galilee. These are regions with different political realities and ways of worship. The people of Judea were under the authority of the Roman procurator and the influence of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council ruled from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Perhaps the growing crowds made both the Romans and Sanhedrin uncomfortable; regardless Jesus left and travelled through Samaria.

While the Procurator Pilate also ruled in Samaria, the Sanhedrin had no influence since Samaria had its own temple and religious system. As we learned in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, both the Jews and Samaritans believed that a messiah was coming, but argued over the proper place to worship. While there for two days, Jesus convinced the Samaritans in the town of Sychar that he was the Savior of the World.

Galilee was a different place both politically and religiously. Rome’s reach was not as stiff in the less sophisticated, back country of Galilee. This region was controlled by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch and the people here only worshipped at the Temple one to three times a year. Devout Jews in this region attended synagogues and were taught by travelling teachers often from the conservative Pharisees.

Historically Galilee was not Jewish, but part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel prior to the Assyrian invasion and subsequent mass deportation of the people of Israel. It was not until a few centuries later that Jews relocated in Persia began migrating back to traditional Israel.  While in Persia, the Jews without access to the temple and the inability to offer animal sacrifices gathered together in assemblies they called synagogues.  It was this new structure that sustained the dispersed Jews and allowed for its dispersion throughout the Roman Empire known as the Diaspora. Judaism was established in the previously Northern Kingdom by the Hasmonean Dynasty who attempted to reunite the Davidic Kingdom a century or two before Christ.

The Text

Therefore, while Jesus taught in the Temple and gathered people outside the city of Jerusalem during His time in Judea, He taught the Galileans in their synagogues, the center of religious thought and community throughout the countryside.  The typical Synagogue service included an invocation of God’s blessings, recitation of faith, prayer, readings from the Law and from the Prophets, followed by a sermon given by a local layman or a visiting Rabbi. Afterward the Priest would offer a Benediction or a lay leader would end in prayer. (Bible Exposition Commentary) The tradition of allowing a guest Rabi speak in the synagogue gave Jesus, Paul and the early church a forum to take the Gospel.

When reading this passage from our viewpoint, one might wonder what “Good News” could Jesus teach, since the Gospel is God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ by his sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin and the subsequent gift of eternal life demonstrated at the resurrection. However, the cross still was in the future. We are told here (Mark 1:15) and it is demonstrated in Luke 4:16-21 that Jesus taught that the time of the Kingdom was both now and soon.  The coming of the promises of God was imminent and in their midst.

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

The parenthetical phrase in John 4:44 indicates that Jesus was not respected in his own country. It appears to me that this statement is here because something had changed from when they were in Galilee previously and upon their return. Honor was a big deal in that culture; without honor one could not influence others. Honor was usually ascribed by your family and social group affiliations; but, it also could be acquired by performance of significant deeds or bestowed by challenging the honor of another. Since Jesus was popular in Jerusalem when they went to the Passover thereby challenging the honor of the Pharisees, Jesus was now a celebrity Rabi that every synagogue in the countryside would want him as a guest speaker. Jesus took advantage of this new found fame in a place where he was previously not accepted.

IMPORTANCE: Often God will use transitions in our lives to accomplish His will.

MEANING: Jacob left Palestine pursued by his brother and returned as the heir of the Abrahamic promise and Moses left Egypt as a murderer and returned as an instrument of God’s power over Pharaoh. Likewise, this passage’s key idea is that Jesus left Galilee as an unknown, but returned under the power of the Holy Spirit as a celebrity. Jesus translated his celebrity into an opportunity to preach the Gospel in the Galilean synagogues and gain the favor of the people.

PIVOT: It would have been natural for Isaac and Moses to feel that their best days were behind them and that they could not be used of God.  But God used their experiences in the transition to prepare them for His future plans. In each of these examples God used the time of change, transition, even apparent failure to prepare them or the circumstances to accomplish His will. He can do the same for us.

Currently in my life, I am also in transition. Having finished seminary and my wife retiring; we have been waiting on what God would have for us next. Many of our friends also find themselves in times of change due to job losses, health changes and new circumstances. I am encouraged that God is using this time to draw me closer to him and to teach me more about Him. I am looking forward to how he will use this time to prepare me for my future.

ACTION: Instead of fearing change or feeling defeated in failure, consider that God is redeeming this time to change you or prepare the future for the working of His will.

CHANGE: By trusting God in all things regardless of the current circumstance, we remain open to His work in our lives.

TRANSFORMATION: God will provide meaning even to our transitions!

Samaritans Come to Jesus – John 4:39-42

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In the last two posts we focused first on the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and second on the apostles’ interaction with Jesus. Today we focus the woman, the townspeople and Jesus.

 John 4:28–30 (NIV84) 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

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Mosiac at Shechem depicting Jacob’s well. Taken while studying a Jerusalem University College, Israel.

I have heard many sermons surmising that the woman was alone at the well at noon because she was not the kind of woman the other women wanted to be seen with. I do not know if that is true, but I do know that once she met Jesus, she was willing to tell others about Jesus and they believed her to not only come out and see, but to believe in Him as the Christ.

 John 4:39–42 (NIV84) 39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.

There is something compelling about the witness of a new believer in Christ. I remember boiling over with joy and wanting everyone to know who Christ was and what He did for me. Regardless of her reputation, her testimony was authentic and she wanted everyone to know the man she believed to be the Christ.

  41 And because of his words many more became believers.  42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People may first come to Christ on the word of a Pastor’s sermon or from the testimony of a friend, but like the townspeople, they soon go to the source to learn from Him. Their understanding evolved from believing Him to be the Christ to being the Savior of the world.   I am struck that the Gospels, all four, do not make the moment of belief a one-time event.  There appears to be different levels of believing or maturity, a call to a deeper and deeper knowledge in Christ.

Importance – Our faith is more than a response to the faith of another, but comes from our own experience with Christ.

Meaning – The people of Sychar responded to the faith and testimony of the woman at the well.  But her faith was not enough to satisfy them, they wanted to learn from him and then make their own commitment. Jesus put his travel plans on hold for two days so that the people would learn from Him.

Pivot: As Christians and Churches we often can rejoice and rest in the initial coming of a believer in Christ, but without first-hand knowledge from the apostles teaching (the Bible) the new believer may stagnate or remain shallow.  Our response should be to help them learn from Jesus so that they grow in their knowledge. Sometimes it is easiest to lead them to Christ without follow-up, but evangelism alone is not disciple-making as Christ commands in Mat 28:19-20.

 Mat 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

The word for disciples means “learners, pupil, scholar, student or even follower”. In their tradition a “disciple” was one who followed their teacher from place to place to learn from them.

Action: Whenever we introduce Christ to someone, we need to commit to teaching them toward their own personal relationship with Christ or at least to find someone to “disciple” the new believer.

Change:  My focus on presenting the Gospel should not be acceptance of the message only, but the gaining of knowledge from Christ revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

Transformation: A move from evangelism to disciple-making produces progeny that will multiply the Kingdom.

Disciples Return from Buying Food (John 4:27-38)

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“Open Your Eyes and Look at the Fields”:

To truly enjoy the humor, power, and point in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, it is helpful to rise above the details and look at the progression of events from the disciples’ point of view. They were travelling on a three day journey from near Jerusalem to Galilee. At lunchtime on the second day, Jesus’ disciples left him for a few minutes to go into town to get food while Jesus rests. When they return he is talking to a Samaritan woman, but they didn’t ask him about it. He then speaks in a metaphorical way about the harvest being ready, and shortly thereafter many townspeople came to see Jesus. They spent the next two days ministering to the people and bringing them to faith in Christ. His disciples heads must have been spinning, what happened? They must have thought, “We can’t leave Him even for a moment!”

Importance:

 John 4:5–8 (ESV) So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

John 4:27–38 (NIV84) 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” …

40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

 

Jesus was making essentially two points in his short demonstration sermon. First, God is at work in our midst bringing about His plan for His harvest. Second, each of us has a role to play in the Kingdom work.  We may work the field or we may harvest the crops. It is God who sends us for our task (38). We are to stay focused on what really matters, on the work God has given us to do.

Meaning: The Disciples were focused on their physical needs (31), but Jesus was focused on the work he came to do.  Clearly the meeting with the Samaritan woman was given to him to share the Gospel. (34) But in the context at this time of John’s gospel account, Jesus’ ministry was to his disciples. Jesus was providing an object lesson to demonstrate four truths to the disciples (us).

  1. We are to be vigilant to what God is doing in our midst.
  2. We are to remain open to what His will is in our lives.
  3. The message and power of the Gospel is not limited to the Jews or any one group of people.
  4. Each person has his own calling (38).

Pivot: Too often we hope that the world will come into our church to hear the Gospel when the harvest is all around us. It is easy to be focused on our needs, circumstances, and prejudice keeping us from seeing what God is doing in a particular situation. We can become busy in our work and even in doing good things in our church and community while missing the opportunities to be Christ’s workman to the people he puts in our path. In my own experience, some of the times I was able to witness or encourage others to grow in Christ were in the midst of daily life, not church related. What is necessary is being open to what God is doing in a particular situation and join him in his work according to his plan.

Action: Whatever the circumstance, look for what God is doing and be open to inserting His truth into the moment.

Change: By staying focused on what God is doing and being willing to perform the role God has for us, we can become usable and available to minister to others even in the midst of our everyday lives.

Transformation: When God’s people remain available to do God’s will throughout the day, God will use us to do His bidding resulting in God’s glory even on the second day of a three day journey.

 

Samaritan Woman at the Well – John 4:4–26

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Spring of Living Water:

Fear. Worry. Self-doubt. These are some of the emotions I wrestle with every time I am sharing my faith with others. Am I the only one? I question: Will I get the Gospel right? Will the person understand? What if I mess it up? Will God understand? Do I know enough? Do I complicate it by sharing too much? Inside today’s passage Jesus shares the Gospel message with a Samaritan woman and gives us ingredients needed. But what jumped out for me in this reading is that we who come to Christ become the source from which others may come also.

Importance: So that this post is not too long – I placed the entire passage (John 4:4-26) at the end of the post and will focus on two verses from the passage in the text.

This story contains many lessons. This passage demonstrates that no person is too far from God, not by race, not by gender, not by behavior, all who seek him are capable of faith and therefore God’s gift of salvation. Jesus did not let tradition, religion, culture, race or gender separate him from sharing the Gospel.  In fact, he travelled along a different path and was willing to meet with different people, including a Samaritan woman.

Also, just like His discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus uses the natural and the person’s prior knowledge to explain the supernatural in concrete terms the woman could grasp.

Verse 10 simply explains the two things people need to know in order to be prompted to ask Jesus for living water.

4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 

One must know about God’s gift and who provides the gift. That’s it, that is the Gospel. Jesus spends the rest of the conversation explaining those two points that eternal life is available as a gift if one asks for it, and the person who provides that gift is Jesus who is the Messiah (25-26). When they know those two things, they know to ask Him to provide it.

Meaning: What I love above the metaphor of living water is that Jesus takes it another step. Not only does the person, who relies on Jesus Christ for their salvation and makes him Lord of their life, satisfied to eternal life, but becomes a source, a spring, from which others can receive Christ for eternal life.

4:14b Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

We are both satisfied and thirst no more to eternal life, and we become a spring, a source, from which others can find living water. God uses those He indwells as his conduit to share the truth of the gift of salvation that Jesus Christ gives.

Pivot:  It is easy to stay within my cultural Christian box and when I do interact with those outside my world, I try to stay safely within the cultural rules so as not to offend even when others broach spiritual topics. My selfish tendency is to use God for my own benefit and learn only those things that will make my life more blessed. Yet I am to be aware that I carry truth that others need for eternal life and should make the most of every opportunity to share that truth with them. When sharing the Gospel, we are to remember to share what gift God gives us (forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God to eternal life) and who it is that gives us the gift (the God who gave Jesus Christ, the Son of God as our Savior, who died on the cross as a sacrifice and rose again to prove his power to give eternal life.)

Action: When learning from the Bible, seek to know more about Jesus; who He is, what He provides, and why He does it.

Change: When we as Christian’s know Jesus better, we are prepared to be a source from which others will find Living Water.

Transform: When we are prepared to share, we are more apt to share and therefore God will use us more to transform the lives of others.

John 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus Returns to Galilee – John 4:1-3, Matt 4:12, Mark 1:14, Luke 3:19-20

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New Realities:

In 2006, months before banks needed bailing out and the stock market crashed, our construction related business began to lose business rapidly. Since we had great employees and knew that construction is usually cyclical, we held on to our employees and borrowed to keep the business going. By the time we realized that construction was not going to recover, in fact get much worse, we had built up quite a debt to revenue ratio from which we are still recovering. We made decisions based on our past and unfounded hope. We were blind to the present reality.

Importance:

John 4:1–3 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Matthew 4:12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

Luke 3:19–20 19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

In the previous two posts we looked at John’s response to Jesus’ increased popularity. Today, we see Jesus’ response to the Pharisees learning that Jesus was out doing John. He left Judea. This seems like a strange response and I do not think we can conclusively discern why. However, it was around this same time that John the Baptist would have been arrested and imprisoned. Some commentators speculate that the Pharisees trapped John into denouncing Herod’s unlawful marriage so that Herod would have him thrown into prison.

Meaning: Perhaps Jesus knew that the Pharisees were jealous of both John and Jesus and would try to stop his ministry as well. I do not know. It was likely that Jesus knew it was not yet time for a showdown between him and the Pharisees. Regardless, Jesus knew that the conditions of the ministry had changed and it was time to return to his home region of Galilee.

Pivot: It has been my observation that too many of us are oblivious to the changes around us making decisions based on the past instead of the new current realities. The common life cycle of a church begins with growth and vitality as they pursue their vision, they plateau in the midst of their success, and then decline and rarely recover trying to hang onto the old way of ministry rather than looking at the current culture and community and adjusting the ministry to fit the moment. Or respond like Jesus and  move to where the ministry would flourish. Those who recognize the new opportunities and restructure to meet the challenge with a new vision can buck the trend and re-energize their ministry. Jesus was able to repurpose his ministry by going to a place that would support his ministry.

Action: Consider how you do your ministry or communicate your faith with others around you. Is it still effective? Are you doing things the way you do because that is the approach you have always used? Or have things changed in your personal or ministry circumstance that calls for a new path on your journey?

Change: As we remain open to the new ways God is working in our midst, we are able to adjust and see the new opportunities God is giving us.

Transformation: When God’s people are aware of the changes in their communities they can respond in a way that the Gospel is accessible to new realities and new generations.

Lasting Words of John the Baptist – John 3:22-36

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Leaving a Legacy 

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Nana with her Great Grandkids

The day after the last Thanksgiving I lost my mother unexpectedly. Since I live nearly 3,000 miles from my parents, I do not get to see them much. I am so thankful that they travelled to see my graduation this past August. We had a great time together and she met her great grandchildren for the first time. Also on Thanksgiving Mom called my Aunt’s house, which she has rarely done before, where myself, her brother and her sister were able to talk with her although briefly. I was so glad that my last conversations and memories are precious keepsakes. At her funeral, we were treated to the many stories about the woman who blessed the lives of so many, especially little children whom she delighted by her childlike presence.

Importance:

John 3:30 –36 (ESV) 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” 31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

John’s statement, “he must increase, but I must decrease”, appears to be prophetic because shortly thereafter he would be arrested and executed by Herod. John once again testifies that Jesus is the true representative from heaven and eye witness from God who removes God’s wrath and gives eternal life to all who believe. John declares Jesus as from heaven, above all authority, a witness to the truth of God, the sent one from God, the giver of the Spirit, and the source of eternal life. These are the last recorded words of John the Baptist.

Meaning: As mentioned in yesterday’s post, John understood and remained on mission, “Luke 3:4 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He may have had no idea that these words, this moment was the last of his legacy, his opportunity to live out his calling. Yet in his wake he leaves at least five future Apostles and Apollos (Acts 19:1-5) as well as the paths being made straight for the ministry of Jesus.

Pivot: What if this is your last moment, or maybe it will be next week or next month or many years away? What words and memories would you leave behind?  John left behind a witness that would someday result in billions of saved people by remaining true to his calling and constantly pointing to Jesus.

