Christmas 2018 – Day 19

Baciccio_-_The_Preaching_of_St_John_the_Baptist_-_WGA01117

 

As part of my 25 for 25 (25 devotionals leading up to 25 December), here is Day # 19: Yesterday (12/18) marked exactly one week until Christmas! We’re finishing up our mini-series in Isaiah today by looking at Isaiah 40:3-5. It says,

 

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken
.’”

For those of us who have read the gospels, we know that this was prophecy fulfilled by John the Baptist (John 1:23) who preached the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. But what does Isaiah mean when he talks about valleys being moved up and mountains made low? What about “crooked places shall be made straight”?

There are multiple levels to this: physical and spiritual representations. The physical one was that Rome had made roads that were flat and wide and good for traveling. This was the first time in history that interconnected highways had existed and Jesus was born into that time.

The spiritual side was that Jesus was the consistent and good road to heaven. He had broken down the barriers and revealed the “glory of the Lord.” When we consider that the people of Isaiah’s time would never have been able to imagine Roman roads or how exactly the Messiah could come and fulfill all these prophesies we must be humble enough to recognize that there are things that we can’t fully understand in God’s future timeline. And yet, God has given us knowledge and wisdom. I just self-published a book titled Biblical Knowledge, Understanding & Wisdom which talks about how much God wants to help us understand the Bible and help others understand it also. We must have faith in Jesus, the Lord of Christmas, that He will reveal to us what we should know, since He has made a perfect road to heaven!

Devotional # 168. John 1:1-14 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional 168. 12/21/15. Christmas, Part 4: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This week’s Reading: John 1:1-14.

Introduction: We rarely hear a Christmas sermon from the books of Mark and John. Why is that? Because Matthew and Luke are the two Gospels with all the historical facts of Jesus’ birth. The book of Mark just starts off with John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus, no explanation of Jesus’s birth. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospel’s which means that they are “same” in that many of their stories and explanations are similar. The book of John stands by itself when compared to the synoptic Gospel’s. The apostle John had a different goal in mind when he was used by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel. As we’ve seen before, the beginning of John actually parallels the beginning of Genesis quite closely. Have you ever thought about why Jesus came at the specific time that He did? Some people say Jesus was born a human and then became a god. Is that true? Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

Let’s read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with GodAll things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of menAnd the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

vv. 1-5. In this section of 5 verses there is a special importance to someone called “the Word.” This is before we’re emphatically told that this is someone who “became” human and lived with us in verse 14. Then in verse 15 we’re told that John the Baptist testified of Him and finally we have to wait until verse 17 before “the Word” is named as “Jesus Christ.” Here, in verse 1 we’re told that Jesus (“the Word”) was somehow “in the beginning” and “with God” and actually “was God.” We can understand “in the beginning” to mean “at the creation” which shows us that Jesus existed before anything that was created was created and therefore has always existed. And the fact that Jesus was both “with God” and “was God” can be confusing if we both don’t read on or read what’s already been given us. We see that Jesus was with God (v. 2) and actually was the One actively creating (v. 3). But in Genesis 1:1 we’re specifically told that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So at this point we can either dismiss this as a bunch of contradictory foolishness or we can see if there’s a way this can be explained. I’m always amazed at the people that walk out of the theater on movies like “The Matrix” or “Memento” after only 15 minutes saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ Any person with common sense would say you have to give it time to see if it’s any good and explains itself. So often people don’t apply the same common sense to the Bible. There is a good explanation for everything we’ve read here. Jesus was considered God and yet not the entirety of God. We begin to see how the Trinity makes sense. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is One Being and yet there are Three Persons of God that make up that One Being. We shouldn’t be so worried about whether we completely understand this, since a Being who can create our entire world is probably greater than our intellect, instead we can agree that at least there is a good theory for how this is possible and also wonder at what kind of God would be interested in telling us all of this.

Did you notice that verses 1–4 are all in the past tense using words like “was” and “were” and “made” but in verse 5 it is present tense and therefore applies to us today? So that “Light” has always shown and yet there was a spiritual “darkness” that existed with sin and still exists today. I love that it’s in the present tense because it shows that the “darkness” has never, and will never beat out the “Light.” Later, in verse 10 it tells us that Jesus created all life and here, in verse 4, that He was also ‘life that was light’, this means eternal life. And this happened when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. That happened at a very specific time 2,000 years ago. And that “life was the light of men” which shown in the darkness and depravity of humanity and was unknown by it (v. 5). Let’s look at why Jesus came when He did in the next verses.

