Monday, January 31, 2011

Temptation of Christ: Third Temptation

Third temptation:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory in a moment of time, and he said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. All these I will give you, if you, then, will fall down and worship me, it will all be yours." [Blended Gospels]
This last temptation had to do with compromise, avoiding the heavy cost of the cross in order to achieve God's stated aim. Jesus was at the worst part of His suffering, physically and emotionally. As awful as it was, He knew that He was going to have to suffer far, far worse, beatings and the cross, before those kingdoms would be won.

The devil was saying hey, Jesus! We could end this right now. We could end all this awful suffering you’re going through, we could just skip the cross. Think about that for a minute. Just one little shortcut, one little compromise, and look how much could be gained, a win-win for everyone.

Jesus knew that above all things God is pure and His ways are pure. Jesus refused to use anything that lacked integrity, that was not righteous. He refused to compromise His integrity and principles, even if it meant intense suffering.
Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" [Blended Gospels]
The devil hadn’t said a word about service. But Jesus knew that who you worship is who you will also serve.

* It’s compromising with God’s integrity when you buy into a way of thinking that isn’t all completely true, but most of it is really good, so you go with it because you feel you could use it to get people interested in the Bible.

* It’s compromising with God’s purity when you tell yourself you’re going to have to sin a little bit to get involved with a group of people and be accepted by them, but you’re doing it for the Lord so you can bring them the gospel.

You say let’s not have such high standards, let’s relax a little with all this doctrine and righteous living. People would be a lot more interested in Christianity if it didn’t seem so narrow. No,
God’s work must be done God’s way.
To do something for God without keeping absolute integrity would be to lose everything.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Temptation of Christ: Second Temptation

Second temptation:
Then the devil took him to the holy city Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here..." [Blended Gospels]
The temple was on top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Most people think the devil took Jesus to the top of the temple's main tower, overlooking the temple court with an 180 foot drop, where every morning a priest would blow the trumpet to greet the dawn.

What made this even a temptation is found in Malachi 3:1: “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” Many people expected something very like what Satan was suggesting.

If Jesus would just do this, all the Jews would see the Messiah coming in a miraculous way, lifted up by the angels, and they would all believe in Jesus.

Jesus longed for His people to accept the gospel, and to accept Him as their Savior, but He knew their hearts were hard, and that they would reject Him. Look, the devil was saying, you can jump start your ministry with this. You obviously intend to live by the scriptures. But you could fulfill scripture with this! Satan even quoted scripture to really nail it:
"...for it is written,'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" [Blended Gospels]
Jesus did not deny what Satan said, but instead pointed out that what Satan proposed was to test God’s goodness by stepping out of His will, to test God’s willingness to protect Him when He was choosing to be out of God’s design and purpose.
Jesus answered him [and] said to him, "Again it is written, it is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" [Blended Gospels]
The second temptation dealt with presumption – Jesus knew God loved Him and was pleased with Him. Satan quoted scripture to suggest Jesus could do what He wanted and God would end up having to make it work out somehow.

* When you let yourself run late, then drive too fast, you presume on God’s grace to keep you safe and out of trouble.

* When you scrimp on sleep, good nutrition and exercise, then expect God to keep you healthy, strong and sweet tempered, you presume on His grace.

* When you do your own thing with the talents and equipping God has given you and expect Him to bless it, you presume on His grace.

Whenever you and I put ourselves into circumstances that effectively force God to work a miracle to bail us out, we are testing God. That’s sin.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Temptation of Christ: First Temptation

First temptation:
... after fasting forty days and forty nights, [Jesus] was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." [Blended Gospels]
Satan cast doubt on Jesus’ identity. Are you really the Son of God? Then why are you on the brink of starvation in a world that is supposedly under your rule? And does your Father really love you and is He really pleased with you? He’s obviously not providing for your needs, is He?

Since God has abandoned you, and doesn’t seem to care, don’t you think you should at least do what it takes to survive? It wouldn’t help your ministry to die of hunger, what a waste! What’s it to God if you create for yourself a little bread

Jesus had set aside His glory to become a man. He had taken on all of the limitations of being a human being. He humbled Himself completely before God, trusting God with His every need, just the way you and I are called to do now.

If Jesus had used His power to feed Himself, He would have taken Himself out of God’s provision for Him. He would have taken His glory back, and elevated Himself to become His own provider.

Again Jesus was identifying Himself with His people. God had tested the humility of the Hebrews for forty years in the wilderness when He provided the manna, bread that miraculously appeared every day among the rocks of the desert. Would they humbly receive His provision, or would they get bored and complain?

In this first temptation Jesus’ humility was tested. Would He accept God’s provision of hunger or would He act on the devil’s suggestion to use His creative power, the power of God’s word, to speak the stones into bread so He could eat.
But [Jesus] answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Physical life isn’t everything. Eternal life is everything, and that is the life that is worth preserving.

God’s word is God’s revealed purpose. God’s word went out in Genesis to create the world according to His purposes. The creative word must be connected with God’s will and design.

Think of your talents, your education and experience. God has given you innate abilities plus spiritual gifts to build up and bless people with. But there is a temptation to cash in on our gifts, isn’t there? To use our talents for our own benefit first. Jesus refused to bend God’s creative power to His own benefit.

Think of your hungers: food, sex, love, money, having a good job – you know when it is not God’s will to take that thing, but you convince yourself that you must take it because you need it and you see no relief in sight. Taking what God does not have in mind for you is sin. It will weaken your life of faith, quench the Spirit’s work in your life, and will weaken your ability to help other people.