Action: Every once in a while I find helpful to look around and consider what words, memories and saved lives I will leave behind. Will people remember an ambitious self-focused man who cares more about his own welfare or will they remember a man who loved God and cared about the welfare of others? My prayer is the latter.

Change: As we live out the life of Christ in us and fulfill His plan for our lives, we will leave behind a legacy that will live forever.

Transformation: In Christ, Our legacy begins today and lasts forever for the glory of God!

John the Baptist Exalts Christ – John 3:22–30

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He must Increase and I must Decrease:

In my early Christian years, I attended a church aimed at bringing young people to Christ. It was fast growing, dynamic and on the edge. People had colored spiked hair and arrived on motorcycles. Inevitably, some would leave because they were not getting the depth they wanted, but this never seemed to bother the pastor. Years later, when I had moved away from the area of that church, I met a pastor who shepherded a different church nearby. It too was a fast growing church with a dynamic, deep teacher of the Word. He told me that the growth of his ministry was due in large part to the success of the other church.  He said the first church was his church’s feeder church.  Both Pastors were OK with this arrangement and the Kingdom grew both in number and maturity.

Importance:

John 3:22–30 (ESV) 22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Meaning: I cannot tell from the passage whether Jesus and John the Baptist were in proximity to each other or a distance away; commentators do not seem to agree and the text appears ambiguous. Regardless, a Jew (probably someone from the ruling class of religious leaders) causes trouble by apparently trying to split the two camps over which baptism is better. John properly understood his place in the Kingdom as the witness to Christ, not the Christ, and was rejoicing in the ministry of Jesus. (28-29) I love John’s response when the question came to him; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John was clear in his mission and rejoiced with Jesus’ success.

Pivot: John’s Disciples viewed Jesus as competition.  We can often view other churches as competition. We will sometimes aspire to be more than God intends and even begrudge the success of others. Yet this passage shows us that ministries can complement each other rather than be seen as being competitive. (22-24) Our joy is complete when our mission is properly understood and carried out. (25-30) We sometimes forget that the work of Jesus trumps our own work.  We are all a part of the same team and should seek the Kingdom goals and not our own notoriety.

John also understood on a personal level that Jesus’ glory was more important that his own success. I will admit that it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to prove my significance rather than adopt John’s creed: “He must increase and I must decrease”. Yet this is truly the aim of the Christian walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Action: Does your ministry reflect the mission and vision God has called you to? Perhaps it is time to build strategic networks within our churches to better reach our entire community by understanding our call and deferring to the call of others. On a personal note; can you agree with John’s creed or do you seek significance? Can we be content in the work God gives, giving the glory to Him and not seek our own glory? Does everything we do  point others to Jesus?

Change: As we continually to seek put Christ ahead of ourselves, we will become more and more content in our God-given role regardless of its apparent impact, trusting Jesus with the outcome.

Transformation: The humble heart is transparent. When we stop seeking importance and significance for ourselves and accomplishments, people will see God instead.

Ministry in the Countryside (John 3:22, 4:2)

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Learning from Jesus:

Some of you may have noticed that this blog stopped for a few days. I was in one of my “reevaluate my life” moods. Suddenly I became stuck, felt trapped by the work it takes to put out a daily blog and wondered if I should keep writing. At first I did not understand, but as I continued to seek God’s guidance and search His Word, I felt that my approach to the blog had gotten off track.

My original design and desire for starting this personal devotional was to walk alongside Jesus in the Gospels and learn from Him, the Master Teacher. But along the way as I transitioned into writing the blog, I have found myself becoming the teacher or even preacher rather than the learner. Forgive me.

It is my intention to use the opportunity of the blog to learn from Him and share what I am learning with you. It may mean at times that I do not cover all the depth and meaning in the passage, but only what I am being taught. My invitation is for you to learn with me as we learn from Jesus.

Importance:

John 3:22 (ESV) 22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.

John 4:2 (ESV) 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),

Ever since John the Baptist first pointed to Jesus and called Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, Jesus had been travelling together with at least five of his disciples teaching them about His mission. They had met with Him, experienced water miraculously being turned to wine, met His family, watch Jesus overturn vendors in the court of the Gentiles, listen to him promise to rebuild the Temple in three days, and teach Israel’s teacher about spiritual things.

So far their role had been one of observers. But now the group leaves the city gates and finds a water source for baptisms somewhere in the countryside of Judea where “he remained there with them and was baptizing”.

Meaning: Jesus could have stayed in the city and perhaps drawn more disciples to himself, but He separated Himself from the center of religion to set up His ministry in the countryside. This gave Him more opportunity to disciple His followers and get them involved in doing the ministry. I have found that some of my best times of discipleship were when I was doing the ministry with others rather than sitting at a coffee shop every other Thursday.

Pivot: Too often we envision “making disciples” as a mental exercise of teaching and accountability. Even though these elements existed with Jesus, it was so much more. These men lived together, travelled together, shared God moments together and worked in ministry together. If we are really to “make disciples” then shouldn’t it be more than a program or occasional meetings? Jesus’ purpose was to train them to replace Him and even do more than He would do to build the Kingdom of God.

John 14:12 (ESV) 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Action: I see two practical applications in this passage; first, personally we should make our time with Jesus better than a little prayer and short devotion, but really seek to learn from Him and join Him in His ministry. Second, we should seek to join someone in their ministry (or include someone in ours) in such a way that we could one day not only replace them or ourselves, but do even more for the Kingdom.

Change: When we take our journey with Jesus seriously and seek to follow Him in both learning and ministry, we become prepared to live out the calling he has for us.

Transformation: Jesus demonstrated that if we focus on preparing a few for ministry, He will use them to expand His Kingdom exponentially. Jesus wants to use us to change the world.

Nicodemus’ Visit – John 3:1-21

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The Gospel Given by Jesus:

My Dilemma this morning is figuring out how a blogger approaches such a well-known and theologically rich passage as Nicodemus’ visit. Within lies one of the modern descriptor of many of today’s followers – “born again” and the most referenced and quoted passage in the Bible, John 3:16. Entire books have been written on that one verse alone. Yet the verse itself being ripped from the story weakens the power found in the context. Here Jesus explains clearly the Gospel message. Often people will focus separately on each concepts contained in Jesus explanation of the Good News; I have decided to look today at the entire visit emphasizing the Gospel message that Jesus delivers.

John 3-16

Nicodemus, a ruler and teacher of the Jews from the Pharisee Sect and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, comes to visit Jesus at night. Nicodemus appears truly curious about Jesus and tries to understand what Jesus is teaching. He is a character unique to the Gospel of John who we encounter three times; at this moment, in John 7:50 where he challenges the other Pharisees to consider what Jesus is saying, and John 19:39 where he assists Joseph of Arimethea in preparing Jesus for burial. I do not know for sure, but I expect to see Nicodemus among the saints when we enter into eternal life.

Importance:

John 3-1-21 (ESV) 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

• Jesus clearly explains the Gospel to Nicodemus saying inclusion into the Kingdom of God is not genetic or by heritage but born of the Spirit through faith in the Son of Man who will be lifted up. Believers in Son of God as Lord and Savior gain entrance into the Kingdom and receive eternal life. The evidence of this belief is a life that reveals God’s work within them.

  • The word translated as believes (πιστεύων) means to continually believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.’ (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, pg 375) In other words, we are completely relying on Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross to save us from our sins and the resulting condemnation and relying on his resurrection to be raised again to eternal life.  This complete trust and reliance, faith, does not come from our own understanding, but from the Spirit of God as a free gift. (added in response to a comment, see comments)

    • The Jews relied on their Jewish lineage as the entry into being God’s people. Family trumps all other relationships in this culture. A message that lineage is unimportant attacks the foundation upon which 1st Century Judaism is built. Jesus clearly refutes that understanding and put the emphasis on a spiritual birth. (1-8)

Message: Entrance into the Kingdom of God requires a change in family identity and loyalty. It is not enough to believe in God, undefined or self-defined, but we must be born of the Spirit into God’s family through belief in Jesus Christ as our savior and Lord. Such faith produces works that reveal the changed heart.
o Now is the time to ensure your entrance into God’s Kingdom eternally by affirming your belief revealed by the Holy Spirit (1-8)
o Jesus’ death on the Cross is the only way to be saved from eternal death into eternal life. (9-15)
o Because of our sin we are condemned already (18) and cannot save ourselves. Jesus has the authority as God, the Son, to give eternal life to those who believe. (16-18)
o Our belief will be verified by a changed life that brings Glory to God. It is important to understand that works done by us cannot save us. Also, true Godly works are done by God in us, the credit is not ours, but His. (19-21) We are God’s workmanship.

Pivot Point: Such belief changes our perspective from earthly pursuits to a Kingdom mindset. Too many Christians are either trying to earn God’s salvation all over again through works or working to earn God’s respect. Neither is possible or necessary and leads to bondage. The faith given to us by God as a gift that is undeserved and unearned (grace) will produce a good work that reveals God to others.

Action: The only action required for your salvation is trust in Christ alone and that is a gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Change: When the people of God put their trust in God fully the fruit of the spirit will become evident in the life of a believer.

Galatians 5:22–25 (ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Transformation: The fruit of the Spirit revealed in us will draw those around us to Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The First Cleansing of the Temple – John 2:13–22

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Clearing the Clutter:

“When you have cleared all of your clutter, you can be of greater service to those around you.”  Michael B. Kitson

My Christian corollary: When Christ clears your clutter, He can use you to be of greater service to Him and others.

Importance:

2013-0212-court-gentiles

Image retrieved from http://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-jillions/february-12-2013

John 2:13–22 (ESV) 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

• Jesus was compelled to defend the focus of the Temple (Ps 69:9; 119:139), the dwelling place of God. (16-17)
• Jesus gives what I believe is His first prophecy regarding his death and resurrection.(18) In regards to His prophecy, first he declares that those listening will be responsible for the death of Jesus. This very statement was what appeared to condemn Jesus at his trial. (Mat 27:40) He will be responsible for resurrecting Himself. This is a veiled, but explicit claim to deity.
• Jesus extended the meaning of “temple” from the building of God to His own body, the living dwelling of God. (21)
• Jesus’ words confirm and are affirmed in the Old Testament Scriptures. (22) (2 Tim 3:15) This prophecy helped the disciples connect the Old Testament prophecies (Isa 52:12-53:12 among others) with the events of his death and resurrection. This prophecy aided in their belief in both the Scriptures and Jesus.
• It appears that John includes this incident and prophecy to strengthen the context that Jesus is focused mainly at this time on the belief of his disciples, both at that present moment and for future confirmation.

Meaning: Jesus clears the Temple of money-changers and traders twice. This time he does not focus on the motives of those selling, but on the purpose to the Temple as the house of God. It may seem reasonable to the leaders of the Temple that people coming from long distances would need money changed and sacrifices purchased; they were willing to compromise for the sake of convenience. These things distract and clutter; by clearing the Temple, Jesus is protecting the Holy purpose of the temple.

By Jesus’ extension of the temple to His body, Jesus redefines the word “temple” to mean “where God resides.” Since the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) and each of his believers are indwelt by God, we are God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16).

1 Corinthians 12:27 (ESV) Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Pivot Point: Is the dwelling place of God important to us? Really? Do we defend the Holy things of God? Do we share Jesus’ zeal for His house? Do we treat our bodies, minds, and hearts as God’s dwelling place keeping it holy for God’s purposes? By what we watch on TV or the internet? By what we consume? By what we think about? By our actions? By our emotional responses? Or do we mimic the world and make compromises for the sake of convenience that may seem reasonable or no big deal? Does our clutter keep God from using us for His purpose?

Today, the people of God are too willing to follow the lead of the world and either remain silent or join in when the Holy things of God are being abused. How can the world see God when His people do not defend the holiness of God or their lives are so cluttered that they appear no different than the world?

1 Peter 2:5 (ESV) you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Are there things in our lives that need to be driven out? Ask Jesus to drive those things from our lives so that He can use us for His purpose!

Change: When we, the people of God, remember that we are God’s temple, the place where God dwells, both individually and collectively; we, in love and in response to the direction of the Holy Spirit, willingly treat ourselves and each other as Holy vessels with respect and love.

Transformation: When God’s people respect themselves and each other as God’s dwelling place, the world will follow our lead and see God in His people.

Water into Wine –– John 2:1-12

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A prayer of Mary:

The first wedding I ever attended I remember well. My Aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, was getting married and my mother was asked to coordinate the wedding and reception. Up until the day of the wedding, I believe everything went according to plan. But earlier that day my great-grandmother was rushed to the hospital and the wrong cake was delivered to the wedding. Mom went into problem-solving mode. But in the end Nana was at the wedding and the right cake was at the reception. Jesus’ mother, Mary, faced a similar dilemma when a wedding she and Jesus were attending was running out of wine. I do not know why Mary felt that she had to solve the problem, but perhaps it was that she knew how to solve it; ask Jesus for help.

Importance:

John 2:1–12 (ESV) On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

• Cana is believed to be 9.3 miles North of Nazareth in the region of Galilee which is on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Cana is the home town of Nathanael (John 21:2). Since Jesus and his mother were invited, the bride or groom was likely extended family or friend.
• Jesus’ response to his mother was not as cold as it sounds in English, this response is like yes ma’am, a respectful title a son would use in public. It was not dishonoring, but it was also not endearing, perhaps to illustrate that her request was outside of her authority as a mother.
• Jesus’ reference to his hour has not yet come was likely referring to the crucifixion and the symbol of wine as his blood to be poured out. I do not think he was telling his mother that he shouldn’t do anything. The use of the ceremonial purification vessels and water foreshadows that the blood of Jesus will someday purify and cleanse those who are washed by his blood from their sins.
• Jesus used this moment to strengthen the faith of the disciples. At this point, the disciples are still checking out the claim of John the Baptist that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The word “sign” indicates that this miracle was evidence of a greater reality. The passage’s importance in its context is that this miracle provided evidence to the Disciples that Jesus was indeed more than a Rabi who had the ability to do something that men cannot do without God’s intervention. It was the first sign where Jesus “manifested his glory” sufficiently for the disciples who were following him to believe in him demonstrating his power over creation.

Message: Mary clearly knows that Jesus can help with the problem, but does not tell Jesus how to solve it or use her position to dictate a solution. She only recognizes the situation and brings it to Jesus’s attention.

Pivot Point: When I pray, I will often bring the solution to Jesus rather than the problem and let Him decide the appropriate solution. Therefore when Jesus does not solve the problem with my solution I can mistakenly believe that he has not answered my prayer. Solution-based prayers often have a self-serving motive and sometime fail to see the broader will of God. Problem-based prayer trust God to provide the best solution to the problem and are usually more compassion oriented.

Action: Think about your prayers, are there any prayers you are bringing to Jesus dictating the solution or outcome? Consider bringing the problem, as you see it, to him and ask Him to provide the best solution.

Change: As we bring our problems to God instead of the answers, we begin to see God answering our prayers in innovative and unimagined ways. We learn to trust Him with the outcome which we know is designed to work together for good for those who believe.

Transformation: As we learn to trust God with the outcome, we become more willing to attack the problems of the world. We are more likely to seek the help of Jesus for the sake of others and give Him the glory for all outcomes whether they are the ones we wanted or not.

Philip and Nathanael follow Jesus – John 1:43-51

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Jesus Sees the Good We Do:

Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tennis tournament for the first time in 2002. After her impressive victory, a reporter asked Serena if it bothered her that many of the English fans were rooting against her. She politely said, “No,” she understood – there had been people rooting against her all her life. But she still wanted to win for herself. Then she added, “Besides my dad was sitting
in those stands, and I knew he was rooting for me and I wanted to please him.” – Story taken from a sermon by Michael Luke entitled “Covet God’s Approval” found at http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/covet-gods-approval-michael-luke-sermon-on-sermon-on-the-mount-78202.asp?Page=3

Importance:

John 1:43–51 (NIV84) 43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

• This passage takes on three days after John refers to the Christ being among them and a day after John the Baptist introduces Jesus to John and Andrew. Andrew then introduced Simon Peter to Jesus.
• Jesus has decided to leave camp for Galilee. He finds Phillip who finds Nathanael. When each encounter Jesus they are convinced that he is the One whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, the Son of God and the King of Israel.
• Jesus’ reference to Jacob’s ladder (Gen 28:10-22) identifies him as the one who brings God to man.
• Nathanael is the first to call Jesus the” Son of God”. Jesus replies that he has not seen anything yet. He would later realize that Jesus will reconcile man and God.