Next are verses 6-13:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

vv. 6-13. John the Baptist (not the disciple John who wrote this gospel) was sent by God to testify of Jesus. Jesus again is called “the Light” and that He came to His own (those He created) but that they didn’t know Him. Didn’t we just hear something about that? Yes! In verse 5 it said, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehendit” so here we build on that because they were in “darkness” and therefore “did not receive Him.” One commentator says, “The distorted world could not continue to exist for a moment apart from the light imparted to it by its Creator, but fallen man, in spite of the light that is in Him, fails to recognize the worlds Creator and Preserver (see Romans 1:20)” (Source 1). 

Why did Jesus have to come exactly when He did?

A. The Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which was characterized by an epoch of relative calm made possible by the sheer power, not to mention the administrative expertise, of the dominant world power of the day, imperial Rome.

B. The [global] presence of the Greek language, attributable to the tremendous admiration the Romans had for all things Greek. The dissemination of the message of the Christian Gospel was aided in no small measure by the existence of Greek as a significant medium of communication.

C. The improvement of transportation throughout the Roman Empire, thanks to the wealth of Rome, not to mention, again, its administrative ability, its military might, and ready access to slave labor to do the dirty work in creating roads, some of which are still in existence today (e.g., the Applian Way, an ancient Roman highway extending from Rome to Brundisium–now Brindisi, which was constructed beginning in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, and was about 350 miles long). The better the infrastructure of transportation, the more readily the good news could spread to the far corners of the empire.

D. The spiritual state of Judaism at the time Jesus burst on the scene. If ever there was a time for a nationwide revival within the geographical heart of Judaism in Israel, it was the first century of the common era. That is why the forerunner of Jesus, His cousin (John the Baptizer), preached a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John bore witness to that light which was coming into the world as a testimony not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:32, 38). We must remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was a far-reaching covenant which would touch with blessing all the nations of the earth, starting of course with Israel.

E. The receptivity of the people to the message of Jesus, due in part to the [split] within the Roman Empire between the “haves” and “have nots”. If ever there was a time for a Redeemer who would bring a message of hope to the underdogs of society, it was in the first century (see Luke 4:14-21 in this regard).

F. The need for God to fulfill not only His prophecies, but also His promises (Source 2).

Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

A. Jesus had to be born because of mankind’s sin.

B. Jesus had to be born because God wanted to reveal His own character to humanity.

C. Jesus had to be born to remove the sins of humankind through a perfect sacrifice.

D. Jesus had to be born for mankind to have a Mediator.

E. Jesus had to be born to provide the promised Seed of Abraham.

F. Jesus had to be born for God to make His Spirit available to all humankind.

G. Jesus had to be born for God to redeem mankind. (Source 3).

Let’s finish this section with the last verse:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

v. 14. This is the crux of our Christmas message! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is awesome because it embodies both word and deed! Jesus, “the Word” spoke to us through the Bible telling us what we need and then “became flesh” in an action of love giving us what we need. The “Word” was not invisible but a physical, tangible Human (“flesh”) who lived (“dwelt”) with us. The people of the first century, including John writing this, were eyewitnesses that God became Man. They “beheld His glory” and this wasn’t His complete “glory” since that would annihilate a person but it was “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The “glory” that was shown to us was shown in “grace and truth.” We’ve talked about the “grace” of God in several of these Devotionals recently. The “mercy” of God is not making us go to hell, the “grace” of God is allowing us to go to heaven. You notice that this is different than any sort of grace that a human can give to another human. Only God can make a way for humans to go to heaven and that’s exactly what Jesus did. We saw part of God’s “glory” in Jesus giving us salvation in heaven through the cross. And we also see Jesus’ “glory” in His “truth“. Later in this Gospel, John quotes Jesus when He said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). So Jesus is “truth” in that He will never lie to us and will always be honest with us (even when it’s hard for us to hear). But He is also “truth” as unique and perfect. Jesus is one way, one truth and one life, He is the only way to a personal relationship with God and the only way into heaven. We notice “truth” is shown primarily through the words of Jesus, so it is no surprise that we are back to where we started, in that Jesus is “the Word”!