* Do you feel like the pressure has gotten intolerable?
* Is your need so intense you feel you can’t last another hour, let alone another day?
* Do you feel you absolutely have to get out of the situation you’re in?

Take heart. The good news is you can bear it. Jesus never doubted God’s word to Him that He was God’s beloved Son. He humbly trusted God for His sustenance and refused to accept bread from any hand by His Father’s, even when He was close to starvation.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Temptation of Christ: Deliverance From Sin

When God offers salvation, He is offering us deliverance from sin in three ways.

1) The first way is a one time act of being saved from the penalty of sin. Sin will always earn death. By believing in Jesus and having His righteousness settle our accounts with God, we are now forgiven sinners, the penalty of death is now paid for, for all time.

2) The second way God delivers us from sin has a future tense, when we will finally be made entirely clean from the presence of sin. God says that we will one day see Jesus as He is because we will be just like Him, glorified, purified from all sin.

3) The third way God delivers us from sin is in the present tense, from the power of sin. This is accomplished in every believer's life the same way it was accomplished in Jesus' life:
Through belief in God's word, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit working together with your obedience to God.
You now have the freedom, the power, to choose not to sin. Before you and I were saved, we were slaves to sin, but now we can make a choice not to sin, it is not our master any more.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Temptation of Christ: Resisting Sin

The gospels were presenting another credential, another proof that Jesus is Messiah.

When you test something, it has to be a real test, otherwise it doesn’t prove anything. When a bridge is built, certain guarantees go with the bridge:
* It is guaranteed not to fall apart.
* It is guaranteed to hold up a certain amount of tonnage over a certain period of time.
* It is guaranteed to withstand all kinds of weather and other stressors.

All those guarantees are backed up by test after test. Every test is documented, proving the guarantees are genuine. No test, no guarantee.

The temptations God allowed Satan to test Jesus with were real, they tested Jesus to the limit of His emotions and intellect, to the limit of His physical, emotional and intellectual strength. The test was going to reveal whether Jesus, being a man, was also a sinner.

"Sin" is a Greek word, referring to an archer missing the mark with his arrow. Anything less than a bull's eye is sin. The "mark," in Biblical terms, is God's glory, and God's law. God's glory is the Spirit of His law, the beauty of His holiness. God's law expresses His righteousness and is the ultimate standard for inner and outer lives. Every human misses achieving this standard, this "mark;" every person sins. But Jesus never did. How?

Jesus was delivered from sinning by the same means you and I have access to today. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, just as believers are today, and He had studied God's word in the same way you and I are studying God’s word here today.

He memorized scripture exactly the way any other ordinary person sets about memorizing something -- He did the plain hard work of getting God's word into His mind for the Spirit to recall when He needed it.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Temptation of Christ: Jesus is Tested

When Jesus was baptized by John, He was also anointed and filled by the Holy Spirit and He received His Father’s public affirmation as God’s beloved Son, pleasing to God.

In combining the three gospel accounts of what happens next, we find out that immediately after His baptism, full of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit literally impelled Jesus to go into the wilderness alone to fast and pray, and to be tested.

In scripture, fasting often preceded a great spiritual struggle. Elijah and Moses are both described in the Old Testament as fasting for 40 days and nights. As Jesus’ life paralleled the life of His people, all Israel was led by God into the wilderness to be tested for forty years before they entered the promised land.

The principle of fasting is simple. When you temporarily stop eating, many of the systems in your body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives your body the chance to heal and restore itself, and burning stored calories gets rid of toxic substances stored in your body, which is symbolic of what happens to us spiritually. Biblical fasting always centers on spiritual purposes. We cover up what is inside our hearts with the pleasure of eating and other good experiences, but in fasting these things come to the surface.

There are side effects to fasting:
* fatigue,
* aches and pains,
* emotional duress,
* headaches,
* nausea,
* the symptoms of colds and flu,
which are all caused by the temporarily increased levels of toxins in your body which have also been inadvertently stored along with energy.

Jesus was likely experiencing all these side affects as He fasted and prayed. Jesus was slowly starving. At the end of the forty days, He was right on the brink of death by starvation.

During the entire time of His fasting and praying, Jesus endured relentless temptations from the devil.

How did He keep from sinning? The easy answer is to say, “Well, He’s God. The Bible says God can’t be tempted, so it was a slam dunk.”

But that’s not the answer.

The Greek word “peirazein,” which is translated “tempt” in English, has very different element in it’s meaning than to try to entice or persuade someone to do wrong. It means “test” far more than it means what you and I understand as “tempt.”

[Tomorrow: How Jesus withstood the test, when He was the absolute weakest, physically and emotionally, that a human being could be]

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


“We believe we have all the free will in the world. We believe we overeat if the food is good or if we're really hungry. In reality, those are two of the last things that determine how much we eat." So says a research scientist at a leading university.

In one experiment, he placed candy jars of chocolate in office workers' cubicles for a month. Then, he moved the candy six feet away. Simply having the candy closer meant the office workers ate five more candies a day. That adds up to 12 pounds of candy a year.

Jesus always obeyed, but He had to learn obedience, just like you and me, because He was a real person.

Think about how hard it is to resist temptation when you face it for the umpteenth time. Sometimes it’s easy to resist the first six or seven times. But what about the sixtieth time? It gets harder and harder not to indulge your own impulses, doesn’t it?

The research scientist concluded, “We can say no 27 times, but if it's visible, the 28th or 29th time, we start saying, 'Maybe.' By time 30, 31, we start saying, 'What the heck? I'm hungry.' "

Resisting temptation is painful, it’s suffering.

Temptation is desperately wanting something that God does not want you to have.

Jesus knew what it was to desperately want something the Father did not have in mind for Him. But He never sinned in taking it.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Blended Gospels, The Temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."