Meaning: God sees the good in His people. What did Jesus see under the fig tree? Did Philip have an opportunity to deceive someone and did not? (47) Jesus did not point to the sin of Nathaniel, but to his success.

Pivot Point: It is human nature for us to think that God looks with disdain on us, seeing only the ugliness of our sin. However, Jesus first words to Nathanael and Simon were positive and forward looking. When God looks on His people he sees the good, since our sins have been washed away. We don’t need to dwell in the guilt of our mistakes and failures. We can rest assured that God is looking on with pleasure when we choose to do the right things even when no one is watching.

Mat 6:2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

Action: Write down private good you can do that only God will know and do them. Change: As we remember that the only reward we need comes from God and that He sees the good that we do; He will give you a heart toward others. As we take the focus off self, we are free to see Jesus as he truly is.

Transformation: People see as authentic those whose hearts are outward focused without regard for personal fame. Such humility brings glory to God.

Testimony of John the Baptist to John and Andrew – Day 3 ( John 1:35-42)

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What are You Seeking? Come and see:

Why did you first come to Jesus? For me, it was because I was making a mess out of my life. It was a summer of 1984, I was dead broke. After paying my bills and my rent, I had no money for food. Fortunately, McDonald’s was having an Olympic promotion; no purchase necessary. With your meal you would receive a game card with an Olympic sport on it. If the United States wins you will receive a hamburger for a gold, fries for silver, and a soda for bronze. This was the year that the Soviet Union decided not to participate and the Americans won many medals. Many times I would get a card for a sport in which we won gold silver and bronze; a full meal deal for free! If it weren’t for these cards during this time I would have starved or at least gone hungry. It was at this time I realized that I was not able to make a successful life on my own. I needed God’s help!

Importance:

John 1:35-42 (NASB) The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Meaning: Progressively, John the Baptist is revealing the identity of Jesus. He began on Day 1 by telling the leaders of Israel emissaries that a more worthy person was among them who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then he told his disciples on Day 2 that God revealed the identity of the Son of God in an unusual baptism earlier and now in this passage, Day 3, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. It is interesting that Andrew and John were privileged to John’s descriptions, yet did not answer Jesus’ question; “What are you seeking?” After investigating Jesus themselves, Andrew announced to his brother Cephas (Peter) that they have found the Messiah.

Pivot Point: We all seek Jesus for different reasons. We want him to be the answer to our problems. Likely Andrew wanted the Messiah to rescue them from the Roman oppression. This preconception leads him to minimize what was revealed; that Jesus is Sender of the Holy Spirit, Son of God, and Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the people. Some of us remain in our immature preconception, while those who continue to pursue Christ discover that following Christ is much more than what he can do for us. He is Savior, Lord, God, giver of abundant life and guarantor of an eternal family relationship with God. We may first come to him to meet our selfish needs, but eventually He wants to transform us through the Holy Spirit from selfishness to selflessness. He wants to make us into the people he intended us to be. He wants to use us to bring glory to God for the benefit of others through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What are you seeking? Come and see. God accepts you for who you are and will meet you where you are. You do not have to come for all the right reasons. Jesus calls us to investigate Him and discover Him for ourselves.

Application: As you spend time with Christ in your daily prayers, Bible reading, and walking in faith, try to look beyond the narrow view of what he can do for you today. Certainly he can and will give good things, but he offers so much more for his adopted brothers and sisters.

Change: As we continue to follow Jesus, he is continually revealing himself to be more than we can even imagine. We learn that he is exactly who he says he is and that he loves us so much that he paid the price for our sin through his death on the cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; He is the Son of God; He is Messiah and so much more.

Transformation: Those, who are seeking God, will see him when they see His people who used to be completely selfish becoming selfless and other focused.

Testimony of John the Baptist – Day 2 – John 1:29-34

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Telling our God Stories

In the “Author- Rick Pierce” page above, I begin with my brief testimony of how I came to Christ and made Him Lord of my life. What I did not share was the impact my Uncle had on my decision. He was noticeably different in a compelling way and I felt loved in his presence. After watching “The Cross and the Switchblade”, he took the time to share his journey with Christ with me and told me his God stories. It was not the movie that made the difference as much as it was the life and testimony of my Uncle.

IMPORTANCE:

John 1:29–34 (NIV84) 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

• The previous day John was speaking with the priests and Levites sent from the Pharisees (religious leaders of the time) when John first pointed out that Jesus was among them. In this passage, as in the previous day, Jesus was visible, but was not approached. Perhaps Jesus was on the other side of the Jordan River or John saw Him earlier in the day.
• This passage reveals why he is baptizing with water, elaborating on one of the questions a religious leader asked the day before. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (1:25) He baptizes “to reveal him (Jesus) to Israel.” (1:31) He tried to reveal Christ the day before to the religious leaders of Israel, but they did not have the ears to hear. They did not even ask!
• We are not told with whom he is talking, it may have been the same contingent, but given the level of detail and intimacy, it is probably his disciples (followers).
• We are not told who sent John to baptize. My guess is God, an angel, or the Holy Spirit.

MEANING: Here we learn that John understood his mission was to reveal the Christ to Israel. That is why he mentioned Jesus’ presence the day before and why he pointed Him out on this day to a group of people. The best testimony is the eye witness. John tells those listening about both his experience during the baptism of Jesus (see blog; Jesus Comes to be Baptized by John – (Mat 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34)) and his calling to baptize with water.

John’s experiences helped Him to both recognize Christ and revealed that He was his and our Savior by taking away the sins of the world. By this testimony he reveals Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”, the baptizer with the Holy Spirit and the Son of God.”.

PIVOT: For most of us, our introduction to Christ is a personal moment that we do not share often. Yet the most powerful way to introduce people to Christ is to share with them how you came to believe in Him. Our experience and life validates our testimony and will help motivate people to investigate Christ themselves; as we will see Andrew and John do in the next passage.

ACTION: Take the time to think through how you first came to know that Jesus Christ was your Savior, write it down and ask God for an opportunity to share it with someone else. You may want to start with a fellow believer and then try it on a friend who knows you, but not Christ.

CHANGE: As we become comfortable telling our God stories, we become more aware of our witness to others and the call to reveal Him to our world.

TRANSFORMATION: When people hear our personal experiences with God, Christianity stops being a religion and becomes a personal relationship with Christ. People are turned off by religion, but are drawn to personal relationships.

Testimony of John the Baptist – Day 1 (John 1:19-28)

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Missed Opportunities

Some years ago at a Resort Area along the East Coast, a small community was having an open town meeting about some financial problems that they were facing. Among the two dozen or so people was one man no one seemed to know who was apparently visiting in that area and had just dropped in on the meeting. He started to make a comment once as various projects were considered, but he was interrupted; so for the rest of the time, he kept still, & he left early.

Just as he went out someone arriving late came in, and said breathlessly, “What was he doing here? Is he going to help us?” The rest of them said, “Who are you talking about? Who was that man?”

The person who had just arrived said, “You mean you don’t know? That was John D. Rockefeller. His yacht is in our harbor. Didn’t you get his help? In despair someone said, “No, we didn’t get his help; we didn’t know who he was!”

Story quoted from Carl Kelleher, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/missed-opportunities-carl-kelleher-sermon-on-christmas-41838.asp

Importance:

The Jordan River near Galillee

John 1:19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

• Matthew, Mark and Luke become silent after the temptations in the wilderness, whereas John tells about what happened between the baptism of Jesus and the arrest of John the Baptist.
• In this passage John denies being Elijah who was prophesied to come in the end times (Mal 4:5), yet later Jesus would claim that John was Elijah (Mat 11:14, 17:11). How could this be? John knew that He was not physically Elijah, the one who never died and would one day return at the end times. He did not see himself by fulfilling the Elijah role “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) as the same as being Elijah physically. Jesus knowing the plan of God had a fuller understanding; Elijah comes in spirit and power through John and Elijah will come physically to restore all things at the end times. (Mat 17:11-12). Both are true.
• The ministry of John was also the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 –“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” He did not want to talk about himself, because his purpose was to point to Another.

Meaning: The ministry of John caught the attention of the religious establishment. The priests and the Levites, sent from the Pharisees, came to discover who John claimed to be and missed their opportunity to discover the truth. Their inquiry appears to be focused on John and his right to minister, rather than his message and purpose of ministry. Sometimes the danger in personality focused ministries can be that the person becomes the focus rather than the message. John told them that the “Greater One” was “among them”, but they did not ask who that was. At this point John knew that Jesus was that person because of Jesus’ baptism and he was “among them” (v26), possibly standing in the crowd at that moment. These religious leaders missed their opportunity to meet Jesus who was among them.

Pivot Point: Sometime when we approach God with our preconceived ideas of what we want to find that we miss the truth that God wants to reveal. Our busyness and personal agendas can keep us from seeing what God is doing at that moment. Yet if we remain open to what God is doing, we will find opportunities to see His glory in ways we do not expect.

Action: In your day, remind yourself to look for God in all you do. Be open to new ideas in regards to God by reading the study notes while you read your Bible, by experiencing other ways of prayer or spiritual disciplines, or maybe by getting involved in the lives of others looking while for opportunities to see God at work.

Change: As we daily walk with our eyes open to seeing Jesus in our midst, our priorities become different and we will see the opportunities God has for us even if it is not what we expect.

Transformation: As God’s people look for Jesus in their midst, the world notices a community that marches to a different drummer. Our ministries and activities become less about us and our own visions and more about living out God’s purposes.

Jesus Resists Satan: No Short-cuts to Glory (Mat 4:8-11; Luke 4:5-8,13)

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The Cost of Compromise:

When our girls were 8 and 12 years old, we decided to take a trip to Yellowstone National Park and other sites 1500 miles away because we had never been; even though we did not have the money. We would figure out how to pay for it later. What a mistake! We spent the next year worrying about money and we ended up vacationing close to home because we were still paying off the last vacation. By contrast, later when we travelled to Hawaii, we had saved for the trip and we were able to enjoy ourselves with no regrets later.DSCI0306

IMPORTANCE:

Matthew 4:8–11 (NIV84) Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Luke 4:5–8 (NIV84) The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Luke 4:13 (NIV84) When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

• The level of glory offered to Jesus was less than what He would have after the cross. It was only a moment in time and Satan would only give Jesus the authority Satan had already given away. Jesus and Satan knew that Satan’s authority was temporary and void should Jesus complete his mission.
• Satan was not done attempting to tempt Jesus; he would wait for an opportune time. There were many moments when Jesus was offered short-cuts to glory, but continued His Journey to the cross. One clear moment was when Jesus said to Peter “get behind me Satan” (Mark 8:33) Jesus saw Peter’s statement as really another temptation by Satan.

MEANING: This third temptation by Satan would allow Jesus to have much of what was promised Him without having to suffer the cross and He could have it right then. Temptation promises a short-cut or instant satisfaction, in this case Jesus would receive power and glory while committing treason by violating the First Commandment: Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.” If Christ accepted any of the temptations he would not have been sinless and would not have been an appropriate sacrifice for humanity. Satan was trying to thwart God’s plan of redemption.

PIVOT: Those of us who watch our weight have been faced with the dilemma of being offered cake at a party. The choice is reward now, pay at the bathroom scale later or delay gratification for a future reward at the same scale. Often temptation asks us to compromise what we know to be right for an instant payoff. Our world offers us opportunities constantly to choose between reward now and blessings later. Should I have sex now or wait until marriage? Should I borrow to buy that car now or save to buy it outright? Should I take the job that demands all my time or should I make less to spend more time with my kids? Should I do things to make my life more enjoyable now or do the right thing and wait for God’s reward?

Mat 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

ACTION: When faced with the choice between instant gratification and doing what is best, take the time to consider the ramifications and to ask the Holy Spirit for self-control, a fruit of the Spirit and choose what is best.
CHANGE: As we continually seek God’s strength through the power of the Holy Spirit to make right choices, we will soon be making right choices by habit (sanctification). This is God’s way of “training us in righteousness”. (2 Tim 3:16)

TRANSFORMATION: The world looks for authenticity and will be drawn to Christ when His people seek to live according to His Word.

Jesus Resists Satan: Do Not Test God, Trust God (Mat 4:5-7; Luke 4:9-12)

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Twisted Context

People can make the Bible say whatever they want by taking verses out of context. For example, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). Some people teach that this verse is saying that “if you conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it through him who gives you strength.” Have no fear, Super Christian is here! Really? First, that idea is ridiculous on its face. I learned from my early baseball days, that because of my lack of depth perception, regardless of how positive I may think, I would never make it to the World Series, except possibly as a fan. But more importantly in its context Paul is really saying “I can remain content in any circumstance because of Jesus Christ who gives me strength” (my paraphrase). In today’s passage Satan twists the context of Scripture to try to tempt Christ to go against God’s will; he still uses the same strategy to tempt us.

IMPORTANCE:

Mat 4:5-7 (NIV) 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Luke 4:9-12 (NIV) 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

• Matthew and Luke reverse the order of the second and third temptations. Neither book was necessarily chronologically written, but included certain events to support their points.
• Scholars are not clear whether the highest point on the Temple refers to the building where the Holy of Holies is housed or the entire Temple complex on the Temple mount which is 40 acres in size. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian reports that the southeastern wall of the Temple Mount rose 300 feet above the Kidron Valley.
• The passage that Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11-12 provides comfort to Israel with the promise of protection from God if they “make the Most High your dwelling place”. The message is one of putting trust in God’s will.
• The passage of the Old Testament in Jesus’ retort is from Deut 6:16 concerning the events at Massah told in Ex 17:1-7. Shortly after God freed Israel from Pharaoh while in the Desert of Sin, Israel complains that Moses is trying to kill them because they were thirsty. Their complaints betrayed a lack of trust that God would care for them saying “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Ex 17:7). The Deuteronomy passage tells Israel not to “test”, but to trust.

It is interesting that in the first temptation, Jesus tells Satan that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, so Satan quotes Psalm 91 in the second temptation. However, Satan twists the meaning from one of trusting God to God owes Jesus His protection even if He did something stupid like jump 300 feet into the Kidron Valley. Jesus’ responded with other Scripture that pointed out the folly of Satan’s interpretation.

PIVOT: It is easy for pastors, teachers and every day Christians to take a verse or two out of the Bible to make their point or to justify their position; a practice known as proof texting. This approach can be dangerous; proving meanings that were never intended. However, the beauty of Scripture is that context and other Scripture will bring clarity and right understanding. For example, Matthew 21:22 (“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” By itself, it may appear that whatever you want you can get just by prayer, like rubbing Genie’s lamp. But with James 4:2-3(“You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.) and other passages as well as that speak of praying according to God’s will in their contexts, the true teaching appears.

ACTION: Whenever drawing principles from the Bible, do not rest on one passage out of context, but take the time to consider the other passages in your cross reference and study the context of the passage that the verse appears.

2 Tim 2:15 (NIV) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

CHANGE: As we correctly handle God’s Word, we begin to understand His will rightly, which enables us represent Him to others and to a watching world.
TRANSFORMATION: When God’s people handle God’s Word rightly, error becomes evident and Satan’s power to tempt people away from God’s will is broken.

Jesus Resists Satan: Stones are not Bread (Mat 4:3-4; Luke 4:3-4)

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Twisted Desires

As a brand new Sergeant with more money in my pocket, I decided that I was going to buy a new car. With no down payment and “sucker” written all over my face, I agreed to a debt that would strangle me for years. The car wasn’t the only thing I bought that I could not afford. I brought all that debt into our marriage. We spent the first few years scraping until we could pay off the debt.