Conclusion: Christmas approaches at the end of this week. But this is the celebration of the event of God coming down in human flesh for very specific reasons, at a very specific time. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Oh, what beautiful words, to have “the Word” come to us, to save us from our sins!

Lord Jesus, we praise you today as we prepare to celebrate your birth at the end of this week. We rejoice in Your willingness to put on the body of humanity to bring your “glory” of “grace and truth” to our world. Our world, which is Your world since You created it. Your world since You, and only You, redeemed it. We kneel in awe of You, the Word, that became flesh at a very specific time, knowing our depravity, and loving us in spite of ourselves. Lord, this year we exalt You with ‘Merry Christmas’ since You alone have given us the “merry” and the “Christmas”!!

Merry Christmas!!

 

References:

Source 1: R.V.G Tasker, John, p. 47.

Source 2: These are from: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/23819/according-to-the-lds-church-why-was-jesus-christ-born-when-he-was-born, answered by “rhetorician” about mid-way down the page.

Source 3: Donald Ward, “Seven Reasons Why Jesus Was Born”, http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/seven-reasons-why-jesus-was-born .

Devotional # 154. Colossians 2:11-15

Devotional # 154. 9/14/15. Colossians 2:11-15.

Intro. Last week we talked about not settling for cheap deceits but accepting God completing us. We also saw that Jesus has all of the “fullness” of the Godhead (which is all three Persons of God) in Himself. It’s cool to be reassured that Jesus is God but why do we need to know that? The big picture is that we don’t need to search for other things to fill us because we are complete in God because He is complete in Himself.

This week Paul makes something things very clear to us and yet its difficult for me to just sum up in a quick introduction. You’ll have to read the Scripture to see how many important things we’re taught here!

v. 11. If I could sum up this verse I would say “it’s a fulfillment of a covenant.” Paul is saying that every Christian has been circumcised, not in their physical body, but spiritually. I was just reading about this in Romans 4:9-15. Back in Jesus’s day Hebrews thought that they were righteous because they had been physically circumcised just like their patriarch Abraham. But in Romans chapter 4, Paul makes a great point that Abraham was accounted righteous because of his faith long before he had been circumcised. So then is circumcision useless? Definitely not, God is not in the business of doing foolish things. Turn to Genesis 17:1-14. This is where God first institutes circumcision with Abraham. It was meant as an outward profession of an inward belief. But why did all the boys after Abraham have to be circumcised? Because it was a reminder of God’s promise to their people before they were a people. And it was to identify them as being different from all other nations around them. So here in Colossians 2:11 when Paul tells us that we have the “circumcision of Christ” it makes sense that he’s drawing the conclusion that God always intended. And for those of you Bible students whose ears perked up when I just said “an outward profession of an inward belief” then you’re right, it only makes sense that Paul would follow this up with “baptism” in the next verse!

v. 12. Why did Jesus have John the Baptist baptize Him? Two reasons are: to give us an example of His burial and so that we would be able to join Him in it. Did you realize that the motion of laying down when we’re baptized is like laying in a grave but then when we come out of the water it’s like being raised from the dead? If we have made the choice to make an outward profession of faith through baptism then we were “buried with Him.” But the good news is that, just as Jesus physically raised from the dead, then we also have been raised from the dead.

The themes of “burial”, “baptism”, “raising” and “death” are also found in Romans 6:2-4: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

vv. 13-14. What does it mean that you “were dead in your trespasses”? It means that there was a point in time for each one of us that we were pronounced dead. The sins in our life made it so we were spiritually dead. If we had died at that time we would have gone to hell. But 2 Peter 3:9 says that God doesn’t wish for anyone to go to hell. However, if they decide to go to hell He will give them what they want. But what if people wish to go to heaven? Well, those are we Christians who are represented in the second part of this verse when it says “He has made alive.” And not just “alive”, as in no longer declared “dead” but “alive with Him.” This shows us that Jesus rose from the dead! It’s not like He doesn’t understand everything we go through, instead He was tempted just like us but didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). Beyond that He experienced stuff that we haven’t gone through yet and stayed true to everything He ever said. So since He experienced everything first He is the only one who can ask us to do the same things. Interestingly in Romans 6:11 it tells us that if Jesus died for our sins then we need to “reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin” but that we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He set the example so we can be convinced that when we die from life on earth we will be “alive together with Him” in heaven.