But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Then the devil took him to the holy city Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him [and] said to him, "Again it is written, it is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory in a moment of time, and he said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. All these I will give you, if you, then, will fall down and worship me, it will all be yours."

Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. The devil left him and behold, the angels came and were ministering to him.
[ESV translation, Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13]

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jesus' Baptism: Anointing with the Holy Spirit

When you put your faith in the Lord Jesus you receive His baptism: You are also anointed with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is God’s breath of life, giving you life forever. He is God’s vast power, the kind that raises the dead to life. You receive that same resurrection power, all the power you need to live a holy life.

As the Holy Spirit floods your life with His power, and you cooperate with what God is doing in your life, you begin to see changes in your thinking, your emotions and the way you live. You find that you grow in wisdom and character. You are able to handle whatever comes your way, because you have Jesus.

* The Spirit is connected with God’s work of creation, changing chaos into an ordered and beautiful world, just as you are recreated into the beautiful likeness of Christ.

* The Holy Spirit brings God’s truth, and He gives you the ability to speak God’s truth and to recognize and understand God’s truth. That’s why the apostle John said
Christ has blessed you with the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit stays in you, and you don't need any teachers. The Spirit is truthful and teaches you everything. So stay one in your heart with Christ, just as the Spirit has taught you to do. [1 John 2:27]

As you study God’s word, begin with just the Bible and the Holy Spirit, asking Him to reveal to you what God is saying. This is how God’s word becomes intensely alive and interesting and effective in your life.

Then gather with other believers and discuss the passage you are studying, to test your insights with what they have learned.
Every word we speak was taught to us by God's Spirit, not by human wisdom. And this same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people. [1 Corinthians 2:13]

Finally, listen to the teaching of one who is a proven teacher, one who has been given the gift of teaching by the Spirit (such as those listed as references in this blog).
Christ chose some of us to be ... teachers [Ephesians 4:11]
Power comes only by The Holy Spirit

The Bible shows the parallel of being under the influence of alcohol, with being under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit. Alcohol is a strong influence, it alters the way you think, the way you feel and the way you act. Everybody else knows when you’re under the influence of alcohol! The apostle Paul said “Don't get drunk on wine, be filled with the Spirit”.

When you are born again then you have the Holy Spirit. Is He flooding your life with His power? If He isn’t, then you need to face the possibility that you have been quenching His work in your life in some way.

It was easy to recognize that John the Baptist was a genuine prophet: he looked like one, he sounded like one, he was powerful like one. But Jesus seemed ordinary, not like what the people thought a Messiah should be like. Jesus had grown up like any other boy, praying, learning and growing on God’s word as every other boy did in school. He became a man, took care of His family, worked as a carpenter, experienced all of life’s ups and downs, learned through suffering.

Yet everything about Jesus was pleasing to God. God approved all that Jesus had done up to that point, the quiet years of living life as an ordinary person in Nazareth. He had grown in God’s wisdom and God’s grace which had kept Him free from sin.

This is My Son,” God said, a phrase that comes from Psalm 2, which every Jew understood to be a description of Messiah.

With Whom I AM well-pleased” a phrase that comes from a passage in Isaiah describing the Messiah as the suffering servant.

The gospels give three more credentials to Jesus as the Christ Through John the Baptist:
1) John the Baptist announced Jesus as the Messiah
2) The Holy Spirit visibly anointed Jesus as Messiah
3) God the Father confirmed that Jesus was indeed His Chosen One, and that what lay in front of Him was the way of the cross.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Put Your Faith In God's "Own Dear Son"

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, in fulfillment of all that God wanted them to do, the heavens opened up and God the Holy Spirit descended to rest upon God the Son. At that moment God the Father spoke,
"This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him."
In His baptism the Lord Jesus prefigured His death and resurrection, getting to the very heart of what Christianity is all about.

As God teaches in His word,
Don't you know that all who share in Christ Jesus by being baptized also share in his death? When we were baptized, we died and were buried with Christ. We were baptized, so that we would live a new life, as Christ was raised to life by the glory of God the Father.

If we shared in Jesus' death by being baptized, we will be raised to life with him. We know that the persons we used to be were nailed to the cross with Jesus. This was done, so that our sinful bodies would no longer be the slaves of sin. We know that sin doesn't have power over dead people.

As surely as we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him. We know that death no longer has any power over Christ. He died and was raised to life, never again to die. When Christ died, he died for sin once and for all. But now he is alive, and he lives only for God. In the same way, you must think of yourselves as dead to the power of sin. But Christ Jesus has given life to you, and you live for God.
[Romans 6:3-11, Contemporary English Version]

The Lord Jesus identified with you as a sinner, now you identify with Him.
When you come to Jesus in faith and receive Him as your Savior and Lord into your life, then you also take on a new identity, as a saved person, a saved sinner, someone who has been made new. You die to your old life, your spiritually dead existence. And you are raised up to a new life filled with God’s Holy Spirit. you are born again.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

John the Baptist’s Witness: “Jesus is Christ”

John was by no means a timid man. He was confident in his calling, confident in his message, confident in his methods. But when Jesus came up to be baptized, John suddenly got weak knees:
John kept objecting and said, "I ought to be baptized by you. Why have you come to me?"
Jesus replied
"For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do."
There are several reasons why Jesus humbled Himself in the Jordan. By having John baptize Him, Jesus:

1) Gave approval to John’s preaching and work.