In the previous post we looked at two ways Jesus was empowered to deal with fighting temptation; He was filled with the Holy Spirit and angels were there to attend to him. From Luke 4:2 we learned that the temptations took place during Jesus’ 40 day fast and by implication were likely more than the three temptations noted. These are more likely representative of the types of temptations: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. (1 Jn 2:16)

IMPORTANT:

Matthew 4:2-4 (NIV) 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Luke 4:2-4 (NIV) 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’”

• Today’s passage introduces a third way Jesus dealt with the temptation, the Word of God, (the first two were the Holy Spirit and ministering angels). Jesus will both point to Scripture as being essential nourishment for life, but He also quotes from it in order to confront and confound the attempts of Satan to tempt Jesus.
• The word translated as “if” in these temptations is better rendered “since”. Satan was not asking Jesus to prove His identity; Satan already knew. He wanted Jesus to violate God’s will in each of these temptations.
• Even though Jesus was God, he was also a man who could and did become hungry.
• Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3. The context of that passage was Moses reminding Israel that God humbled them by them experiencing hunger and He providing manna for them to eat during their forty years in the wilderness. The understanding of “Word of the Lord” would be His promises.

MEANING:
Hunger is a natural and proper desire that occurs when the body needs food. One of Satan’s ways to get us to go against God’s will is to elevate the satisfaction of our natural desires above the plan of God. Jesus could have made those stones to become bread, but his trust that God will provide at the proper time allowed him to not place his desire above God’s desire. Jesus also quotes Deut 8:3 to demonstrate that since God can make bread, “manna”, out of dew to provide our natural needs; how much more could God be trusted for our Spiritual needs. In fact, God has provided “the Bread of Life”, Jesus, to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

John 6:48-51 (NIV) 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

PIVOT:
Sometimes it is easy to justify acting contrary to God’s will based on the circumstances or desires of the moment. We allow our natural and good desires, get twisted or out of proportion and begin to justify unnatural or unwise actions. It is natural to eat when hungry, but many of us eat when we are not hungry. Sex within marriage is God’s design, but we justify pornography, pre-marital, extra-marital sex or sensational television. We need shelter and clothes, but we may desire a certain way of living, and borrow beyond our means in order to get what we want. All of these behaviors point to our wanting to satisfy our desires above what is best and natural. Our weapon against Satan tactics of using our natural desires to get us to make bad decisions is trusting God to provide by knowing and doing God’s Word. (Eph 6:17)

ACTION:
When faced with temptations by your desires, try searching your Bible for passages that will strengthen you to remain resolved to stay within God’s natural and good design. You will find these passages in the back of some Bibles or you could use a search engine to find them.

CHANGE:
As you begin to confront Satan’s attempts to get you to violate God’s will with the truth of Scripture, you will discover that you will begin to “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

TRANSFORMATION:
As we live by His Word more, the hypocrisy that clouds our witness to others will begin to disappear and they will begin to see Jesus in us.

Holy Spirit Leads Jesus to Be Tempted by Satan – Mat 4:1-2; Mar 1:12-13; Luk 4:1-2

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His Power vs. Will Power

A few years ago I was teaching from the Lord’s Prayer when I was asked by one of the members of our group to reconcile the apparent contradiction in asking God not to lead us into temptation (Mat 6:13) and that God does not tempt us (James 1:13-15 ). I gave her a broad, even vague answer on the spot, and then later investigated the question myself. I was led to today’s passages, when Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan.

IMPORTANCE

Mat 4:1-2 (NIV) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

Mark 1:12-13 (NIV) 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Luke 4:1-2 (NIV) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

RPHV* of Mat 4:1-2, Mar 1:12-13; Luk 4:1-2 – And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan. The Spirit immediately drove (led) him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he was in the wilderness forty days where he was tempted by the devil, after fasting forty days and forty nights, he ate nothing during those days. He was hungry and he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

• From the Luke passage, we are reminded that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he left the Jordan to enter the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.
• Although the Holy Spirit brought Jesus to the place he could be tempted by Satan. God did not tempt him and he does not tempt us (James 1:13). As in Job 1-2, God allows Satan the opportunity to tempt us, but it is our own desires that turns the opportunity for temptation into temptation (James 1:14).
• The Mark passage points out that Jesus was not left alone, but angels were there ministering to Him during the forty days of hunger and temptation opportunities.

MEANING:
For years I have tried to lose weight unsuccessfully, but recently I lost 45 lbs. What made the difference? In the previous times I tried to lose weight by using my will power. This time I was reading through the fruits of the Spirit and came across “self-control” (Gal 5:23). I asked God why I continued to fail in self-control and his response to my heart was that I kept trying to use will-power rather than his power. All I had to do is ask.(Mat 26:41)

Mat 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when Satan tried to tempt Jesus. Perhaps we should also be filled with the Spirit when attempting to resist temptation. Jesus was aided also by angels and we know that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf.

PIVOT: So often we view our weakness and temptations as a battle that we need to fight on our own power, using our own will power. Yet it is precisely these moments when we need the power of the Holy Spirit to intercede and to overcome our desires since self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

1 Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

ACTION: Is there an area of your life that you struggle with self-control? Have you taken it to God and asked Him to reveal that fruit in your life? It might not happen immediately or easily, but the Spirit is willing.

CHANGE: As we learn to give our challenges to God and ask Him for the power to overcome, we grow in our reliance on Him including the Holy Spirit for all things. When we rely on His power instead of will power, we are able and willing to give God the glory for any accomplishment.

TRANSFORMATION: Those around you will notice that you are no longer controlled by your desires and will want to know your secret.

*(Rick Pierce’s Harmonized Version (RPHV) combined from the ESV Translation) The purpose of creating a harmonized version is to consolidate all the details from the various Gospel accounts. The danger is that each author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, had specific reasons for the details included or excluded in each Gospel account. Also by combining the texts without inspiration, it is possible to add error. However, RPHV can be a tool to better understand broader context and experience of Jesus and His disciples.

John Baptizes Jesus (Mat 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34)

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Trusting Without Seeing

As I read the pages of my Bible, I see myself in the various characters at different points in my life. Sometimes I see myself in Peter, the impulsive one. Other times I see the Apostle John, the devoted one. And sometimes I see doubting Thomas. But right now, at this stage in my life, I most relate to John the Baptist.

IMPORTANCE:
Last post (see Saturday’s post), we focused on the purposes of the baptism of Jesus and the importance for each of us who believe in Christ follow him in baptism. After rereading the post, I was struck by a different thought around this event. Jesus did not come to be baptized for his sake, but for the sake of others. This moment demonstrated the identity of Christ as the Son of God to John who was tasked to tell the world. For John his faithful ministry in the wilderness was validated and his next steps became clear.

MEANING:
John knew he was to be a witness for the coming of the Lord. He even had some insight as to how this would happen. But he lived his life in anticipation of what God was going to do through him. It had to be difficult living out in the wilderness eating locusts and honey; calling people to get ready for the kingdom of God through repentance. It had be fulfilling to be baptizing “all the people” that came to him to prepare them; but frustrating to not have clarity as to why or for whom. So when Jesus was baptized, and the voice of God came down from heaven and the Holy Spirit settled on Jesus, John had to be excited. All of these years, knowing God was doing something, but not sure what, was now becoming clear. He could now do the job he came to do! But John didn’t see the outcome of his efforts. Shortly after this time, he would be imprisoned and eventually executed without seeing what Jesus would do on the cross and the Kingdom of God initiated for which he gave his life.

PIVOT:
Have you felt like you have been ministering in obscurity, doing what God has called you to, but not sure how God is using it in His economy? Whether or not your service is making a difference or worth all the effort? Wouldn’t you like to know the future to validate your present? I would.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV84) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:13,16 (NIV84) 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…. 16Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (This passage is part of an inspiring list of people who demonstrated true faith in Hebrews 11. John could have been on this list as well!)

For me, my call to “help as many people as I can get to know Jesus Christ and help as many people as I can get to know him better” has been a foggy journey: I can only see a few steps ahead and I am not sure where I’m headed. However, God has put encouraging signposts along the way; such as, fulfilling ministries, deep relationships, and challenging seminary. The most recent one is this blog! It, in a small way, fulfills the call directly and personally is satisfying, regardless of the number of readers. I am thankful to God for those reassurances that I am on His path and doing His work. However, I know that I may not ever see the future and the results of my actions. Like John, I must trust that God is leading me and using me for his glory; letting the chips fall in places I may never know.

ACTION:
Take this moment to thank God for the journey he has taken you on so far. Thank him for the successes for the kingdom that have taken place including the ones you may never know. Let Him know that you trust Him and like John, are committed to the call He has given you for His kingdom.

CHANGE:
By taking our eyes off the difficulties of the moment or the frustration of not knowing the future and trusting God that he will use us for his purpose; we can move confidently in doing His will as he reveals it to us.

TRANSFORMATION:
Our confidence in God’s leading will inspire others to follow Jesus and to follow His call in their lives.

Jesus Comes to be Baptized by John – (Mat 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34)

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Jordan River

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Only a few weeks after I came to know Christ, I was baptized. I am so glad that I decided to get baptized right after my conversion. It helped me to take that extra step to identify myself publicly with Him and his church. I declared to the world “My life would be different from this point on!”

IMPORTANCE:

Matthew 3:13–17 (NIV84) 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:9–11 (NIV84) 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21–22 (NIV84) 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

John 1:32–34 (NIV84) 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

• John the Baptist was baptizing people in near Judea along the Jordan River having been sent with the prophecy that he would see the Spirit come down and remain on the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
• Prior to beginning his ministry, Jesus traveled from his hometown in Nazareth to the north to find John the Baptist to be baptized by him.
• The apparent contradiction in the Matthew passage and John passage is best explained that although John knew who Jesus was as a man of God and perhaps even superior to John; he did not know he was the Son of God; the fulfillment of the prophecy he was given and the mission he proclaimed “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
• This moment would be “the fulfillment of all righteousness”. Although John may not have known it at that moment, he was handing the baton of ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the good news to Jesus. This event marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

MEANING:
It is not clear why Jesus said “let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Perhaps it was to fulfill the prophecy given to John the Baptist or to signal the beginning of his ministry. It is clear that Jesus did not need to be baptized by John for the forgiveness of sin, since he had no sin. This is why John tried to convince Jesus to baptize him instead of the other way around.

The Wilmington Bible Handbook gives this list of purposes for the baptism of Jesus:
• to identify with John’s proclamation of his coming
• to show John that he was in fact the Messiah (see John 1:33)
• to signal the beginning of his messianic ministry
• to identify himself as a priest of Israel (see Lev. 8:6)
• to provide an example for believers to follow
• to demonstrate the involvement and approval of the other persons of the Trinity in his ministry. In fact, the baptism of Jesus gives one of the clearest illustrations of the doctrine of the Trinity (see exposition on Gen. 1:26–31), with
— the Father speaking from heaven (3:17)
— the Son coming out of the water (3:16)
— the Holy Spirit descending from heaven (3:16)

Regardless of the purpose, both He and John understood the significance of the baptism. For believers baptism is also important for their ministry because: Jesus commanded it. (Matthew 28:18-20) The apostles practiced it as the norm, not the exception. (Acts 16:29-34) It publicly identifies one as a follower of Jesus. (Acts 2:38) It connects the follower of Christ to the Body of Christ. (Acts 2:41)
PIVOT:
Often Christians will see baptism as not necessarily important to the Christian walk. Some will wait years before acquiescing. Yet, the New Testament record shows that almost everyone who accepted Christ was baptized immediately thereafter. Even Jesus began his ministry with the baptism. If Christ calls to us is to follow Him, shouldn’t we begin our journey with Jesus in the same way He began his ministry? If we have not been baptized as a believer, have we fully followed Him in our Christian walk?

ACTION:
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior and have not been baptized, consider being baptized right away.

CHANGE:
By taking the step of baptism, we follow the example of Christ and identify with His Church, saying to the world that we now belong to Him.

TRANSFORMATION:
Our public declaration of an internal work of salvation through baptism demonstrates our commitment to the cause of Christ to the people around us.

Journey with Jesus – Four Part Harmony

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The day after I decided to commit myself to following Christ (1984), I realized that I should probably buy a Bible. Being a poor Air Force Airman at the time, I went to a local used book store to buy one. The owner of the shop directed me to the few Bibles on his shelf. Then he cynically told me that the Bible is unreliable and inconsistent referring me to two passages that talk about Jesus’ baptism and pointing out the differences between them as proof. Being a brand new, uninformed Christian, I had no response for him. Later I found out that these accounts were not different in their testimony, only in perspective.

IMPORTANCE
Up until this point in our “Journey With Jesus”, we have looked at all the events prior to Jesus’ ministry. Now, before we begin looking at his ministry, I thought I would delve deeper into why I have chosen to follow Jesus using a harmony of the Gospels. A harmony is a weaving together of the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in an attempt to recreate a likely, more or less, chronological presentation of the life of Jesus. Why is a chronological study of the ministry of Jesus important to us? The answer is partially personal, and mostly practical.

MEANING
So why are there four different accounts of Jesus’ ministry? Why not just one? The early church fathers wrestled with this question. They debated among themselves which one of the four was authoritative. But they eventually realized each biography was written with Apostolic authority to different audiences with different purposes for different effects by the same Holy Spirit. Each of the original four were authoritative.

Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience emphasizing that Jesus was the King/Messiah the prophets foretold. Mark’s target was likely Romans who did not know the prophecies; he demonstrated that Jesus was Savior. Luke spoke to the Greek mind who believed that through wisdom one can be perfected. Luke’s purpose was to introduce the perfect man who revealed the true way to God. John was written last (ca. 95 AD) and therefore he had the unique perspective of the church that had proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. He clearly communicated that Jesus, the Son of God, came to reveal the one true God who loves them.

The church fathers also realized that putting too much weight on one Gospel account could lead to an unbalanced view of Christ that could lead to heresy. The Gnostics, who relied heavily on portions of the Gospel of John and certain writings from Paul, ended up denying the humanity of Christ. Eventually, they created their own so-called “gospel” account, the Gospel According to Thomas. Other heretical cults relied on different portions of different Gospel accounts.

It is the combination of the four different accounts that provides the most comprehensive witness of the unique God-Man, Jesus Christ. A negative to the harmony approach is that it would be easy to miss the unique point that each author was making by combining the accounts. The best way to avoid error, or a thin understanding of Jesus, is to see how the four gospels fit together and speak separately.

Also, keep in mind that given the different purposes and the nature of historical biographies of the first century, we understand that probably none of the accounts are entirely chronologically arranged. Purpose trumped chronology. Therefore building a chronological harmony is difficult and requires some educated guessing. However, the attempt to walk with Jesus in time helps us to understand his ministry and how the Gospels fit together.

PIVOT
Suppose there is a principle to be learned from this history. Maybe it can help provide insight to why there are so many denominations, churches and ways to worship God. Perhaps, none of us have a complete understanding of God. Each one has its own perspective, culture, understandings, and even doctrine. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe that the Bible is the very words of God inspired by the Holy Spirit, there are absolutes such as the trinity of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the remission of sins and the reconciliation of men to God so that all who believe will have eternal life. These truths, and a few others, are both orthodox and essential to the Christian faith. However, perhaps by considering the differences in our understanding of God or church models or modes of worship, we could have a richer view of Him and avoid a thin view of Christianity, the Church and our fellow believers. Too many of us are so dogmatic about our beliefs, politics, and presuppositions that we contribute to division of God’s church. (Me included at times) Yet each of us is honestly seeking to understand God and follow Christ.

Mat 17:20-23 (NASB) 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

The above passage is Christ’s prayer just prior to his arrest, praying for the future church of which you and I are a part. His prayer is for oneness among the believers with its result being that the world may believe. In this day and age, unity seems impossible, but if God himself prayed for our oneness, nothing is impossible with God. If we who are Christian can accept that not every believer has to agree with us to have a relationship with Christ; that there are many “living gospels” with the authority of the Holy Spirit in their lives; and the glory of Christ can be expressed in a variety of ways and still be valid; then the world may actually see Christ in us.

Action:
Our goal in this “Journey With Jesus” is to get to know Jesus better by looking at the Gospels in harmony one event at a time. Join us.

Change:
Jesus several times called his followers to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. By getting to know Him better, I believe we will learn from Him and by the Holy Spirit be transformed increasingly into the likeness of Christ to the glory of God. In the process will see God as revealed by Christ, learn the depth of his love for us demonstrated on the cross and experience his heart for humanity to live forever in relationship with Him.