Did you notice that not only are you “alive together with Him” but also that He has “forgiven you all trespasses.” Before we just move past having our sins forgiven us, we need to note the really important word “all.” We weren’t forgiven just some of our “trespasses” or most of our “trespasses” but ALL of our “trespasses.”

And as if that wasn’t enough Jesus also “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us.” When I first read this I thought it was a really interesting way of putting it. The “handwriting” gives the picture of a written document stating our guilt*. But he has “taken it out of the way” and “nailed it to the cross.” What does that mean? I thought Jesus Himself was nailed to the cross. Well, Jesus became sin even though He had never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when Jesus took on all our sins, all the things that stood in the way of us ever going to heaven, he effectively nailed them to the cross and there they withered away and died – never to be remembered by God again (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). But Jesus was not left on that cross. He rose from the dead. So our sins were left on that cross but Jesus was not – we will be “alive together with Him.”

 

*“handwriting”- Because in the Greek “the term handwriting is a general word for a handwritten document” there are several theories on what is meant. The first, is that this is a “legal” document as in “charges against a prisoner, or a confession to wrong that the prisoner has made.” The second, is as a “financial” document where a person’s debt is recorded. But “either way, it means that the document that once condemned us is now taken out of the way, having been nailed to the cross” (Source 1).

v. 15. Here we’re told that when Jesus nailed all of our sins to the cross it “disarmed principalities and powers.” This tells us at least two things: prior to this “principalities and powers” were “armed.” (We know from Romans 8:38 that “principalities and powers” are demons.) Second, Jesus’ act took away Satan and his demons chance of eternal ruling. Now if you’ve ever read the book of Revelation you know that Satan is still deluded…but more on that in a second. Here it says that Jesus “made a public spectacle of them“, but what does that mean? As Christians are we not supposed to embarrass people in front of others? Isn’t it prideful and immature and unsportsmanlike to make a “public spectacle” of a loser? The answer is yes, if we humans do something publicly to disgrace and humiliate then that’s wrong. I think of the final scene of William Wallace in “Braveheart” where they make a public spectacle of him. But we are talking about the God of the universe. And when the God of the universe, who should only be praised, has been publicly rebelled against, then it is His right to publicly notify every living creature that He has triumphed over sin and death. This isn’t saying that Jesus is self-righteously humiliating them – that would serve no purpose for God. Instead it was a picture that the Romans were very familiar with, a victorious general would parade his defeated enemies through the streets of Rome” (Source 2). God is using imagery to show us that we don’t need to live in fear anymore, the enemy has been conquered. Again, we’re brought back to the book of Revelation. God shows us that although Satan is working as hard as ever in his delusion that he can overcome God, he is wrong and ultimately he loses because the “triumph” was made certain on that day on the cross 2000 years ago.

I also find it very interesting that in verse 14 it’s made very clear that the “handwritten” document which condemned us was nailed to the cross, but that very act signed the “handwritten” document which condemned Satan and his demons.

Conclusion. The goodness of God is magnified in this section. You have to be aware of the bad stuff you’ve been saved from in order to appreciate your salvation. Did you notice the contrasts?

Verse 11: “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” is contrasted with “the circumcision of Christ.”

Verse 12: “buried” and “dead” contrasted with “raised” (x2!) and “the working of God.”

Verse 13: “dead in your trespasses” and “uncircumcision of your flesh” contrasted with “alive together with Him” and “forgiven you.”

Verse 14: “requirements that [were] against us” contrasted with “taken out of the way” and “nailed it to the cross.”

Verse 15: “principalities and powers” contrasted with making “a public spectacle of them” and “triumphing over them.”

We are incredibly fortunate to know the God of the universe, and that He would tip the scales in our favor. He didn’t just even out bad with good, He “triumphed” over the evil. He made a “public spectacle” of it. This is certainly more than enough reason for us to praise God this week! Take these truths hide them in your heart and then share them with others!

 

References.

Source 1: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Col/Col_2.cfm?a=1109014

Source 2: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1836.

Devotional # 59. Acts 19:1-41

Devotional # 59. 11/5/13. A Demon Beats Up Some Exorcists and Demetrius Starts a Riot.

This week’s Reading: Acts 19:1-41.