2) Fulfilled all righteousness.
"...we must do all that God wants us to do."
If Jesus was going to bring righteousness to sinners, then He needed to be identified with sinners. Isaiah had prophesied that Messiah would be numbered among the transgressors. Sin was going to be on Jesus. In baptism Jesus identified Himself completely with sinful humankind, even though He Himself had no sin to repent of.

3) Prophesied the cross and His resurrection. Baptism symbolizes death. Whereas in one sense, as John baptized people, he was symbolically cleaning them from all their sin, he was also in a sense symbolically lowering them down into their grave, showing them how they were dying to their old life of sin; and he was raising them up again to a brand new life as a cleansed person, reborn to an eternal life of purity with God. Jesus added reality to this symbolism since He would literally die and literally rise up from the dead, leading the way for everyone else who believes in Him to also literally rise up from the dead on the last day.

4) Was set apart as the ultimate high priest; this was His anointing. soon as he came out of the water, the sky opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove.
Every time before, priests, kings and prophets had been anointed with oil, to represent the Holy Spirit. But Jesus was anointed with the Spirit Himself.

5) Jesus’ life paralleled the history of God’s people. Just as the Hebrews had passed first through the waters of the Red Sea, and into the desert for forty years’ of testing, so now Jesus would pass through the Jordan’s waters and into the desert for forty days’ of testing

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blended Gospels, Jesus' Baptism

In those days, then, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and came up out of the water, and behold, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him in bodily form, like a dove, coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice came from heaven and said, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age

[ESV translation, Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-23a]

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

John the Baptist: Baptism

John’s baptism acted as an introduction to the One Who was to come, a preparation, making the road straight for Messiah.
I baptize you with water so that you will give up your sins. But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out.
Jesus’ baptism was with more than water, He gave the Holy Spirit. But Jesus’ baptism was also with fire. Fire symbolizes judgement: Jesus will bring judgement when He comes again.

So there are really three baptisms here.
(1) John the Baptist had a symbolic water baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ.

(2) Jesus’ baptism was the Holy Spirit. All through their history the Jews had looked for the time when God’s Holy Spirit would come. First God protected them by His Spirit from Pharaoh’s army, then He led them by His Spirit , a pillar of fire and smoke, through the Red Sea, and through the desert. God’s Spirit came to dwell among them, in the middle of their encampment, first in the tabernacle, and then in the temple.

The prophet Ezekiel said that one day God would give His people new hearts and a new spirit, saying “‘I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and be careful to observe My ordinances...I will put My Spirit within you and you shall live...And I will not hide My face anymore from them when I pour out My Spirit upon the house of Israel,’ says the Lord...”

The prophet Isaiah spoke for God saying, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessings on your offspring.”

At Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, the prophet Joel’s prediction was fulfilled, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh,” the Holy Spirit entered into the bodies of each of the 120 believing men and women waiting together in an upper room, as Jesus had asked them to.

This is the Christian baptism of today, a one-time experience which happens to every person who is born again, who has received Christ as their savior. This baptism is not dependant on water. It happens when you believe the gospel and put your faith in Jesus.

(3) The third baptism is a baptism with fire which seems to be more related to the second coming of Christ, a time that is still future to us today. It will be then that the wheat and chaff will be separated and the chaff will be burned up.

What about the tongues of fire at Pentecost? God’s purity is the warmth of love and life to those who are filled with His Spirit, they are protected in Him.

To those who believe, God’s fire is illumination, it is the warmth that brings life, it is the process of purification that gets rid of the dross and leaves only the pure gold.

But God’s purity is the destruction of fire to all those who reject His offer of forgiveness and who insist on remaining in their sins, apart from Him.
God gives His Spirit to those who repent and believe in Jesus
What does my life reveal about the sincerity of my repentance? John said “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?”

The truth is, the Pharisees and Sadducees knew scripture the best, they had unlimited access to God’s word and studied it daily. They were supposed to have the whole of God’s word memorized. They could have quoted every one of the prophets God ever raised up.

Every prophet had warned God’s people to repent, because God’s wrath would come, the refiner’s fire that burns up all that is unholy. They taught God’s word, and they were quick to condemn anybody who didn’t keep all their rules about God’s law. But in their hearts they saw themselves as totally righteous with no need to change.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

John the Baptist: The Prophecy of John the Baptist

[Blended Gospels, ESV, Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:15-18]
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. And John answered them all, saying “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. 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 preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I. I baptize you with water for repentance, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

John the Baptist: Genuine Repentance

True repentance involves three important steps:
1) Conviction: This is the change of mind. You become convinced, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of your sinfulness and also of specific sins: that what you have done – or not done – constitutes sin, it was wrong and you now hate it the way God hates it.

The Bible says that sometimes a person will quench the Holy Spirit's work, so that you can become calloused in a particular area of you life, so that you are no longer sensitive to the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin.

Rationalization: You end up rationalizing: explaining why the sin was not sin, or why the sin was defensible, or why the sin is really not as bad as it seems. Think about it. Where might you be doing this with some sin in your life?

John the Baptist only baptized people who confessed their sins in good faith.

This is the confession of sin with no attempt to excuse it or justify it.
* Confess your sin specifically. You can't turn away from a generalization.
* Tell God exactly what you have been convicted about. Let your heart is broken over it. It’s okay, you don’t need to keep up a good front with God. His heart is already broken over you.

2) Contrition: This is the change of heart. As your heart becomes broken over your sin, you experience a deep sorrow and grief that you have offended God and broken fellowship with Him. You discover a deep desire to turn away from sin and turn towards Christ, and a willingness to make restitution whenever possible

Sometimes the work of the Spirit is quenched at this point:

Remorse: You get stuck in that awful feeling of knowing that you are sinning, or that you have sinned. You are disgusted and discouraged with yourself, but there is no decision to change. The Bible says this is not a godly response to conviction and it will lead to despair.