Transformation:
This knowledge should motivate us to continue his ministry through our lives and witness to others so that the “world may know that Father sent the Son and that He loves them” (John 17:23) and we will “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Even a skeptical used book salesperson!

The Message of John the Baptizer – Mat 3:8-12, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:7-14

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Fruitful Living

In First Century Israel, the people of Judea listened to John the Baptists’ message expecting a king/messiah to come to save Israel from Rome’s power. They were looking for their God to establish Israel forever through the obedience of the Law. Life would be good and the people blessed. But along with calling the people to repentance, John taught an unexpected message, to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Importance:

Mat 3:8-12 (NIV) 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Mark 1:7-8 (NIV) 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 3:7-14 (NIV) 7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

• As covered in the last two devotions John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah. He did this by preparing God’s people through repentance, baptism and a call to a fruitful life.
• The second way to prepare the way is to introduce the message of the Messiah, the Gospel.
o The Kingdom of God is near. Time is coming soon when the King will reclaim the throne of David as the prophets foretold.
o A new way to God is coming, not based on heritage or even obedience to the Law, but by belief in the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
o True fruitful living is not based on the Law, but on love.

Meaning
John’s message was to be ready for the King who would change everything. God’s people were not Israel alone, but were all people everywhere who believed through the Messiah. These believers would be cleansed and bear fruit of love being baptized by Him with the Holy Spirit. This is the essence of the Gospel message.

Pivot Point:
In our world, we are looking for a god with all the answers; who will make our lives better. If I do this or that, I will be blessed. We approach our Bible wanting principles and methods for a healthy marriage, or to raise good kids, or to heal broken relationships, or to know the secrets to success. But that is not the heart of the Gospel. Although the Bible contains many truths to show us the way to good living; these are not the path to salvation or even a right relationship with God. When asked what to do, John replied to not look for your own blessings, but to bless others. That is fruitful living.

Action:
Look for an opportunity today or this week to bless someone who has need without regard to what you will receive in return.

Change:
When we begin to look for ways to bless others, we receive the blessing that can only be gained through generosity. We begin to love others as ourselves. The Bible stops being just a book of wisdom and personal growth, but becomes our source for hearing from the Holy Spirit who will change us to bear good fruit.

Transformation:
When God’s people “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control – Gal 5:22) the love of God is revealed to the world around us. The selfish world is surprised by selfless people.

The Ministry of John the Baptizer – Mat 3:1-6; Mark 1:4-6; Luke 3:1-3,7-8,18

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Turn Toward Jesus

When I was 18, my uncle introduced me to Jesus, but I arrogantly resisted Him for four years choosing to live life my way. What changed after those four years? I realized that I was making a mess of my life. In fact, I recognized that I was a sinner and lost without Him. It was my need for cleansing that, in humility, turned me toward Jesus (a.k.a. repentance).

Importance

Matthew 3:1–2 (ESV) 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” …4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Mark 1:4–6 (ESV) 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

Luke 3:1–3 (ESV) 1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. …7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. …18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

• As covered in the first part, John’s preordained mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah.
• His ministry was to call the people of Judea to repentance, baptize them and exhort them to Holy living.
• Repentance means to turn away from sin and toward God.

Meaning:
John’s ministry was to present a washed people to the coming messiah. His goal was for the people of Judea and Jerusalem to recognize their need to turn from their sins, be washed clean by the water of the Jordon River as a sign of their repentance and to call them to live out their repentance as a witness of their changed lives. The water was a symbol of a cleansing commitment foreshadowing the permanent work of Christ who bore our sin on the cross cleansing us from the guilt, forgiving us of our sin and saving us into eternal life.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1: 9).

The way to prepare people for the Good News of Jesus is to help them recognize their need to be cleansed by Jesus through confession, repentance and commitment to Jesus, the permanent Baptizer with the Holy Spirit.

Pivot Point:
John knew what we sometimes down play or even omit, that before people are ready to enter a relationship with Jesus, they need to first recognize their sin and the need for cleansing through Jesus Christ. Yet without an awareness of the need for a savior, we attempt to put clean clothes on a filthy body and expect the stink to go away. Once washed by the blood of Christ, we are free to live the abundant life in Christ.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Action:
If you are making a mess of your life, stop trying to do life your way and turn to Jesus. He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins.

Change:
When we turn towards Jesus in recognition of our sin and the need for Him to cleanse us, when we accept His gift of eternal life in relationship with Him; we are free from the penalty of sin and can rest in the assurance of His love and live our lives as He designed us.

Transformation:
The world can tell the difference between people attempting to be righteous and people washed clean through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Mission of John the Baptizer – Mat 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4-6,15-16, John 1:6-8

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Pointing to Jesus
Last year, Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to their Divisional Playoffs in football. He was controversial, not because of his football playing, but because he continually pointed to God for his successes. As the world tried to give Tebow the glory, he kept pointing to God and His glory. Our passages tell of a man, John the Baptist, who refused to take the glory for himself in order to be a witness for Jesus.

Importance:

Matthew 3:1–3 (ESV) 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”

Mark 1:1–3 (NIV84) 1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”

Luke 3:4-6 (ESV) 4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Luke 3:15–16 (ESV) 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John 1:6–8 (ESV) 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

• John’s mission was so important to the Gospel story that all four Gospels describe it. His mission was as the witness who would make straight the path preparing the way of the Lord as Isaiah prophesied in Isa 40:3.

Meaning
John was clear in his mission; he knew he was not the light, the coming Messiah. He deflected any effort to glorify himself above Jesus. His popularity did not distract him from his mission. Our mission is not much different than John’s, we are to go to the entire world preaching the Good news and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are to point to Jesus!

Pivot Point:
Yet it is easy to become distracted by popularity, self righteousness, proud of our Christian goodness, or the abilities we have been given in Christ. We can lose track that our goal is not self glory or self gratification, but God’s glory. We can convince ourselves that our lives are ours, forgetting that we handed the keys to Christ and are living as witnesses to Him. The way we live and what we say will bear witness to the truth of Christ.

Action:
As you do good, serve a church, help others, exercise your gifts, do what God has called you to; consider your motives. Are you doing them to gain fame for yourself or for God? Decide to give Jesus the glory!

Change:
The world celebrates and lifts up people of ability, and is willing to give the glory to those they admire. Yet we are called to deny ourselves in humility so that God will get the glory.

Transform:
When we do this people notice and see God.

Jesus Matures into Manhood – Luke 2:40-52

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Maturity toward Christ-likeness
When I first committed myself to following Christ, He instantaneously changed some of my bad habits like drinking excessively and swearing. But much of my growth as a Christian, like curbing my temper, tactlessness or self-focus, took time as the Lord transformed me by the renewing of my mind through the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot take credit for these changes, but I recognize that it is the fruit of the Spirit being revealed in my life. Often the evidence of our faith can be better seen by looking back to what changes God has made in us.

Importance:

Luke 2:40–52 (NIV84) 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

• Jesus grew normally as a child would into a man. He was fully man and fully God.
• Jesus submitted to his earthly authorities, his parents, even though he was their God.

Meaning:
From this passage we get a picture of what maturity looks like. Human attributes describing the child Jesus are: strong, filled with wisdom, the grace of God upon Him, amazing understanding of God’s word, drawn to being in the presence of the father, obedient to his parents (authority), grew in wisdom, grew in stature, grew in favor with God, and grew in favor with men. The human attributes given to the child Jesus can give us a focal point, a future picture, for our children and for ourselves.

Pivot Point:
As parents and maturing Christians, we often view maturity of our children and ourselves in terms of accomplished works and obedience. Even though these things may be good, they tend to be focused on a short-termed mentality that believes we are being graded on who we are right now. But God is looking at our growth toward the goal of Christ-likeness. Most of the descriptors of the child Jesus speak to character and growth. Even Jesus “grew”, he was not born fully mature physically, mentally, spiritually or socially.

Action:
As we walk in Christ and seek to guide our children, maybe we should to be less concerned about our momentary successes and failures, but focus on continuing growth toward that focal point. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit matures us through our life experiences as we follow Christ.

Change:
Looking back, are we closer in Christ-likeness than we were a year ago, ten years ago?
1. Are we stronger? (Physically healthy, morally consistent)
2. Are we wiser?
3. Are we closer to God relationally?
4. Are we growing in the knowledge of His Word?
5. Are we less of a rebel? More obedient to authority?
6. Do we seek to please God more?
7. Are we more respected by others?

Christlikeness is not a goal to be achieved, but a focal point toward which we mature, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Transformation:
As we grow, our influence for the sake of Christ grows. As he polishes us, we better reflect the light of Christ to others.

Return to Nazareth – Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 2:39

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Confronting Our Shame
It was just a silly game, but I lost my cool and lost my friends for a time. Out of shame and embarrassment, I allowed too much time to pass before I was willing to approach my friends in humility and in apology. Later, these same friends would help me in a ministry and be important to its success as well as being lifelong friends.

Importance:

Matthew 2:19–23 (NIV84) 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Luke 2:39–40 (NIV84) 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

• God directed the steps of Joseph to fulfill his purpose by the promptings of an angel and a dream.
• The term or prophecy for being a Nazarene does not appear in the Old Testament. The most common explanation for this reference (23) is that the root word for Nazareth is despised or rejected. Jesus would definitely be called despised and as Nathaniel would later say to Philip, “can any good come from Nazareth” (John 1:46).
• The Gospel of Luke appears to skip the events of the Magi and the flight to Egypt. His purpose, to highlight Jesus as the Savior, would not be served by these accounts. Whereas Matthew emphasizes the Christ’s Kingship and fulfillment of prophecy for his Jewish audience. Both record the return of the Jesus’ family to Nazareth.

Meaning:
After leaving to Bethlehem for the census, Mary and Joseph appeared to stay and move into a house after Jesus was born at which time the Magi visited. Being warned in a dream to flee to Egypt and then after a time being told by an angel to return to Israel, they appear to have wanted to first stay in Bethlehem or at least the province of Judea. It took fear and another dream to convince them to return to Nazareth, their hometown, where the community knew (or thought they knew) that the child was born outside of the marriage tradition of the culture.

Pivot Point:
Have you ever not done something or seen people because of past actions or for fear of the shame associated with those actions? I have. Yet in Christ, we are forgiven and given the grace to live beyond that fear or shame. Many times God will coax us to confront the past so that we can fulfill his will in our lives. Our avoidance due to fear keeps us from building relationships and moving forward on the path God may have for us.

Action:
If fear or shame is keeping you from a relationship with a parent, sibling, friend or others; if your past failures or perceived failures keep you from moving toward your future; trust God to be in that situation and to work out what we fear for His best. I am not saying dig up old bones, but I am saying to not let the past dictate your future. God is bigger than your past and working for your future according to His purposes.

Change:
The key to living out the Christian life is being willing to die to self for our friends and our neighbors; to love one another as Christ has loved us. Sometimes that means confronting our past mistakes and seeking forgiveness. Sometimes it means being willing to confront our shame and even accept responsibility rather than blaming others.

Transformation:
Forgiveness is found in Jesus and when we extend to others it in love, it communicates both our love and the love of Christ to others.

Herod Orders Bethlehem Boys Killed – Matthew 2:16-18

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Response to Senseless Evil
In light of the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and 6 teachers; this is a difficult passage to handle. Evil does not make sense and it is baffling as to why God allows such evil to happen. It is hard to see how God can bring any good from it.

Matthew 2:16–18 (NIV84) 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jer 31:15)

Importance:

• The rage of Herod fulfilled the prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:15. God is Sovereign.

Meaning:

Evil does not take God by surprise. His plan considers and allows for it. As Joseph (son of Jacob) so aptly told his brothers whose selling of him into slavery led eventually to Joseph’s rise to prominence in Egypt and the feeding of a famine plagued land;

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

In our story (Matthew 2:16-18) Herod intended to wipe out the so-called future King of the Jews whose star the Magi saw. However, God used this very atrocity to fulfill prophecy and eventually save the eternal lives of many including you and me.

Pivot Point:  When faced with senseless evil and difficult times, it is hard to see any value in it. The Bethlehemite mothers of the murdered children would never understand or make any sense out of the senseless deaths of their children. That is true in our lives also. When faced with death, illness, poverty, being a victim, or other events outside our control; it is easy to blame God or at least believe that a loving God would not allow such evil. However, evil does not surprise God and He will use it for His good purposes regardless of the intent of the perpetrator.

Roman 8:28 points out “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

But like the mothers of those children in Bethlehem, we may not in our lifetime understand how good came from the event.

Action: It is times like these when the appropriate course of action is to trust God in His sovereign will and look for how God might use this circumstance for His glory. Evil exists and may not seem, or even be, fair, but rest assured it does not take God by surprise and it is part of a good plan for those who believe.

Change: I am reminded of an similarly atrocious event in 2006 when a murderer shot 10 girls, killing 5 at West Nickel Mine School in Lancaster Pennsylvania. In that case the Amish community shocked the watching world by extending amazing forgiveness to the shooter and providing incredible grace to the shooter’s family.

From USA Today “In our world today, religion is so often used as a force for division, and here is an example of religion being used for compassion and healing.” http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-10-01-amish_N.htm

Transformation: Our reaction to senseless evil is watched by the skeptical world; when we respond with unnatural love and trust in God, the world marvels.

Jesus’ Family Moves to Egypt – Matthew 2:13-15

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Responding to God’s Direction

There was a time in the life of our family when God would supernaturally prepare me for what would come next. We began to notice a pattern. I would enter a time of profound spiritual peace and closeness with God, followed by a family crisis shortly thereafter. This God-given peace enabled me to support my family and my wife during these difficult times. We began to even prepare ourselves for the next shoe to drop when this spiritual peace came.

Importance:

Matthew 2:13–15 (ESV) 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

• One of Matthew’s chief purposes for His narrative was to demonstrate that Jesus was Messiah by pointing to prophesy fulfilled; in this case Hosea 11:1. In context, the statement may not appear prophetic at first, but the change from singular to plural points to two topics; the falling away of Israel and the calling his Son out of Egypt.
• God is sovereign and will intervene even supernaturally or in a dream (in this case) to bring about his will, particularly when it is directly related to His purpose, the redemption of Humanity.
• God is also omniscient, knowing all things including the future events even before they happen. Joseph was warned about two future events, the murder of babies in an attempt to kill Jesus and the death of Herod.

Meaning:
God is in control and he uses his people to carry out his will. Joseph’s dream and his willingness to obey demonstrate God’s use of those who follow Him, even when it appeared silly and an overreaction. God knew both the future and Joseph’s response to the circumstances.

Pivot Point:
It is easy for us to see our salvation as the key moment God intervened supernaturally in our lives. We often miss that God has chosen to involve us in carrying out his will. He is using our circumstances to prepare us and move us toward his purpose in our lives. We may not always be able to understand what God is doing, but we can be sure that He is always working to prepare his children to reveal his glory.

Action:
Like Joseph our response needs to be one of trust and willingness to take action when God instructs us. He could use angels and dreams, but more likely he will use other Christians, His Word, prayer, circumstances, and the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us into his purpose.

Change:
As we develop an attitude of trust, we stop seeing our circumstances as negatives, even in pain and confusion, but as a necessary part of God’s plan and His best for us. We may not understand why anytime soon or even in this lifetime, but we can be certain that as we live for Him, he is using us to carry out the good for those who believe.

Transformation:
Our willingness to continue to follow Christ even through the crisis is a powerful witness of the grace and glory of God. When the world sees true followers especially in difficult moments, it is amazed and provides proof of God’s love.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem

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Engaging the Culture

As the years progress, I have watched our culture systematically transform itself from a mostly Christian nation to a highly secular one. Lifestyles that were once taboo are now lifted up as normal. The result has been an alarming increase in teen pregnancies, abortions, divorce, alternative relationships and suicides. It used to be true that most people went to church most Sundays and were familiar with the stories and teachings of the Bible. Today, most people do not attend church or even know the stories. This battle between the secular and the sacred is nothing new. It is part of God’s on-going campaign to save humanity from sin and eternal death.