Introduction. This chapter has three famous stories in it: Peter’s sweatbands heal people, a demon beats up a bunch of exorcists and Demetrius is worried about his business and wants Paul to quit preaching. This chapter shows us how God moves in amazing but unpredictable ways while he protects His children and is glorified in any situation.

vv. 1-10. This section is similar to some of what we have covered in the past and the 12 men who only knew of John the Baptist’s baptism are a lot like Apollos from last week (see Devotional 58, specifically vv. 22-28).

vv. 11-12. This is an interesting section. The “handkerchiefs and aprons” were Paul’s “sweat bands” from working at tentmaking (Source 1). So “in the same way that the shadow of Peter (Acts 5:15) or the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 14:36) might heal: the item became a point of contact by which a person released faith in Jesus as healer” (Source 2). Notice that even at this time Luke (the author of Acts) says that these miracles were “unusual”. Although we don’t usually see miracles like this (in the United States) happening today it is a reminder that God loves to use the unexplainable to heal. He uses many different ways to bring people to Him.

vv. 13-16. In verse 10 we just read that “two years” passed, so if we add that with the other time markers we’ve read then Paul has been ministering for four or five years at this point. The miracles he did in Jesus’ name had become famous and, as we saw in Acts 8 (specifically vv. 9-13, Devotional 48), Simon the Sorcerer wanted to have that power and use it for monetary gain. Remember I just mentioned that God likes to do unexplainable things in different ways? We see this with Jesus healing people or answering in parables. This is so there isn’t one method that people can depend on and then trust in themselves. Anything worth doing is done by the Holy Spirit. So these “itinerant Jewish exorcists” and the “seven sons of Sceva” were trying to use a powerful formula (using Jesus’ name) to throw demons out of people. But demons shouldn’t be messed with!

This one demon says several interesting things. First, it recognizes Jesus (of course, since He is the Creator) and Paul (God’s influential spokesperson of the time). In James 2:19 we see that demons believe in Jesus and shake in fear. But Second, this demon says ‘who do you think you are?’ and then beats the crap out of these men! It’s actually pretty funny, but there is also something we learn from this. If you don’t have faith in Jesus and you are just pretending to be religious or a Christian you will be beaten up. The ungodly world will beat you up. Notice a demon beats up ungodly men. Who would want to continue in that kind of life? Satan and his demons don’t respect people, they sucker you in then chew you up and spit you out. Now some people can fool others but they don’t fool the spiritual realm. And that’s what counts. So what about God? He knows what we think (Psalm 139:1-4) and if we are pretending to be Christians but still live in the world it is known as being “lukewarm.” Jesus hates that and uses violent language to explain what He will do to those people (Revelation 3:16).

vv. 17-20. God will always be glorified and in this situation it was because the demon attacked these imposters. People hear about what happened and burn their books on magic. One piece of silver was a day’s wage. If we put this in a modern perspective and assigned $100 as a days wage that would make the total amount of the books burned was $5,000,000 ($100 x 50,000). Then we have some of the most exciting yet comforting words of the whole chapter, the “word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed”.

vv. 21-22. This portion helps us understand where Paul desired to go and how he sent travelers in front of him. As always he makes his plans “in the Spirit.”

vv. 23-41. This is an interesting story about the good businessman Demetrius who made idols of the goddess named Diana. She was also called “Artemis” and the temple for her was one of the seven wonders of the world (Source 1). Demetrius was being proactive noticing a decline in the sale of idols that he and his fellow “silversmiths” made. They cause a riot, grabbing a few of the guys that Paul traveled with and everyone goes into the theater. It’s actually funny because most people don’t know why they are there (v. 32) and spend two hours shouting (v. 34). It is commendable that Paul wanted to go down and defend his friends who were captured. But it was wise for his friends to keep him from going because he may have been unnecessarily hurt or even killed. It is all cleared up by the clerk who tells everyone to go home. This could have had a really bad outcome but God spared everyone’s life. I bet Gaius, Aristarchus and Alexander thought they might die but it probably shook up the other Christians also. I think God may have allowed this to happen so that these Christians would realize the importance of what they believed in and that they would face opposition but that He would always take care of them.