Regret: You are sorry about the consequences of your sin, but there is no decision to change. This will harden you to the process of conviction, as you grow accustomed to the consequences, or tell yourself that "Well, I’m just that way."

John's baptism was meant to reflect a deep heart change, a washing away of the now hated sin.

3) Conversion: Your will becomes engaged, you resolve so deeply not to sin in this way again that you actually get up and change what's wrong, then move on without looking back. In other words, you turn around, all the way, your feet, as well as your head, are pointed away from the sin and pointed towards the Lord Jesus Christ, His way in the Bible.

The Holy Spirit's work can even be quenched here,

In the passion of the moment, you might turn around. Your head’s around, your heart’s around....but your feet stay pointed towards the sin. Your heart becomes calloused when you don't follow through with your good intentions. You have good feelings from the good intentions, and maybe from some half-hearted attempts at change, but you don’t end up paying any of the cost of real change .

That’s what John the Baptist saw in the Pharisees and the Sadducees when he said "bear fruit" or get axed. He refused to baptize those whose lives did not reflect genuine change.

Genuine change happens when you let the Holy Spirit alter your mind and your feelings and your behavior.

Go all out.
*Commit to replacing whatever it is you confessed with whatever it is that God has for you.

*Replace the unhealthy food with healthy food that builds up the body God has given you.

*Replace the impure reading material with pure reading material that transforms your mind to right thinking.

*Replace the coarse programs with uplifting programs that fill your heart with good principles for living and so on.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

John the Baptist: Sanhedrin Satisfied

After making sure John the Baptist didn’t have any illusions of self- importance, the Sanhedrin delegation considered their job done. They didn’t really want to know who the Messiah was.

John knew who he was and who he wasn’t.

He wasn’t somebody important with a reputation and a power base to protect. He was God’s servant, called to make everyone ready for the Messiah, for God Himself.

John didn’t have any illusions about his importance. I had to ask myself, how humble of a position am I willing to take in order to show my devotion to Jesus?
*Would I serve an enemy?
*Would I allow myself to be wronged and extend kindness and forgiveness instead of what I have a right to, or defending myself?

Because of his confidence in God and his humility, John couldn’t be intimidated, and he wasn’t worried about being embarrassed. Instead he was bold and spoke the simple truth.

If you are a believer, how well do you know who you are in Christ? How deeply do you identify with being God’s child, a free person, profoundly alive, filled with God’s Spirit? How deeply do you identify with being God’s servant, commissioned by Him to tell the people around you about Messiah?
Knowing who you are makes you ready to talk about who Jesus is
An honest life story that highlights God’s glory will draw attention to God, and not to myself. You and I are not the final authorities on spiritual things, we are witnesses to the final authority, Jesus Christ. We aren’t the light, we reflect the light and point to the source, Jesus.

How often do you and I make sure that God gets the honor He should have in the stories we tell about our lives?

In what ways have you and I arranged our lives to point to the goodness of God, to the forgiveness of Jesus?

In fact how often do you and I say we are seeing Jesus when we see Him?

How much confidence do you have in the reality of Jesus to pray with confidence for someone who doesn’t believe in Him, or to talk about Jesus’ part in your life stories?

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

John the Baptist: Sanhedrin's Real Question

John the Baptist gave the Sanhedrin delegation the best credentials anyone could have, God’s word,
John answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "I am only someone shouting in the desert, `Get the road ready for the Lord!' "
He told them that all he was, was a voice. They shouldn’t be trying to figure him out, they should be looking to where he was pointing.

John looked like a prophet, he lived like a prophet and acted like a prophet. But the most important thing about John was that he was willing to say what a prophet says. A complete witness is not just how you and I live our lives. Yes, that’s important. But a complete witness has to have a voice, and courage to use it. Courage to say the hard things at the right time. How often do you and I have the courage to actually talk about Jesus?

Now we find out what’s really been bothering the Sanhedrin, and especially the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a very elite group of Jews who were sticklers for not just God’s Law but also the Mishnah, the Jewish laws added to God’s law. They saw themselves as being in the inner circle with God, as the experts and keepers of the law. If John the Baptist was a nobody, then ~

5) What’s going on with this unauthorized baptizing? John’s reply must have created quite a buzz. He was not a bit intimidated by all these officials. He was totally unconcerned with his lack of credentials, or the unorthodox use of baptism.
John told them, "I use water to baptize people. But here with you is someone you don't know. Even though I came first, I am not good enough to untie his sandals."
Someone I am too unworthy to even be the slave of is standing right here in the crowd.

Here was the Baptist going toe-to-toe with an official delegation from the Sanhedrin. Thousands of people, including his own disciples, were standing on their tip-toes taking it all in. And then John announces this. Can you picture chills going up and down thousands of people’s spines? Can you imagine thousands of people craning their necks and asking, Who is it, Who is it??

Did you wonder why none of that delegation asked John to point the Messiah out?

This more than anything reveals their real motives. They had not come with the attitude that maybe God was at work, but rather with a sense of being offended that John was disrupting their religious practices and interfering with their authority. For this scruffy desert preacher to imply that they, the Bible and religion experts, didn’t know about the Messiah being right there was just a little too much for their pride and sense of dignity.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

John the Baptist: Sanhedrin Inquiry

As John grew up, he grew strong in the Spirit. At some point John moved out into the desert and sort of dropped out of sight.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, John reappeared, now a grown man, rugged, dressed in a camel’s hair and leather, eating only wild honey and locusts, and preaching what we’d call hell, fire and brimstone sermons. His big message was that everyone was a sinner, even good Jews were sinners, and they needed to repent and get ready for the Messiah Who was coming very soon.