Importance:

Matthew 2:1–12 (ESV) 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

• Although it is not clear who these Magi are or where they are from or how many came, we do know that they interpreted the stars and believed that this particular star was announcing the birth of the King of the Jews. God can use nature and the heavens to declare his glory.
• Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 as another proof that Jesus is the promised King/Messiah to be born in Bethlehem.
• Jesus was not only made known to the lowly shepherds, but also to the wealthy Gentiles. Jesus came to save the entire world, both Jew and Gentile.

Meaning:
The conflict between the status quo and Jesus, rears its ugly head. This conflict is just a reflection and another episode of the on-going saga between Satan and God over the destiny of humanity that began in the Garden of Eden(Gen3). Herod, an Idumaean was a descendant of Esau, was a worldly King claiming the Holy Crown that rightfully belonged to the Descendant of Jacob. He apparently believed he could stop the prophecy to hold on to his power. This battle between Herod, including his children, and Jesus would continue throughout the life of Jesus as the power of the world resisted the power and reign of the Son of the One True God.

Pivot Point:
It is easy to view our lives as separate from the on-going conflict between Satan
and God for the destiny of humanity.  We see the world around us and are either convinced we can do nothing about it or are apathetic to it. We will often voice our faith as a relationship we have with Jesus so that we can live the abundant life from here to eternity.  We hate conflict and would rather Satan leave us alone.  It is true that we are to live the abundant life, but incomplete, we are also Christian soldiers enlisted in the cosmic battle between Good and evil. The world wants to claim dominion over us, to keep us from truly following Jesus and engaging the enemy.  Satan still is trying to thwart the plan of God.

Action:
The call of the Christian is to engage. Call evil for what it is whenever we see it, to not give in to the lies and lures of the Tempter in our lives; to rescue people from the Dominion of Darkness by introducing them to Jesus Christ; to put on the full armor of God and confront conflict with the Word of God. The Christian life is not about living the perfect life while waiting for Christ’s return, it is about living for Christ and his Kingdom until his return.

Change:
By changing our perspective from one of conflict avoidance to engaging God’s purpose, God can and will use us to take on the lies of Satan for the glory of God where ever we see it.

Transformation:
I believe that if Christians take up the battle for His Kingdom and His righteousness, God can and will reclaim our culture.

Luke 2:36-38 – Anna Tells Temple Vistors About Jesus

Crossing the Generational Divide

Last week I attended the 80th birthday of one of the wisest, most godly men I know. Roger was the mentor and friend whose wisdom, insights, and selfless support launched me onto a path that will likely become fulltime ministry. His wife asked me, and 70+ other friends, to write a letter to him. My letter ended with:

“Most of all, you are one of the wisest men I have ever known. Your insights are dead-on and thought provoking. Your support and friendship is worth more than gold and I predict is worth a crown or two in heaven. Thank you for being my friend. May God continue to bless you as you have blessed Ruby and me. Happy 80th birthday!”

Roger, even though he is in his 80’s and burdened by Parkinson’s, continues to mentor and raise up younger men like me for the Kingdom. Thank you, Roger.

Importance:

Luke 2:36–38 (ESV) 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

• Anna was part of the remnant that was that was looking forward to the redemption of Israel. Here we have a prophetic word and its confirmation; Simeon prophesies and Anna responds in praise.
• Anna and Simeon are included in the long list of witnesses to the miraculous and meaningful birth of Jesus the Christ which in Luke included Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s unborn baby, and shepherds. The list includes angels, priests, women, the righteous, the elderly and the prayerful.

Anna was a prayer warrior dedicating herself to God in his temple. She was present when Simeon blessed Jesus as the “consolation of Israel” becoming a witness to those who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel. Presumably, she had a good idea who were “looking forward to the redemption of Israel” because of her constant presence in the temple. God used her to witness to others who came to the Temple to tell them that a baby boy has been born that will save His people and reveal God to the Gentiles and His glory to Israel.

Meaning:
She and Simeon both did not let age keep them from loving and serving God with all of their hearts. Her continuous prayer likely enabled her to know the truth when she heard it and then takes the right actions in response. Their commitment to God and His calling in their lives continued into their last years. Their perseverance was rewarded and blessed the parents of their Savior.

Pivot Point:
In our culture, age often separates us. The young among us do not seek the wisdom of the wisest among us. For some, retirement means disengaging from our churches and ministries to let the young people take their turn. Over one third of church attenders will drop their membership once their children leave the nest. We often congregate in different churches and travel in different circles. How much stronger would our churches and leadership be if we took the time and effort reach across the generational divide and listen to the wisdom of our elders?

Action:
Consider your relationships; are you reaching older and younger? Are you seeking the wisdom of the years? Are you sharing your wisdom gained by your walk with God? Do not let age become an excuse for not serving. Take steps to connect the generations to grow and pass down your wisdom for the sake of the Kingdom.

Change: As we engage other generations, we will grow in our understanding of Christ and each other and give honor to the wise among us.

Transform: If our churches are an example of intergenerational cooperation, we will demonstrate to the world God’s plan for aging and the God-given value in all of us regardless of age.

Luke 2:25-35 – Simeon Prophesizes About Baby Jesus

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Jesus Reveals Hearts
I have been a member of Toastmasters for many years and for much of that time, I did not share that I had a Christian faith because Toastmasters is a secular organization. I was afraid of offending and causing conflict. As I grew to know some of the people and some of their struggles in life, I began to let them know I was praying for them. The response has been interesting as I have become more open with my faith. Some will contend that God has no place in Toastmasters, but others have come to me for prayer, advice or just to listen with a compassionate heart.

Importance:
I suspect I am not alone in my reluctance to be open with my faith. Some of us are afraid that we might get in trouble with our bosses; or lose connection with friends; and in some cases, like school teachers, we are concerned that being open might break the law. We want to avoid conflict, we want everyone to be our friend; we do not want to offend others, therefore, we continue in our silence and hide our faith from others.

Meaning:

Luke 2:25–35 (ESV) 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

• Jesus was called the “Consolation of Israel”. This word “parakeleo” can mean either ‘to call together’ or “comfort” among others. It was a traditional term at the time for the “hope of Israel”, the coming Messiah. Unlike Simeon’s contemporaries who were looking for a Messiah to come in power and overthrow Rome, Simeon was looking the one who would bring comfort.

• Simeon was a righteous and devout man who had the Holy Spirit upon him. Although the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would be a New Testament blessing sent by Jesus after His resurrection and ascension (Acts 2); clearly some of those who believed in the coming hope had the presence of the Holy Spirit. David, Joseph, Zechariah and several others are mentioned explicitly and likely many more as God moved his remnant for His glory.

• Simeon prophesizes the identity of the Christ child as God’s salvation who reveals God to the Gentiles and glory for Israel. Mary’s child was going to cause controversy and reveal the hearts of many.

Jesus continues to reveal the hearts of many today (35). It is his name and his work on the cross that separates believers from unbelievers. Those who belong to Christ will recognize God as the one who sent Jesus, His one and only son, who died for our sins on the cross, demonstrated his power to conquer death by His resurrection, now is sitting at the right hand of God and will soon return to gather His people for eternity in Heaven.

Pivot Point:
Often we want to avoid conflict or at least be courteous by not being open with our faith. Often it is our own fear of their reaction that keeps us from sharing, and when we do share we are surprised by the positive reaction of others when we are open. We are afraid of the conflict it might cause.Yet that is why Jesus came “so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed”. Conflict is the necessary result of the Gospel message. It is not us who creates the conflict by our faith, it is Jesus who reveals the hearts of others.

Action:
God calls us to live our faith openly as a light to the world (Mat 5:14). Certainly we are not to be rude or even aggressive, just real and transparent, ready to give an answer for our faith in Jesus Christ. Consider your life message, does it hide Christ or reveal Him? Ask God to show you how you can be more real in front of others. Then think of practical ways to be open and transparent in your daily life.

Change:
As we make a conscious effort to be more open, the Holy Spirit will show us opportunities to live more openly for him and soon openness becomes a natural part of who we are in Christ.

Transformation:
The world is looking for authentic faith and as we are more transparent and consistent in our walk with Christ, the world will see the light of Christ revealing their hearts toward God.

Accepted As You Are – Luke 2:22-24

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My daughter, Brandi, came to our house as a foster child at age 10. At first, she was afraid to do anything wrong for fear of retribution or worse yet, the fear of not being loved. On one hand it was nice having her try to be perfect and prove her worth to us, who wouldn’t want a perfect child? But since that was an impossible goal, whenever she did not live up to the standard, she would completely melt down. One day, after one of her meltdowns, I asked her if she thought that if she messed up that we would not love her or keep her as our child. She said yes. I told her that although we want her to do the right things as best she can, Mom and I will always love her for who she is regardless of what she may do wrong. Afterward we lost the perfect child, but gained the true Brandi.

Importance:
We often feel as if we have to prove ourselves to our families, our parents, our bosses, our friends and particularly God. If we had more of the right things or did more of the right things, we would be accepted. Among men, acceptance by their fathers is the most desired and elusive need, and can lead to many emotional issues as adults. Yet our heavenly father accepts us just as we are, just as he made us, we do not have to prove ourselves by doing the right things, we just have to be ourselves.

Meaning:

Luke 2:22–24 (ESV) 22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

• The Law, Leviticus 12, specifies that a woman who has given birth to a baby boy will be unclean (unable to touch anything holy) for 40 days. After these days of purification, she is to bring a first fruit sacrifice to consecrate him to the Lord as the first born male.
• The offering of two doves was the provision made for the very poor among the Israelites.

Mary and Joseph were like many young people today just starting out raising a family on very little means doing the best they can. Certainly the Messiah, the King of Kings could have been born among the wealthy, powerful and privileged, but he was not. He not only lived among the poor, but was raised as a poor child. Yet Mary was called blessed among women and God entrusted them with the most important ministry of all time, raising His son.

Pivot Point:
We often feel as if God cannot use us because we have nothing of value to offer Him or we are not good enough. But what people value is usually useless in God’s economy, he sees the true value in us and wants to use us for His glory.

Action:
All he asks of us is to be willing and do the best we can to follow Him. He will do the rest through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Certainly the Bible provides pictures of what it means to follow Christ. In Micah 6:6 it tells us that God requires His people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. Jesus tells us of one command that he gives is to love one another (John 13:33). Paul encourages the believer to exercise the gifts they were given by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the church and glory of the Kingdom. Yet let’s be clear it is not what value we bring that God can use, it is our willing heart to live out our calling wherever he has us and with whatever he gives us. We are much richer than we think.

Change:
As we take our eyes off the material things of this world or the acceptance by others, and put our trust in God, as we focus on Christ and our relationship with Him, and as we offer ourselves as living sacrifices as our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1); he can and will use us for His purpose and glory.

Transformation:
This willing heart will transform us from either people who are seeking to earn God’s favor or people who believe it is impossible to please God, to people whose lives will point people to God as he uses us for His glory.

Our Empathetic God – Luke 2:21

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Not too long ago, I suffered as I watched my grandson fall against the mantle of our fireplace banging his head. His screams could be heard in the next state. He then ran into my arms. I, having hit my head in the past, knew his pain and felt deeply for him. My empathy and offers to kiss his “boo boos” quieted the screams. Wiping away his tears I set him down and he continued “toddling” knowing Grandpa was there and understood him.

Importance:

Luke 2:21 (ESV) 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus was born under the law. He and his parents observed the law both in circumcision and in his entire life. He would have to be able to fulfill the requirements of the law perfectly, without blemish, in order to pay penalty for the disobedience of God’s people. The name “Jesus” in Hebrew means “God saves” or more precisely “Yahweh is salvation”. This name was given by Gabriel to both Mary (Luke 1:31) and Joseph (Matthew 1:21). There could not be a better name since it reflects both the identity of Jesus (God) and his mission (salvation of humanity).

Meaning:
This event emphasizes both the deity and humanity of Jesus. The unique God-man, would experience the pain of circumcision as well as many other human experiences. Scriptures tells us he was thirsty, hungry, moved to tears, needed rest, and dealt with unfair treatment as well as suffering temptation without sinning.

Hebrews 4:15-16 says “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Pivot:

Many people imagine God to be the uncaring judge above who cannot know the pain and difficulty of what we experience and therefore cannot be capable of grace and mercy. But that is not true, our God has first-hand experience as a human being and is filled with mercy and grace as God. He is the loving Father who loves us and empathizes with our pain, kissing our “boo boos” and encouraging us that everything is going to be OK.

Action:

You can take your pain, frustrations, and even failures to Christ in prayer. He is our High Priest sitting at the right-hand of God interceding on our behalf in our time of need with empathy and grace.

Change:

As we develop the habit of coming to Christ, we grow in confidence that he is there for us and we can rely on Him.

Transformation:

It is our confidence of God’s empathetic mercy and grace that provides strength for others who will learn that they can rely on us. In this way we become like Christ to the world around us.

Looking for Jesus – Luke 2:8-20

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Importance:

About 10 years ago Sacramento Kings used to be really good at basketball. Playoff tickets were almost impossible to get. The day before a crucial game, a friend of mine called me with a phone number to purchase newly released tickets. This seemed too good to be true, but what the heck, I was going to try anyway. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After a few busy signals I was able to reach an operator on the other line and I scored some tickets! I called a friend of mine to give him the number so that he too could get some tickets.

The Shepherds in Luke 2:8-20 was given a once in an eternity opportunity.

Luke 2:8–20 (NIV84) 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Meaning:

The witness of the angel and heavenly hosts to the shepherds was important to the fulfillment of Prophecy that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. The angel declared that this baby was Savior, Christ, and Lord; that the Good News is for all the people, not just Jews (10); and peace will be among those on whom His favor rests (14). Their key message was that God has sent this child as the promised Messiah who would bless all the nations bringing salvation and peace with God to those who believed him to be Lord and Savior.

The proof for the shepherds was not just the appearance of the angel, but also the fulfillment of the angel’s words; the finding of the baby in Bethlehem. God was establishing witnesses on earth to validate and proclaim the Good News of salvation for those who would believe. The response of the shepherds, once they made sure that what they were told was true, was to give their testimony and bring praise and glory to God for what he has done. Luke, the historian, records that their witness had spread (18). Clearly the testimony of the shepherds was retold in the area throughout the years and led credence to both Jesus’ message and the testimony of the Apostles 30-40 years later.

PIVOT:

When we are faced with the truth of God, what is our response? Is it like the shepherds? Do we pay attention? Do we test it to see if it is true? When we discover the truth do we share it with others? Do we praise God and give Him the glory for what he has done?

Action:

Is God trying to get your attention? Pay attention and check out the truth he is revealing. Do you recognize Jesus as the Christ, Savior and Lord of your life? It is Good News that He brings peace with God to those who choose to believe. If you have responded to the truth, share it with others and glorify God for what he has done.

Change:

When God moves within us, we move towards His truth. It may not be angels from above singing with harps and bright lights, but the Holy Spirit’s still small voice encouraging us to pursue His truth, praise His name and proclaim His work in our lives

Transformation:

It is our response to God’s truth in our lives that witnesses the Good News to the watching world. If God’s truth does not move us who believe to action, why should others explore God’s truth? But if we act as if we really believe, others will see the truth within and be drawn to the One who saves and brings peace.

The God of History – Luke 2:1-7

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IMPORTANCE:
God has been known to move history and people to reveal His glory.

In 1984 I was on temporary duty assignment at Lowry Air Force base in Denver, Colorado, 1200 miles away from home in Sacramento, California. I heard a voice calling my name from across the street. I did not know that I knew anyone here. But I looked over my shoulder and saw Gregg Smith, a friend from two years before when we were both stationed at RAF Bentwaters, United Kingdom. We talked for a short while. He told me he was stationed there and wondered if I would like to join him and a few friends to visit a local flea market on Saturday. Alone in a strange place, I said yes. We had a good time, but I did not think much of it. We lost track of each other after that.

About a year and a half later, I felt a tap on my shoulder while worshipping in a crowded 5,000 member church in Sacramento, California. It was Gregg Smith, two pews behind me!

“Gregg, I didn’t know you were in Sacramento.” I said.

“Actually I was travelling on my motorcycle to Los Angeles and stopped at a local motel, saw this church and decided to attend before hitting the road. I didn’t know you were a Christian.”