Conclusion. This chapter has a lot going on but I’m going to concentrate on vv. 13-16 because it applies to everyone of us. Over the last year of doing these devotionals everyone knows that Jesus says if people want to go to heaven it must be through Him (John 14:6). So confessing our sins and calling on Jesus as our master (Romans 10:9-10) gives us all the protection, love and rights of a child of God. If you have made that decision that you know what it means to have the Holy Spirit’s comfort, direction and discretion in your life. But if you haven’t made that decision what are you waiting for? Do you still believe the lies of the ungodly world? Test them. See how happy you are and how much better your life is without God. You can lie to me and lie to yourself but you will die empty and alone. Remember Satan suckers you in with fun and sweet sin but he doesn’t love or protect you. Instead as you swear allegiance to him he beats you up and drags you to hell. So you think that you don’t have to choose a side? You’re wrong. Jesus says you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). And “you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). So if you want to lose your life on this earth (and the next) go fully into the sinful world or if you want to follow Christ do it fully but don’t sit on the fence!

 

References:

Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1669-70.

Source 2: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_19.cfm?a=1037001

Devotional #17. Mark 6:14-29

Devotional #17 (1/21/13).  John the Baptist is murdered.

Intro: Last week we saw Jesus’s hometown not want any healing and the disciples getting sent out to bless others and practice what Jesus taught them. This week we have the story of how John the Baptist died which seems out of place here. But Mark puts it here because we need to know it to understand verses 14-16 and because it is important. Remember Mark is telling an action-packed story so he keeps the reader’s attention instead of writing in the exact order they happened.

This Week’s Reading: Mark 6:14-29.

vv. 14-16. “King” Herod Antipas was scared of Jesus because he thought maybe Jesus would kill him and take over as “king”. In verses 14 and 16 Herod says that he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead. As we’ll see this may have been because of the guilt of putting John to death.

vv. 17-18. Herod put John the Baptist in prison because Herod’s wife didn’t like John. Herod’s wife was named “Herodias” and was: 1. Married to his brother Herod Phillip I (Source 1) and 2. actually Herod’s niece from his brother Aristobulus (Source 2). John was very public and told Herod to his face that marrying your sister-in-law and incest were wrong and Herodias didn’t like that. So to make her happy Herod put John in prison.

vv. 19-20. Herodias really wanted to kill John the Baptist but Herod new John was a godly man so he wouldn’t allow it. It’s interesting that what John said bugged Herodias so much, isn’t it? Who was John? Just some dirty guy that lived in the desert and gave people bad news (i.e. that they needed to stop sinning and go back to God). So who cares what this weirdo thought? It probably bothered Herodias a little because she knew in her heart what she was doing was wrong, she was convicted by God. When we talk about being convicted by God we mean that God is gently telling us not to do something.

But I think it bothered her more because she thought she had power because of her family and being married to Herod but she couldn’t make John shut up! And she couldn’t stop her Hebrew “subjects” from looking at her and knowing she was living in sin. Aren’t we like that? Sometimes something will convict us of something we know we’re doing wrong and instead of stopping we just get angry. It can be difficult to be humble and confess to God and men that we’re wrong.

21-23. Now we see Herodias waited until Herod gave himself a birthday party. He told Herodias’ daughter that she had danced so well that he would give her anything she wanted up to half his “kingdom”. Herod actually wasn’t a king and didn’t have a kingdom. After the first Herod’s death (“Herod the Great”, who ruled 37-4B.C.*) the region was divided among his four sons**. The Herod here “was Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee”**. He is referenced as a “king” in vv. 22, 25, 26, etc. but this was because the Galileans called him that title**. So this may indicate disillusionment on Herod’s part or an attempt at boasting.

 

* MacArthur, p. 1394.

** MacArthur, p. 1419, notes under Mt. 14:1.

 

vv. 24-25. I can see Herodias’ daughter being very disappointed at this advice! Picture her running to her mom with many ideas and fantasies in her mind and then being told to kill some prisoner. Nevertheless we see in the next verse she does it and quickly.

vv. 26-29. Herod is sad to kill John but realizing he swore “oaths and because of those who sat with him” he as a monarch, felt bound because oaths were considered sacred and unbreakable” (Source 3). What a stupid reason for a great man of God to die! But we know that God always has a plan. It wasn’t that Herodias won but instead John won…he got to go to heaven sooner. Jesus uses his cousin John’s death as an example later on and it was obvious that John had done his job, pointing to Jesus.