As an outward sign of their repentance John was baptizing people in the River Jordan – baptizing everybody Greeks, Roman soldiers and even Jews alike. That Jews were willing to do this is downright amazing, because no prophet or religious leader had ever done this. Before only people trying to become Jews went through baptism. But John was saying nobody was right with God, not even Jews.

This made him a very controversial figure and people came by the thousands, out to the desert to hear him preach and to get baptized because a great spiritual hunger during that time; they wanted to know God. It was also politically a very turbulent time, and the whole known world was expecting a Messiah. Not just the Jews. Everyone expected a great leader to emerge, who would be bigger than life, maybe supernatural

So the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders, sent a delegation to investigate John and his unorthodox baptism activity. These men were priests, who came from the extended family of the high priest, and other representatives from the tribe of Levi, who were also temple workers, and were Bible experts.

1) Who do you think you are? John was very forthright about not being the Messiah. Messiah means “the anointed one,” the king from David’s line who would be the everlasting king of Israel.

2) Are you Elijah? They knew that Elijah had not died, (2 Kings 2:11), and they believed Elijah was going to come back one day and announce, at the end of the Ages, that the anointed one, the Messiah, was coming.

John was very like Elijah, he dressed like him, he appeared suddenly, he was rustic like Elijah, having a similar lifestyle and preaching style, and he was full of the Holy Spirit; powerful. But he said no because it was not, literally, Elijah.

When the angel told Zechariah, John’s father, that he and his wife, an elderly and childless couple, were going to have this miracle baby, the angel said that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord.

Later, Jesus also said that John had come in the spirit of Elijah to announce the suffering Messiah – instead of the conquering Messiah King. One day Elijah will come and announce Jesus’ second coming as conquering King, but this was not that time.

3) Are you the Prophet? There was some confusion about Moses’ prophecy, whether he meant the Messiah, or some other great prophet, so the delegation was covering all their bases. John’s answer was very simple: “no.” The delegation was on the wrong track by pursuing John as anything special.

4) So who are you then? They wanted John to make a stand, religiously and politically. What did he stand for? Was he for or against The Sanhedrin and its interests? What authority did he think he had to run this big religious operation, as they saw it, in competition with the official religious authorities? They saw him as a threat to their establishment.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

John the Baptist: Sanhedrin Delegation

As John was preaching repentance in the desert, and symbolically washing people clean by baptizing them in the River Jordan, a bunch of Pharisees and Sadducees got into line for their turn to be baptized.

The Pharisees were the traditionalists, the conservative religious leaders of their day. The wealthy Sadducees were the liberals; they controlled the temple businesses that Jesus later cleaned out.

When John saw them, this is what he said:
You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment? Do something to show that you have really given up your sins. And don't start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham's family. I tell you that God can turn these stones into children for Abraham. An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire.
Does that bother you to hear John speaking so forcefully to his religious leaders, those who were considered to be in spiritual authority over him?

I mean, after all, these were all the priests and ministers and seminary guys, they were supposed to be the spiritual giants, with deep spiritual responsibilities. They were important religious leaders who had made time to come clear out to the desert to meet with John. But God had given John a prophet’s discernment to see the truth about these men.

John’s message was a call to self-judgement. He urged the people to take sides with God against themselves.

But the Pharisees and Sadducees held that being descended from Abraham made them exempt from John’s call to repent. They thought they were already good enough to please God.

As The Message puts it, “Do you think a little water on your snake skins is going to make any difference? It's your life that must change, not your skin! And don't think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

They didn’t have any sense of their own sinfulness, and they were offended by the very idea that they might need something more than their own righteousness, which they had worked very hard at to achieve.

They considered themselves faultless in their ability to keep all the rules they had written about how to obey God’s law. To suggest they might need to repent, that they were undeserving of God’s favor, was an affront to them.

Their intent was to tuck baptism under their belt for just in case, just to make sure they had dotted all their “i’s” and crossed all their “t’s” in terms of religious observance.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

John the Baptist: Repentance

Today people don’t need to clean up their lives first in order to become Christians.

I’m not waiting until I get my act together before I go to Jesus for forgiveness!

I’m coming to Jesus right now,
* just as I am, tossed around with all kinds of conflicts and doubts.

* I’m coming just as I am, with lots of fears and struggles inside me;

* I'm coming just as I am, poor, wretched and blind.

For you and me today, Messiah has already come and He presents the full gospel.

Do you believe this is true: That Jesus, in history, is the Messiah, a real man Who lived two thousand years ago, Who also is and always was God?

Do you believe that He died on the cross for our sins, that He was, in real life, raised from the dead, that He actually rose up, bodily, into heaven, and that He has sent His Spirit to literally live inside every person who believes and accepts these truths?

Repentance happens as a person hears the gospel, understands it and accepts it, and as God's regeneration of that person changes them from being dead in their sins to being spiritually alive.
Repentance is the first step in getting right with God
It is the power that comes from Jesus’ Spirit living in you and me who believe these truths that makes it possible to live a holy life.

You and I need to repent every day, even after we have entered into new life, even after having been made into "new creations" by the power of God. We need God’s grace every day. What wrong thinking do you need to abandon? What sin have you been having a hard time ‘fessing up to?

Trying to live a holy life is not enough. Going to church, reading the Bible, keeping religious disciplines, does not make you and me today automatically eligible to enter the kingdom of heaven. Confession is good. Commitment is good. But you and I can’t keep it up on our own. You and I need something more. We need the Holy Spirit’s power to live a holy life.