“I accepted Christ over a year ago, two or three months after returning home from Lowry.”

“Rick, that is amazing. Remember my friends you met when you went to the flea market with us? Well they are a part of my Bible study. After you left, God put on our hearts to pray for your salvation for about three months! Praise God, he answered our prayer!”

This true event in my life taught me two important lessons: First, God answers our prayers for which I am eternally grateful. And second, God will move people and orchestrate events in such a way to bring about his sovereign will. I am thankful that He decided to “randomly” have Gregg sit two rows behind me in a “random” church in a “random” city, so that I could know of his amazing grace in my life.

MEANING:

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Our God determined to save the world through incarnation (becoming human while still God), experiencing life from the perspective of those he came to save. He did not come in power, but total dependence, he did not come in wealth, but swaddling clothes, He was not born in a palace or atop Mt. Olympus, but in a stable and placed in a feeding trough.

This passage also demonstrates that God can and will orchestrate history and each of our lives to bring about his predetermined plan of Salvation. The prophet Micah (5:2) foretold that the future King, Messiah would come from Bethlehem. God chose to move Joseph and Mary there by an act of Caesar, by affecting history itself, to carry out His sovereign plan of salvation for the world.

PIVOT: Often we attribute incidents as coincidence, random unexpected oddities that shape our lives. Or we worry that we are not where God wants us to be. It is easy to dismiss the events in our lives as singular and not necessarily connected to a grand plan, a meta-story that in designed to bring salvation to the world and to individuals. But God has a plan and he has been working in history and in your life to bring about that plan. He is willing to move heaven and history to bring that about.

ACTION: Trust that God has placed you where you are so that you can be used of Him. If you are not where He needs you, he is fully capable of orchestrating your history for his glory. So look around you, what is going on in your contexts and follow Him in the moments. If he lays on your heart to pray for someone by all means pray. You may have no idea how God is using you, but trust that He is.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

CHANGE: As we continue to trust God in our circumstances and look for His will in our moments, we become more and more available to do God’s work and to be open to his moves. This will result in confidence that God is working out His plan through us.

TRANSFORMATION: Our confidence in God in our circumstances helps those around us to follow our lead and trust our wisdom. Perhaps God has used your prayer to bring someone to Him without you even knowing.

PS. I have lost track with Gregg Smith again, my prayer is that he will read this.

Joseph’s Dream – Matthew 1:18-25

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IMPORTANCE:
Several years ago, I had a friend who asked me to help someone he knew buy a car. His friend was poor with a family of three small children and without a working vehicle. He had very little money himself, but gave me $2000 to use so that this man could have a truck. He did not want me to give his name or any hints about the identity of the donor. My friend acted sacrificially without fanfare or credit for doing the right thing.

MEANING:

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

This passage in Matthew, discusses Joseph’s role prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. Matthew’s main point in telling the story from Joseph’s perspective is to highlight the Davidic lineage of both Joseph and Jesus and to begin documenting Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. We learn here that Joseph is the legal father of Jesus, but not His biological father, therefore maintaining the royal line of David. Without apology or explanation the text confirms that the Holy Spirit conceived Mary’s baby, Jesus. Matthew validates this assertion by quoting Isaiah 7:14. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” and Matthew adds “which means, “God with us.””. In both Luke’s account and Matthew’s account Jesus is the product of both God and human; the unique God-man, fully God and fully human. This doctrine is important since only a human can take the penalty of another human’s rebellion and only God is infinitely sufficient to cover for all human sin. Without the incarnation, the cross would be ineffective for the forgiveness of sin.

Like Mary, Joseph’s character is displayed in this event. In verse 19 Joseph is called a “righteous man”. The Jewish reader would have understood this to be a title of reputation within the community. Joseph would have been known to be a strict follower of the Law. This event, however, shows that Joseph is more than just politically or religiously righteous.

Joseph had a few choices with respect to how he could handle what appeared to him to be adultery on Mary’s part. First, according to the Torah, a person caught in adultery could be stoned to death, but Roman law made that difficult. Or, he could divorce her publicly resulting in isolation from the rest of the community. Or, he could divorce her quietly in front of only two or three witnesses, to keep her from public disgrace. Had he chosen to publicly divorce her, he would have improved his image as a righteous man. That would have been the politically correct thing to do. Jesus would later condemn Pharisees for being righteous for all men to see, but not keep the heart of the Law. (See Matthew 23) Joseph decided on the compassionate righteous path, to divorce her quietly.

The visit by the angel changed everything. Mary did not commit adultery. So now divorce was not the right option. The right option was the option the angel of the Lord suggested, to take Mary as his wife. But that would be the politically suicidal thing to do. People would not understand; he would be seen as an adulterer and lose his status as a righteous man. By taking Mary as his wife, Joseph proved to be more than politically, religiously, or compassionately righteous; he was sacrificially righteous giving up his own reputation!

PIVOT:
I will admit to sometimes saying that I will pray for someone knowing that I probably won’t in order to appear “religious”. There are times in which I would prefer judgment when someone wrongs me rather than compassion. Yet God calls us to do what is relationally right even if it costs us everything.

John 15:13 (ESV) 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

ACTION:
It is not often that we are asked to do something that compromises our reputation for the sake of others. If that is your circumstance, consider doing the sacrificially right thing. If it is not your circumstance, then for the sake of practice, consider doing something sacrificial for someone without expectation and notoriety.

CHANGE:
When we decide to take the focus off what will benefit us for the sake of others, there is room for God to get the credit rather than us.
TRANSFORMATION:
The watching world has a difficult time understanding people acting, not only without self-interest, but against it. It is in these moments that God is glorified.

What Did Mary Know? – Luke 1:46-56

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IMPORTANCE
One of my favorite Christmas songs, other than the traditional Christmas hymns, is Mary Did You Know? Here are a few lines from that song:

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy
is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
was heaven’s perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
is the great “I AM”.

Have you ever wondered what did Mary know?

MEANING:

Luke 1:46-56 (NIV) 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 he has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Today’s passage is known as Mary’s song. Mary was responding in praise to God to Elizabeth’s calling her “the mother of my Lord”. In this passage she demonstrates an understanding of God’s covenant to Israel and her need for a Savior.

By looking through the Old Testament and her experiences before, during and directly after his birth we can see that Mary knew quite a bit.

• From the Scripture (Old Testament Law and the Prophets)
o The offspring of Abraham will bless all the nations (Gen 12:1-3; 22:16-18, Ps 72:17)
o A Righteous King from the line of David (Is 11:1-9, Jer 23:5-6.
o His kingdom will last forever (2 Sam 7:12-16)
o He will be from God (Isa 9:6-7) and from ancient times (Mic 5:2)
o He will bring healing to the land and the righteous (Isa 35:4-8)

• Before his birth
o Angel to Mary (Luke 1:30-33) Son of the Most High, give him the throne of David, his Kingdom will never end, Holy One, Son of God.
o Angel to Joseph (Mat 1:20, 23)He will save his people from their sins, “God with us”
o Elizabeth called Mary “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1: 43)
o She knew she needed a Savior and that God was her Savior and the generations would call her blessed (Luke 1: 47-48)

• After his birth, but before travelling to Egypt
o Angel to Shepherds (Luke 2:10-14) Christ the Lord, Savior, the favor of God
o Simeon (Luke 2:27-35) God’s Salvation, revelation to the Gentiles, Israel’s Glory, the cause of change in Israel, the revealer of hearts, piercer of Mary’s soul.
o Anna (Luke 2:38) Redeemer of Jerusalem
o Magi (Mat 2:2) King of the Jews,

It is clear that Mary had the information necessary to know who Jesus was and she pondered all that she knew in her heart. (Luke 2:19, 50) What Mary knew from angels and prophetic words, we know from His Word.

PIVOT: At Christmastime, we see Jesus as that little boy in a manger. We celebrate His birth, but sometimes fail to remember what we know about him.

This little boy
“….is Lord of all creation
….will one day rule the nations
….was heaven’s perfect lamb
….is the great “I AM”.

ACTION: Sometime before all the decorations go into storage for the Christmas season, take the time to “ponder in your heart” on not just the baby Jesus, but revisit the prophetic passages above to reacquaint yourself with what Mary knew.

CHANGE: As we get to know Jesus better, beyond just the stories and symbols of Christmas, we get to know about a God that loves us so much “that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)This knowledge will change our lives forever. Like Mary we will respond in praise and worship.

TRANSFORMATION: As we grow in our knowledge and faith in Christ, the world will see changed people who know they are loved by God and trust Him with their lives. Perhaps some will want to get to know Jesus for the first time.

Happy New Year! May God use it and you for His Glory!

Rick Pierce

Leaping for Joy – Luke 1:39-45

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IMPORTANCE:
I could not contain my excitement and joy for months after accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior. I could not get enough of reading the Bible, going to church and fellowshipping with the believers. I was on-fire! Years later, when I was a volunteer for our Junior High ministry, I shared with my youth pastor that I miss the unrestrained joy that I experienced when I first came to faith. My faith, I said, had matured into a quiet assurance. I will never forget his reaction. He said, “That may not be maturity of faith, but a lessening of faith.” Ouch! Why does the excitement of that first love fade? Can we get it back?

Luke 1:39-45 (NIV)39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

MEANING:
Why would Luke include in his Gospel account the story of how Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb when Mary arrived? This strange little event provided a second witness of the prophecies given by the angel Gabriel to both Mary and Zechariah about the nature of each child to be born. Mary was likely not visibly pregnant yet. This confirmed what she believed already. Elizabeth’s words, given by the Holy Spirit, confirmed not only the reality of the pregnancy, but the identity of child Mary would bear. In an odd way, Elizabeth’s unborn child fulfilled his destiny to his mother, father and Mary making them “prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17) being the first one to introduce Jesus as Lord to them also.

Elizabeth and her unborn child leaped for joy by the prompting of the Holy Spirit when meeting Jesus for the first time. Elizabeth considered it a privilege to be a witness to God’s work. In response to Elizabeth’s testimony, Mary worshipped (see Luke 1:46-56). Let’s not forget that we as believers in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and continually have access to His power by the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18-21 (NIV)18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

PIVOT:
Sometimes we Christians can take Christ’s presence in our lives for granted. We no longer get excited when we see him at work in our lives. Or consider it a privilege to be a witness. Do we still leap for joy when we meet with our Savior? Or do we forego meeting with Him much at all? Yet it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, when exercised, that will cause us to respond much like Elizabeth when we encounter God.

ACTION:
Every once in a while, it is good to remember what it was like when you first met Jesus or a time when the Holy Spirit’s influence and power were unmistakable in your life. Try to recapture that joy that filled your heart from the realization that God loves you so much that He gave His Son’s life as a ransom payment for yours.

CHANGE:
Imagine how your life would be different, if we all had the same joy we had first experienced meeting Christ and felt the Spirit alive in our lives. Imagine how that joy would change your perspective about yourself and others. Imagine how your worship and fellowship would be different.

TRANSFORMATION:
Most importantly, imagine how others would see Christ and what would be their response to Him. Would it be like Mary’s response to Elizabeth? Would it be worship?

Zechariah Retells John Baptist’s Birth (Video)

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On Thursday’s blog, I posted a script I wrote a few years ago of a first person narrative of John the Baptist’s father telling the story of John’s birth. Today I thought I would post it as a video presentation.

Please join me tomorrow’s devotional around Mary’s visit with Elizabeth.

Enjoy,

For His Glory

Rick Pierce

Mary’s Faith and Character (Luke 1:26-38)

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IMPORTANCE
Recently I was telling a pastor in Lodi, California that I had received my calling in 2002 (See blog #1 for that story), but I assumed this calling was for some time in the future because at that time my business was very successful, I had no leadership experience in the church and no formal Bible education. Five years later after serving as lay pastor to our church’s Prime Time group and serving as an Elder, our business began to tank along with the rest of the economy, so I began attending seminary graduating this August.

That pastor observed “So you’re the reason for the recession.” He was kidding, I think, but he had a point. I discovered at that moment that I can be more like Zachariah or Moses, who doubted the angel or the burning bush, than Mary, mother of Jesus, who replied with “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She believed that God would act immediately, miraculously and that nothing was impossible with God.

Luke 1:26-38 “26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

MEANING
Doctrinally, this passage is very important to our understanding of Jesus as the unique God/man and his mission. Gabriel, a messenger angel sent by God to Mary, explained to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, she would bear a son and He would be great, called the son of the Most High. The MacArthur Study Bible comments; “Since a son bears his father’s qualities, calling a person someone else’s “son” was a way of signifying equality. Here the angel was telling Mary that her Son would be equal to the Most High God.” He also said He would sit on the throne of David, reign over Jacob (the people of Israel) forever and His Kingdom would never end.

Practically, what stands out about Mary is her character. Unlike Zechariah’s response who wanted some sign as proof, Mary did not question whether God was going to do what the angel Gabriel said; she only questioned how, given that she was a virgin. Gabriel gave her a confirming sign anyway, Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Her willingness was also amazing given that she would assuredly know in her culture that an unwed mother would be either stoned or at least ridiculed as being a nut job for claiming that God is the boy’s father. She must have been convinced that Joseph would likely divorce her for being unfaithful. Yet she accepted the eventual hardships and believed that “nothing is impossible with God.”

PIVOT
I wonder how many blessings I have missed, because I needed to be sure or doubted that God could work a miracle. I wonder how many times I have had to make something possible, rather than acknowledge that nothing is impossible with God. And I wonder how many times I have not done something God wanted me to do because I feared the hardship (like serving as a missionary in Antarctica) or embarrassment (like sharing my testimony with my neighbors) it might cause me. Yet if we had a fraction of the character and faith of Mary, God may choose us to do great things for his Kingdom.

ACTION
Take the time to look around to see what God is doing in your context and ask God with an open heart, how he would want to use you. When he does put something on your heart, ask him for the faith and character to respond regardless of whether it seems possible or beneficial.

I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said. (38)

CHANGE
As we begin responding to God’s prompting in small ways, we become more open to the big things He may have for us. As he works through us, our faith and character strengthen.

TRANSFORMATION
When we live in this way in response to God’s direction, God is glorified when He does both the impossible and the possible through us.

Zechariah Recounts John’s Birth (Luke 1:5-25, 57-79)

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IMPORTANCE: Seven Christmas’ ago, I posed as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist in front of our Sunday school class.  Below is the script of that presentation telling the story of the birth of John the Baptist from his father’s point of view shortly after his birth. This is a tale about trusting God even when doing so seems impossible.

MEANING: “Shalom, welcome to our humble city.  Many of you have heard of my miracle healing on the day of my son’s circumcision.  But you have no idea the true miracle or the many miracles that is part of that miracle.  There are even greater miracles to come.

My wife, Elizabeth, and I have known the disgrace of not bearing a child.  We are well along in years and have concluded that maybe it was not to be. We often asked God what sin, what wrong have we done to deserve this judgment.  I now know it was not sin that led to her barrenness; it was God’s will to reveal his Glory.  I am not saying that Elizabeth and I are without our sin, but God knows our heart and did not hold it against us.

I am a descendant of Abijah who was chosen in Moses’ time by lot to lead the 8th course.  Abijah was a grandson of Aaron, brother of Moses and a Levite.  All this means is that my family has been serving as priests for over 1500 years.  There are 24 courses, or teams who serve the temple during the year.  Our course serves every religious holiday and twice a year for one week.  It was during one of these weeks that the miraculous working of God began.

I was chosen by lot (round stones) for a once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the Temple alone near the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Suddenly an Angel appeared to me, next to the Altar of Incense.  I was afraid. He told me that Elizabeth will have a son.  That he will turn hearts of children to their fathers and the disobedient to wisdom. (Mal 4:5-6) He would make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Mal 3:1)

I questioned this since Elizabeth and I are old. I doubted. (Never question an angel from God!).  Much like Sarah laughing when she heard she would give birth in her old age. He introduced himself as Gabriel.  Yes, the same Gabriel that visited Daniel twice over 600 years ago. He told me that because of my unbelief, I would be both deaf and dumb until these things were accomplished.

The crowds praying for me outside were amazed and thought I had seen a vision.  Try to keep something like that quiet, the rumors were great.