 

Conclusion: When we read stories like this we can be surprised that God doesn’t save someone who was a good person, like John. Couldn’t Jesus have saved John? Absolutely! Did He want to make John’s pain stop? Yes, Jesus did want that. But we have to understand Jesus didn’t come just to heal people from physical pain and death but He came to save people from spiritual death in hell. Christians will go through difficult things but God’s peace will comfort them perfectly. It is an incredible thing to look at death as the next step instead of the end. I would like to end this with a quote from A.W. Tozer in his awesome book, Knowledge of the Holy. He says, “Let man be convinced that nothing can harm him and instantly for him all fear goes out of the universe. The nervous reflex, the natural revulsion to physical pain may be felt sometimes, but the deep torment of fear is gone forever. God is love and God is sovereign. His love disposes Him to desire our everlasting welfare and His sovereignty enables Him to secure it. Nothing can hurt a good man (p. 99).

 

References

Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_Antipas

Source 2: MacArthur, p. 1471

Source 3: MacArthur, p. 1472

Devotional #3. Luke 1:57-80

Devotional #3 (10/8/12).  The greatest prophet of all time is born.

Intro: Last week we talked about Mary, who was told she was going to give birth to Jesus. An angel told Mary that Jesus would be fully God and fully Man since the Holy Spirit would divinely put the seed inside Mary. We also saw that Elizabeth and Mary got together and praised God for their blessings.

This Week’s Reading: Luke 1:57-80.

vv. 57-60. Here John is born and everyone is happy that God has blessed Elizabeth and Zacharias. The “eighth day” was important because in Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:1-3 Israelites were commanded to circumcise their boys and by tradition that was when they were named also. The people filling out the paperwork assumed the baby would be named after his father but Elizabeth held to what the angel had said and named him John.

vv. 61-66. The people don’t trust Elizabeth since tradition was to call a child by another name that had been in the family, so they ask Zacharias. Since he was still mute he wrote out to call the baby John and at the point he was able to talk again. Remember the angel had promised Zacharias would “not [be] able to speak until the day these things take place” (Lk. 1:20) to teach him a lesson to trust in God.

So John was born and Zacharias had plenty of time to trust God and once he acknowledged the baby would be called John, he was able to talk again. In the same way sometimes God gives us a test and until His timing is reached and we have learned to trust in Him, we will have a disability or disadvantage. When Zacharias could finally talk again it must have made every word feel precious! I wonder if when he spoke: in talking with his wife, in teaching his son, in communicating with others, he made sure it mattered.

vv. 67-79. This passage is known as the Benedictus (the first word of v. 68 in the Latin translation)” (Source 1). A benediction is a blessing (Source 2). When Zacharias was serving in the temple he was supposed to give a benediction so it makes sense that the first words out of his mouth nine months later would be a blessing (Source 1).

Zacharias first blesses God (v. 68) which is a great way for us to start our prayers. He then recognizes that God is lifting Someone up in power since any time a “horn” (v. 69) is mentioned figuratively in the OT it means power. Obviously Zacharias is not exalting his son (John the Baptist) but praising the coming Messiah (Jesus). He recognizes that God has always: told his people of the Messiah through prophets (v. 70), saved from enemies (v. 71, 74) and kept His promises (v. 72-73). In verse 75 he acknowledges that God’s people will spend eternity with Him. In verse 76 Zacharias moves into prophecy of the greatest prophet ever known (see Luke 7:28) which would be his son! He finishes out this section with the truths that we will see shortly as we continue studying the Bible. John’s ministry was very specific: to prepare people’s hearts for the Messiah. A ministry is what you do for God. It can be teaching the Bible, evangelism, feeding the homeless or anything else that God has called you to do. It isn’t just doing a good thing but it is sharing God’s love and Jesus’ gift with others.

v. 80. The chapter finishes with a quick wrap up of John growing strong and hanging out in the desert until God was ready for him to start his ministry.

Summary: Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist and Zacharias is able to speak again. He immediately praises God for being faithful and keeping His promises. We have so much to be thankful for and we haven’t been waiting thousands of years for a Savior! God chose us to live during this time and to be able to look back at how perfectly His plan came together to miraculously bring John that Baptist into the world so that he could tell everyone about Jesus saving them. If you have not asked Jesus to save you now is the time!

Please feel free to ask questions and share with others!!!

 

References:

Source #1: MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1513.

Source #2: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/benediction

Devotional #2. Luke 1:26-56

Devotional #2 (10/1/12).  Mary and Elizabeth praise God for their miracles.

Intro: Last week we covered the beginning of Luke which talked about an elderly couple named Zacharias and Elizabeth who hadn’t been able to get pregnant. An angel told Zacharias that they would have a son but Zacharias doubt that could happen so he was rendered unable to speak until the son was born.