Repentance is a prerequisite, a necessary condition for salvation. But even after a you and I are saved, we continue to sin. The Bible calls us to repent again and again as we are convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

John the Baptist: Repent!

John didn’t make it easy for people.

He did his preaching out in the desert, instead of going into the city, so people had to make an effort to come out and hear him.

But when John announced that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, people were electrified.

This was the message they had been waiting for, for a thousand years and more, so we read that
From Jerusalem and all Judea and from the Jordan River Valley crowds of people went to John.
They came out in droves, evidently, from all over the country-side, to listen. But John was also saying that even Jews needed to repent, which gave the Jews some hesitation.

When Gentiles wanted to convert to Judaism, first they were symbolically washed clean by baptism. Jews were familiar with baptizin Gentile converts. But John was a Jew baptizing Jews! This was something entirely new

John’s call to repent was God’s call to His people to return to Him. In scripture, repentance means to "undergo a change of one's mind" which results in a change of the entire direction of a person's life. Biblical repentance is a radical turning away from sin and to Christ.

By submitting to this symbolic rite of water baptism, John was providing for every Jew a public declaration of their confession of their sins, and a commitment to live a holy life, making the roads straight, in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, Who was the King of Heaven’s kingdom.

There can be no genuine turning to Christ without an accompanying repudiation of sin. The picture of repentance is a significant change of perception, a paradigm shift; joined with an emotional response, sorrow and grief for having acted in a certain way; which results in a change of behavior.

But genuine repentance is not something you and I can do on our own. Scripture makes it clear that God must be in it. God makes a person spiritually alive when they were dead in their sins so that they will be able to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

John the Baptist: The Preaching of John the Baptist

[Blended Gospels, ESV, Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14]
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, 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? 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. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?"

And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise."

Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"

And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do."

Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?"

And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

John the Baptist: Tell About The Light

It might seem strange that in John's account of the Lord Jesus' life and ministry, John the Baptist would introduced in the first few verses. But this points to one of the heresies that John was combatting – there were groups of people in as late as 200 A.D. who were worshiping John the Baptist as the Messiah.

The apostle John had started out as a disciple of John the Baptist; he knew him well. So the apostle John quoted the Baptist several times as saying he was not the Messiah, but a messenger.
God sent a man named John,who came to tell about the light and to lead all people to have faith. John wasn't that light. He came only to tell about the light.
[emphasis mine] The Baptist understood that he was not the light, but he was to prepare the people to believe the true light when they saw it.

The task of a witness is to point to the truth. You know the phrase “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” We use that in a court of law because that is what everyone is expecting the witness to do, to bring out the truth.

In fact everyone who knows Who Jesus really is, is called to be a witness to the truth.

Witnessing is both verbal and nonverbal – to keep integrity, the words have to match the life of the person saying the words. How well does my own life act as a witness to the true light of Jesus? Well how much of Jesus’ light, His wisdom, is active in my life? That’s how I would know.

And how capable am I of telling the whole truth about Jesus?

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

John the Baptist: The One Of Whom Malachi Prophesied

If you flip back a few pages from Matthew's gospel you’ll see the book of Malachi. Malachi is the last recorded prophet in the Old Testament. Malachi, so to speak, held the baton out for the next prophet who was going to come:
Look! I'm sending my messenger on ahead to clear the way for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Leader you've been looking for will enter his Temple—yes, the Messenger of the Covenant, the one you've been waiting for. Look! He's on his way!" A Message from the mouth of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
If you read farther on you’ll see a little more specific prophecy,
But also look ahead: I'm sending Elijah the prophet to clear the way for the Big Day of God—the decisive Judgment Day! He will convince parents to look after their children and children to look up to their parents. If they refuse, I'll come and put the land under a curse.
Malachi was talking about John the Baptist, who was going to come four hundred years later.

How do I know that for sure? Jesus said so:
When John's disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John. "What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That's right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you'll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, 'I'm sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.'
John described himself as simply a voice,
John and his message were authorized by Isaiah's prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Just the messenger, someone to get the road ready for the person you really need to pay attention to, the Messiah.

Though John denied being the actual resurrected Elijah, Jesus confirmed that John had come in “the spirit and power” of Elijah. If you go back and read about Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings, you’ll see that John the Baptist dressed like that prophet in a camel hair garment belted with leather, and just like Elijah, he lived in the wilderness and ate only what God provided for him there. If you’re wondering about locusts, God had declared them as clean food in His law (Leviticus). And John preached much the same message that Elijah preached,
While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called "the Baptizer," was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here."
The kingdom of Heaven was God’s rule in heaven now extended to the earthly realm.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

John the Baptist's Story: John the Baptist Prepares the Way

[Blended Gospels, ESV translation]

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

In those days John the Baptist appeared, clothed with camel’s hair: [he] wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Now John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea [and] baptizing in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way – The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem, were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
(Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-6, Luke 3:1-6, John 1:6-8)

[Tomorrow, a closer look at the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry]

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

John The Baptist's story: The Birth of John the Baptist

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John."

And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name."

And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John."

And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?"

For the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Luke 1:57-79)
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
(Luke 1:80)

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

John The Baptist's story: Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

About six months before Jesus was born, His cousin John was born. The story of John is fascinating and often sidelined by the story of his infinitely more significant cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. John didn't mind at all. He knew his calling and purpose. He was anointed as the last of the Old Testament prophets, proclaiming the glory of God and of His Messiah, soon to come.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."

And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, "Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."
(Luke 1:5-25)

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jesus In The Temple

Something happened the year Jesus turned 12. The Passover was always held around the time of His birthday, the flocks lambing in the fields, the warm sun bringing up the spring’s first buds. Usually this spring trip would joyful time, preparing to go up to Jerusalem, to join family there and celebrate the Feast.