Elizabeth did become pregnant and she did not doubt that God was blessing her.  She waited 5 months in seclusion in case the pregnancy did not go well.  Elizabeth gave birth to a boy.

We waited to name the child until the eighth day, day of the circumcision as is the tradition.  The crowd wanted to name the baby Zechariah after me, as is tradition, but Elizabeth said “His name is John.”  They asked me by sign what I thought and I wrote “His name is John”, like the angel told me.

Suddenly after 10 months of being deaf and dumb I could speak again!  Then the Holy Spirit gave me a prophecy that God has raised up a Horn of Salvation that would deliver His people from the enemies, they would serve God without fear in righteousness and that salvation will come through the forgiveness of sins. So based on this prophecy I believe there are more miracles ahead for both my son and Mary’s son.

From these experiences, I have learned to keep praying and believe that God is listening. He is looking to bless you even when things seem impossible. Try not to doubt God’s work in your life, with him all things are possible, but if you doubt know that God loves you still and will forgive you.  He may chasten you for a while, but that is for your belief, not punishment. And always remember, God is the God of the past, present and future.  He will work all things together for the good of those who believe.  He has a plan for the Salvation of the World through His Son.  He has a plan for your personal salvation too.”

PIVOT:  It’s easy to trust God when the solution makes sense. It’s harder when it seems impossible. We often see the difficulties and obstacles in our life as punishment or at least problems that God can’t solve or won’t redeem because we deserve the worst. But don’t give up, often it is in the impossible that God seeks to bless you.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

ACTION: Consider the problems and obstacles in your life and take them before God. Ask Him for the faith to trust Him in these circumstances and not doubt.

CHANGE: The more we trust God with the situations in our lives, the more confidence we have that God is with us in our future. The greater our confidence in God, the more we will trust God with the impossible.

TRANSFORMATION: When we as God’s people move in confidence to do God’s work the world will be amazed at what is accomplished for His glory.

Just the Facts – Luke 1:1-4

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Snopes.com exists to dispel internet rumors, falsehoods and “urban legends”. Spend any time at all on Facebook or looking at email, you will discover rumors and pranks run wild. Many of these mistruths ask you to repost them on your page or send them to your friends. For example, one popular post warns users of Facebook that they give up their right to privacy unless they post a privacy notice forbidding use of personal information. The truth, according to Snopes, is that such a notice does no good, the terms and policies agreement you agree to when signing up for Facebook determines your rights. I have found Snopes as a reliable place to separate fact from fiction.

Lk 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us. Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us. It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

IMPORTANCE:
Dr. Luke, Paul’s disciple and fellow traveler, felt a need to research and document the truth about Jesus and his ministry by going to reliable sources. Today, the Bible is our reliable source for God’s truth.
MEANING
It appears that in the time of the writing of the Gospel of Luke, there were a plethora of stories and writings and rumors about Jesus. Luke was concerned about mistruths and “urban legends”. Wherever possible, Luke gathered his information from the eyewitnesses and trustworthy sources to bring the true story of Jesus to his reader, Theophilus. With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:20), Luke wrote one of four reliable accounts of Jesus for us to separate fact from fiction.
PIVOT
Even today, almost 2,000 years later, there are many rumors, falsehoods and ignorant beliefs regarding Jesus and his ministry despite having God’s testimony revealed in the Bible. Too many of us rely on what we hear on TV, radio or from the pulpit, or what we read on the internet without going to the Source, the Bible, for ourselves. Yes, all these sources can help us with understanding, including books and commentaries, but God has given us His Word to relate His truth to His people. The way to stay grounded is to get to know His truth yourself.
ACTION
We do not read our Bibles to gain favor with God, only trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior accomplishes that, but we read our Bibles to know the truth about God and his plan for our lives. So take some time each day to get to know God better by reading His Testimony and he will direct your steps by His truth (Psalm 119:105).
CHANGE
Paul promised that by an on-going renewing of our mind, that our lives will be changed and we will be able to know God’s will. One way to renew your mind is to read the truth of Jesus for yourself.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

TRANSFORMATION
As we develop a right understanding of God, we develop a right relationship with God and that produces a God-honoring relationship with the world around us. Others will seek out our counsel and give us influence as they trust our wisdom. This is how God uses his people to glorify him to a watching world.

The Family Nativity – Christmas Video Message

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Merry Christmas! Christmas is a time in our family when faith and family meet. Instead of the usual devotional, I thought I would share a personal story of faith and family that revolves around our family Nativity set.

Always remember that we are the reason God came as the child Jesus to reveal God, went to the cross to save us from our sins, rose on the third day to give us ever lasting life, sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us and will return one day to establish his eternal Kingdom. This is the true reason for the season: to worship the God who loves us that much.
For His glory

Rick Pierce

The Family Tree – Mat 1:2-17, Luke 3:23-38

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IMPORTANCE

Our youngest daughter Caryn was originally a foster child, but chose to adopt us as her parents, to join our family tree, when she was 14 years old. As Christians, we are adopted by the Father into Jesus’ family tree.

MEANING

I am not one of those people who have spent any time researching my own family history on Ansestor.com. So when I am reading my Bible, I will often just skip over the genealogies. Who cares about who is the father of whom anyway? So I was tempted to skip them in this Harmony of the Gospels as well.

However, both Matthew (1:2-17) and Luke (3:23-38) include them for their own reasons. Matthew was writing to the Jewish audience and focused on the royal lineage of Jesus’ adopted father, Joseph. His point for writing was to establish Jesus as the foretold Son of David who would establish His kingdom forever. However, Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’s lineage all the way to Adam, the first man, because his message emphasizes the humanity of Christ qualifying Him to be humanity’s Savior. The difference between the two genealogies suggests that Matthew follows Joseph’s heritage, whereas Luke’s follows Mary’s.  (Many conservative scholars suggests based on the unusual structure of Luke 3:23 that Heli was likely the father-in-law of Joseph and thus the genealogy follows the line of Mary, the human contribution to the unique God-man Jesus Christ.)

Consider that all of us who have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father through Christ can also claim these names in our own family tree. Each name represents real people who unknown to them at the time became an integral part of God’s story of redemption. If we could look up the heavenly “Ancestor.com” we would find our names in the lineage of many spiritual mothers and fathers leading directly to the Apostles (John 17:20) and Jesus. Yet in unknown ways to us, God is using our story, our lives for His redemptive work.

PIVOT
Sometimes we live as if our faith is personal and has no effect on the lives of others, that we are a small insignificant piece in God’s kingdom. We may even think that the family tree will stop with us. Yet God wants to use us in His story of redemption and to include us and our spiritual children in His genealogy. We may never know, short of Heaven, all who is included as our progeny.

ACTION
Living faithfully and being open with our faith will add to the family, trusting God to make Himself known through us, sometimes by words, but also by our deeds. Never-the-less we should love every Christian as if they are a relative, because they are!

CHANGE
It is the knowledge and confidence that God has included us in His story that helps us to remember we are a part of God’s extended family and a representative of our Father’s household.

TRANSFORMATION
As we live out the family resemblance of our Brother and Father, the world will see a genuine, familial love that may draw them to ask to be adopted into the family tree.

Savior and Lord – Matthew 1:1

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The course of my life changed, but not immediately, when my parents surprised me for my high school graduation with a trip across the country to visit my Nana in Sacramento California. My uncle Dave, a youth pastor living an hour away in nearby Chico, invited me to attend his youth group where we watched Eric Estrada in “The Cross and the Switchblade”. That evening I responded to the Gospel message and understood for the first-time that Jesus paid the price for my sin. But shortly after, I returned home, joined the Air Force and continued to live without regard to God and that decision. However, after 4 years of doing life my way, and making a mess of it; I remembered that evening, attended my grandmother’s church, and told the pastor that I am ready to commit myself to live for Christ. For me, in my journey with Jesus, my conversion had two distinct parts: I received Christ as Savior first, but trusted Him as Lord later.

IMPORTANCE
Matthew’s main audience in writing this history of Jesus was to the first century Jew; his objective was to convince them that Jesus was the promised Messiah (or Christ) sent by God who would establish His kingdom forever and take away the sins of the world. The first sentence sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Mt 1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

MEANING
If you were a first century Jew reading this book for the first time, you would immediately become intrigued at the mention of the term Christ, meaning messiah or anointed one and the connection of the Abrahamic and Davidic promises. Matthew connects the two prophecies in verse one: God’s promise to Abraham that the nations will be blessed by a future Messiah (Gen 22:18) and that He will establish the throne of David forever. (Jer 23:5) The genealogy (Mat 1:2-17) demonstrates His pedigree to that claim as a descendant of Abraham and in the royal line of David. Matthew will later claim that Jesus was also a direct descendant of God Himself, conceived of the Holy Spirit and he brought salvation by forgiving the sins of the people (Mat 1:20). Jesus is both Lord and Savior. Throughout the Gospel story Matthew recounts his own witness that Jesus is the promised King who blesses the world forever!

PIVOT
The world continues to doubt the pedigree of Jesus. They say “He was a good man. He was a good teacher.” But they refuse to say that He is the promised One of God that blesses the nations and has established his Kingdom forever. Could it be because those of us who call ourselves Christians have accepted the gift of salvation, but do not always live as though he is Lord of our lives? Often, our lives look no different than those who are not believers. As subjects to the King and in response to His grace, we are to represent him to the world by “picking up our crosses and following him” (Mat 16:24). It is not our obedience that is compelling, but our resemblance to Jesus and our witness to his work in our lives that draws people to Christ.

ACTION
To become like the king, we should get to know him so intimately and trust him completely that we begin to behave in some way as he would.

CHANGE
As we pursue Christ as our Lord and Savior, He changes us to into his likeness.

TRANSFORMATION
Then our witness will validate our claim that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and the world will notice.

Incarnational Living – John 1:1-18

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IMPORTANCE
Several years ago, Bill’s wife (not his real name) paid for her unbelieving, but open, husband to attend a men’s retreat. The first night the speaker organized us into groups of six, Bill was in my group. Our first discussion question was “How has God blessed you in the past year?” Each man shared situations like a death of a parent, financial crisis, loss of a job and other circumstances where God brought peace and met the needs of each man. When it became Bill’s turn, he asked “Why would anyone believe in Jesus Christ if bad things are going to happen?”. As the weekend progressed, Bill was able to observe the truth of Christ within each man and by the end understood that God does not cause bad things to happen, but works blessings and brings life in the midst of dark times. Bill accepted Christ that retreat because he saw Christ in those men.
MEANING
The best place to begin our Journey with Jesus is the beginning and that is where the Gospel of John (1:1-18) starts.

John 1:1-18 (NIV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
      3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
      6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
      10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
      14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
      15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

This is such a rich theological passage of Scripture (Jesus existed eternally with God, Jesus is God, Jesus was involved in creation, God became the unique God-man who lived among us, Jesus is the Glory of God, Jesus came from the Father, Jesus is the One and Only, Jesus is our source of many blessings, Jesus currently sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is the light in a dark world, Jesus gives believers in his name the right to become children of God) that sometimes we miss it’s key idea: God subjected himself to humiliation and rejection by living as a human in the midst of a dark, deceived world in order to bring grace, life and truth to those who would believe in His Name.
PIVOT:
Religious people often feel out of place among people who do not believe as they do. We will sometimes insulate ourselves into our Christian cocoon keeping us safe and unblemished from the filthy world around us. Even our local Christian radio station boasts that the music is “safe for all ages”. But God did not stay where it was “safe” and “pure”, but became a light in the dark world by living among us. If we are truly following Christ, shouldn’t we risk being humiliated and rejected in order to bring grace, life and truth to a dark and deceived world? Incarnational living is being willing to engage the world so that it will see Christ in us, through us. They will see how Christ brings blessings and grace in the midst of difficulties and be open to His gift to become a child of God.
ACTION
Today I encourage you to think about someone you know who is basking in darkness and consider how you might engage them in such a way that they will see the light of Christ in your life. Or maybe God is placing the plight of the homeless, incarcerated, elderly, foster child, the grieving or others on your heart; is there something you could do to reveal Christ by dwelling among them? Or perhaps you realize that you are too comfortable in your Christian cocoon, how about asking God to show you how to be incarnational to your neighbor, coworker, friend, or family member; my bet is that he will.
CHANGE
As we open up ourselves to living as a light in a dark world bringing grace, truth and life to those who need God, God will likely open our eyes to the deep need. The more we engage, the less important safety becomes, the more the people around us will see Christ in us.
TRANSFORMATION
Imagine how the world would respond to the love of Christ, if they could see us living out our faith in front of them, loving them as Christ does. Matthew 5:16 tells us: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Why I Write and Why You Should Read This Blog Regularly

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IMPORTANCE (These headings will make more sense later)

About 10 years ago, I was driving to my umpteenth men’s retreat alone when God spoke to my heart with a specific call. I am not one who hears the voice of God in a mystical way normally, but this moment was not normal. I knew God was going to lead me on a new path with these words. “You will help as many people as you can get to know Jesus Christ and help as many people as you can get to know Him better.” In the intervening years, God has moved me into leadership at my church and I have attended Western Seminary earning my Masters of Divinity graduating this past August.

Now while waiting for God’s next move, do I sit still hoping for the right pastoral position? Or do I begin to fulfill His call? I have chosen not to blog about my life or about my view on the culture or politics, but to take the reader, who chooses to travel with me, on a Journey with Jesus. This blog’s main purpose is to “help as many people as I can get to know Jesus Christ and get to know Him better”. So it matters not whether you are learning about Christ for the first time or have walked with Him for decades, my prayer and earnest effort will be to speak to both with relevance.

MEANING

This blog will follow the steps of the recorded life of Jesus as presented in a harmony of the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A harmony is a weaving together of the Gospel record in an attempt to create a likely, more or less, chronological presentation of the life of Jesus.

2 Tim 3:15-16 (NIV) 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The outcomes and format of most of the articles posted are gleaned from 2 Tim 3:15-17 (above). According to this passage, Paul states that the scriptures have two important outcomes: “to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and “that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These are the outcomes this blog will seek to continually pursue. A common misunderstanding in some teaching is the confusion between salvation and works. This 2 Timothy passage separates the two outcomes and so should we. Grace is grace meaning unmerited favor; one cannot earn salvation except for receiving grace as a free gift by believing in the name and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith in Christ and its subsequent good works does not make us more saved; only saved once and for all. The good works we are being equipped to do are used by God to accomplish his purposes of blessing His people (including you), blessing others and revealing His glory to the world. These verses also give insight how this can be done by teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. You will become familiar with my six-step application using the acronym IMPACT.

  • Importance: How is the passage able to make us wise for salvation or thoroughly equipped for every good work?
  • Meaning: What is the point of the passage and how does this apply to us today?
  • Pivot: How are we living or believing contrary to God’s Word AND what would right living or believing look like?
  • Action: What habits can we develop that will result in right living or right believing.
  • Change: What internal changes will be the result of seeking to follow God is this way?
  • Transformation: How would our world be different because of the work God is doing in us through His Word?

PIVOT

It is common for teachers, pastors and bloggers to focus on one or some of these points, but few attempt to take the learner through them all. Some will only teach without giving us practical applications; others will focus on the personal benefits of a changed life without giving the reader a vision of how the world could be different if we allow God to do a work in and through us. Without covering all six points we run the danger of confusing salvation and works. My hope and attempt will be to hit all six points leaving us ready to let the Scripture live through us to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

ACTION

I envision you using this blog as a daily or at least regular devotional reading. Therefore I intend to post it often so that you will have a reliable 5-7 minute reading tracking the life of Jesus. I hope to focus on only one action per day and encourage you to add that habit in your day.

CHANGE

I am convinced that this approach will result in a deeper relationship with our God and a more abundant life. You will gain the wisdom necessary for salvation and the wisdom to share salvation with others. And you will begin to see your actions conforming to Christ’s image as you become better acquainted with his life and teaching.

TRANSFORMATION

The world around you will look at what God is doing in your life, see Christ in you and, God willing, will believe that the Father sent Jesus and the Father loves them (John 17:23).

I invite you to join me in this exciting Journey with Jesus. Stayed tuned.

For His glory,

Rick Pierce, MDiv

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