This Week’s Reading: Luke 1:26-56.

vv. 26-27. We get the location (Nazareth), the time (Elizabeth was in her “sixth month”, also in v. 36), the people (Mary, Joseph and the angel Gabriel) and the mission (God sent Gabriel to tell Mary the following).

vv. 28-33. Gabriel greets Mary with “Rejoice” because what he was announcing was what the entire world had been waiting for whether they knew it or not. He then tells her she is “highly favored”, that the Lord is with her and she’s “blessed”. How exciting this must have been for her to hear that God favored her and she would receive grace! But she was scared (“troubled”) because of the angel’s presence and she was confused by his ‘hello.’ He tells her she’ll have a son and to call him JESUS. The name in the Greek is “Jesus” meaning “Savior” and in Hebrew is “Jeshua” meaning “the LORD is salvation” which is a direct translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” from Daniel 9:25 (Source 1). Gabriel continues that Jesus will be on the throne of David and “reign over the house of Jacob” which are references to where His human bloodline came from. But notice for how long Jesus will rule this kingdom: “forever” and “will be no end.” So the kingdom isn’t just here on earth (as we see later, Jesus never ruled anything on earth) but it is one that is spiritual and eternal.

vv. 34-35. Mary says, ‘I’m a virgin, how can I have a baby, I’ve never had sex?’ (confirmed twice in v. 27 above). It isn’t a new thing for people to try and discredit or not believe in the virgin birth – the very woman who would have this miracle happen to her recognized how impossible it was! Notice that the angel explains that it will be the Holy Spirit who puts the baby in her womb. So we see that Jesus was fully God (“Son of God”) and fully human (being in Mary’s womb). For more see Mt. 1:23. God loved us so much He became like His creation to save them from their sins! See Colossians 2:9. All we have to do is recognize that we’re not perfect and accept His gift.

vv. 36-38. Gabriel tells Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, is pregnant. He says “for with God nothing will be impossible.” This is both a reassurance to Mary that the miracle of her virgin birth will happen because of what God has already been doing in Elizabeth and a reassurance to us. Once we recognize that God is greater than we can understand we see that nothing is impossible for Him. If we have a bill and no money to pay it, God can pay that bill. If we have a class we don’t think we can pass, God can help us. In Romans 8:28 it says “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” The four main things are: “all things”, “good”, “those who love God” and “His purpose.” This means God will make every single thing that happens end up good according to His will (not ours) for the person who loves God. Mary recognized this and agreed with God’s plan (v.38).

In-between these verses the Holy Spirit puts the seed of Jesus into Mary. But we don’t really get an explanation of how. John Simpson explains “…we are concerned here with the entry of the infinite God into his own creation, and this is something that cannot be described, any more than the act of creation itself can be described” (Source 2).

vv. 39-45. We see Mary rush to Elizabeth’s house and when she says “hi” John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. I am a father and I remember when my children would kick in my wife’s belly so Elizabeth would have been used to an active boy’s kicks. But this was something else, this was the Holy Spirit giving confirmation that Mary carried the Messiah. Elizabeth supernaturally knew Mary carried a baby and asks why she was blessed to be in the same room (showing humility). Then a second time she prophesizes, this time that Mary is blessed having God talk to her.

vv. 46-56. Mary responds to Elizabeth with a song praising God. We see that Mary was saturated by God. She says her “soul magnifies the Lord” which is an amazing way to say ‘God shines through me and like a magnifying glass I make Him clear to others.’ In v. 49 she exclaims in the past tense that “God has done great things for me”. This wasn’t in reference to the great things God would do but she was counting her past blessings while looking forward. This incredible woman is pointing out God’s promises are always kept and she praises Him for it.

Summary: Mary and Elizabeth are blessed by God’s miracles and they can do nothing but worship Him. In a culture and age when women were viewed as inferior we see the Bible giving their perspectives as credible and important and that God blessed them greatly! We can learn much from these fantastic role models and yet they were always pointing towards the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that we have our Savior since He was tempted in every way like us but never sinned (see Hebrews 4:15). He tells us that He loves us (see John 3:16) yet confirms He is the only way to Heaven (see John 14:6)!

References:

Source 1: MacArthur Study Bible, notes on Matthew, pp. 1393-94.

Source 2: Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, editor: Alexander, article by John Simpson, p. 515.