But perhaps there a sense of sadness in this trip. Perhaps Mary, who had always been a quiet, thoughtful, inward person was pensive and distracted. Already well on in years when they had John, its probable that at least Zechariah, and possibly also Elizabeth had died, and that John, now thirteen, who always loved the outdoors, had moved into the desert with a sect of devout and ascetic Jews, the Essenes.

It may have been that at this time Mary and Joseph went to stay with other family in Bethany, where Mary’s sister had married and moved to. Jesus would have been without his beloved cousin and companion, John, and the faithful Zechariah to share the things of the Lord with Him. As Jesus went with family to the temple, perhaps His heart would have been heavy, lonely and longing all the more for God’s habitation.

The Feast of Passover would hold special significance for this boy. It was His Feast. The Holy Spirit must have quickened in Him a desire to know more, to probe deeply about the meaning of the lamb, the unleavened bread and the shed blood. We know that this time, instead of following Mary and Joseph at the end of the day, He lingered until the sun set, talking with the rabbis.

His family moved on, packing things up to go, looking around for their Son, but, not seeing Him, turning their thoughts inward again, assuming He must be around. All day Mary and Joseph walked, heading home to the dailies of life. Finally, at the end of the day, they realized Jesus was not with them.

Did they turn around right then and there, as the caravan continued towards Nazareth? Did they reverse their steps at that very moment and walk through the night, back towards Jerusalem? Luke tells us it took them three days to find Jesus; three days of panicked searching. Perhaps first to where they had been staying, then asking all the neighbors. Maybe they retraced their steps to the shepherd from whom they had purchased their Passover lamb.

Perhaps they visited all of their family’s favorite places. Finally they thought to go back to the temple, to hurriedly ask of those who remained, those who lived at the temple, if they had seen a twelve year old boy recently. A priest must have overheard them and asked them, “Is His name Jesus? A very remarkable boy has been with us these three days, let me bring you in to the rabbis...”

Mary and Joseph were stunned to see Jesus there with the rabbis. “Your father and I...” were Mary’s words. Jesus must have truly wondered at how little His parents knew Him. How little they had paid attention to His love of the temple, of Torah, of His heavenly Father, Whom He knew well. And Luke tells us frankly, “They did not understand what He was saying to them.” As the apostle John noted at the beginning of his gospel, "His own people did not know Him." (John 1)

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Blended Gospels, The Boy Jesus In The Temple

[Blended Gospels, ESV, Luke 2:41-52, John 1:9-11)

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress."

And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?"

And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
[Tomorrow, a closer look at the young Jesus with the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law]
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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jesus As A Little Boy

Luke describes Mary and Joseph as godly and conservatively religious people. They were careful to do everything that God’s Law commanded. Through their godliness Jesus, even as an infant, was protected from ever transgressing the Law. He was raised to respect and love God’s word, though His family was poor, and obedience to God came out of personal sacrifice.

Since Luke does not ever mention Mary’s or Joseph’s parents, it’s possible relations with extended family were strained. Perhaps the birth of Jesus was just too “outside the box” for their conservative and religious community. Only Elizabeth and Zechariah, with their own remarkable experiences, were able to readily believe Mary’s and Joseph’s story of angels, shepherds and magi, and understood the significance of Jesus’ birth.

I imagine, in the early years, Mary and Joseph staying with Elizabeth and Zechariah when they went to Jerusalem for the Feasts. Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in a town just outside of Jerusalem, in the hill country of Judea. John and Jesus, cousins only about a year apart in age, would have become friends, seeing each other three times a year. John, having the Spirit since before birth had always known Who Jesus was. And Jesus, having the Spirit knew John, too.

Both boys would have attended the Torah school for boys, learning from Zechariah all his great store of knowledge and wisdom. Think of Zechariah taking these two boys into the temple with him. John, a young Levite, was to become a priest himself one day. Jesus, also descended from Levi, would have been warmly welcomed as well.

Together these two deeply spiritual and intelligent boys, hungry for the things of God, must have delighted the teachers and scribes with their eagerness to learn. It is easy to imagine them, after months apart, greeting each other with hugs and kisses in the Mediterranean way. Think of them running together to the surrounding hills, the high desert landscape of Judea, talking about all the new insights they’d been inspired by, in their yeshivas, learning Torah.

Think of their sense of anticipation as they prepared for their visit to the temple, purifying themselves in the courtyard’s special pool, “living water” continuously pouring into it through a spout, and running out through a channel underneath the floor.

Freshly washed and dressed in clean clothes, they would have made their way with the elderly Zechariah, dancing in their hearts, but respectfully keeping pace with the aged priest. Perhaps young John would begin the song of ascent, Psalm 122, with “I was glad when they said to me” and Jesus would chime in with excited laughter "Let us go to the house of the LORD!"

At the temple their eyes would have sparkled at the great majesty of Solomon’s Colonnade, the familiar beauty of God’s golden house. Did they sing David’s song, “O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells,” and “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple”? (Psalm 26:8 and 27:4)

They must have loved being in God’s house, they must have loved inquiring about God’s word in His temple, and they must have longed to stay there forever, often dragging their feet at the end of the day when it was time to go back to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s warm home, tucked away on the outskirts of town, in the hill country.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jesus Circumcised and Presented at the Temple

[Blended Gospels, ESV translation]

Continuing the story...

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus – [Joseph] called his name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21, Matthew 1:25b)

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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

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. 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.

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, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 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 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

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, 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. 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.

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned. ( Luke 2:22-39a)

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