Monthly Archives: June 2017

Today’s Scripture – June 30, 2017

Luke 3:15-20 (NIV) The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 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 he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

John was the most amazing person most of the people of that time had ever seen. It was like one of the prophets had walked right out of the pages of Scripture and was now holding forth at the Jordan River. It is no surprise that many of them wondered if this could be the Messiah Himself.

The Pharisees were the most direct, asking him straight out if he was indeed the Messiah (John 1:19-27). But John answered them just a clearly with a resounding “no.” As impressive as John was, the one who would follow him, the real Messiah, would be ever more so. John baptized in water, but the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s job was to get the people ready, but the Messiah would separate the wheat from the chaff among the people, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

But John’s preaching was not all fire and brimstone. He absolutely preached the truth about who the Messiah was, and what He would do when He came. And he urged the people to not only toe the line with regards to their actions, but to truly repent so that their hearts would be ready to receive Him when He came.

But John also preached the good news to the people. The good news had three aspects to it. Aspect one was that God had not forgotten His people, but had finally sent His Messiah to them (Luke 3:16). The second aspect is that the Messiah would bring real forgiveness of sins so that people could once again have true fellowship with God (John 1:29). And the third aspect was that, with the coming of the Messiah, God’s kingdom was becoming a here-and-now reality (Matthew 4:17).

All of these aspects were indeed good news to those who were hoping and praying for them. But they would also prove to be a real existential threat to those in the power structure of Palestine, from the king to the priests, whose security and power lay in maintaining the status quo. That was why Herod ended up throwing John into prison – John’s clear confrontation and proclamation of his sins put his very station at risk, and Herod couldn’t risk that.

Father, it’s an interesting point that this threefold good news is only good news to those who don’t have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo to protect their self-interests. To them, even good news can be seen as a threat, and move them to quash things before they get out of hand. We can see this dynamic working clearly in the Jewish leaders in their dealings with Jesus. Help me, Lord, to clearly see anyplace that I feel threatened by the truths in Your word, so that I can immediately repent, and fully partake of ALL of Your good news. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 29, 2017

Luke 3:10-14 (NIV) “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”

John’s words of warning hit home with many of the people. They were baptized, but they also wanted to know what the fruit of repentance looked like, the changes that they would need to make in their lives to show that their repentance was real. John did not pooh-pooh this idea, believing that baptism was all that was necessary. Instead, he gave them concrete things that they needed to do, none of which was too lofty or difficult to be accomplished.

To the average person, John pointed them to generous hearts, anticipating Jesus’ teaching that we don’t have to be grasping continually to amass more, but can be generous and giving, trusting God to provide what we truly need each day (Matthew 6:25-34). But to live that way requires repentance and a real change of heart, so that the one who has been selfish and focused on his or her own needs can see and respond to a brother or sister with a need that they can meet out of their surplus, trusting God to provide for them in return.

The tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people, partly because they were seen as shills for Rome, but mostly because they mercilessly squeezed the people for the taxes imposed by Rome, and grew rich on the surpluses that they collected. And since there were not itemized receipts, the people were never sure how much of what they paid was taxes, and how much was going straight into the tax collector’s pocket. John’s requirement for these men to demonstrate their changed hearts was to collect what was required, and to stop fattening their own purses with the blood and sweat of their fellow Jews. Again, this would require a renewed level of faith in God, that He would be able and willing to supply what they needed each day.

Even soldiers were there to be baptized. Many soldiers of Rome had become God-fearers, worshipers of the true God who had not yet taken the steps of conversion and circumcision. When these men asked John what was necessary to show fruits of true repentance, John did not point them to circumcision. That was a cosmetic thing that could be done without any heart change at all. Nor did he demand that they quit the military and stop serving Rome. Instead, he required that they deal justly with their fellow people, not exerting their authority to manipulate people and extort money from them through threats of false accusations, but being content with the pay that they received through the legitimate performance of their jobs.

For all three of these groups, John was pointing them away from their pursuit of security through more and more material wealth, which is a powerful temptation for people, even today. Instead, he directed them toward lives of contentment, faith, and generosity as visible fruit that would clearly demonstrate their changed orientation toward God and His kingdom.

Father, it is very easy for us to mouth prayers and give the right answers to questions about our repentance. It is much different to demonstrate our repentance through transformed mindsets and drastically modified actions and attitudes. But the transformation is essential to real repentance. Help my mind to always show a true kingdom orientation, and my actions clearly reflect a genuine kingdom lifestyle. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 27, 2017

Luke 3:1-6 (NIV) In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.'”

God’s call came to John in the wilderness at exactly the right time to get a sizeable number of people ready for the Messiah’s appearing. During the time when John was preaching, Jesus was still living in Nazareth. He was constantly listening for God’s voice telling Him that the time had arrived, and was keeping Himself physically and spiritually strong, so that nothing would have to be one when God’s call came except to go.

John’s job was to prepare the people for the coming of the one who was greater than him. His focus was to show people their sinfulness, all of the places where their actions and attitudes did not comply with God’s law, and urge them to repent, to turn away from those sinful actions and attitudes, and turn back to God. And when they agreed, he baptized them in the Jordan River, symbolizing both a washing away of their sins and a fresh start.

Isaiah had been shown John’s preparatory ministry, and wrote a picturesque description of it in chapter 40, verses 3-5 of his book. He heard a voice crying out from the wilderness that the Lord was coming, and that it was time to prepare the way for Him. The picture is one of getting the roads ready for a visiting potentate, with all potholes being filled in, the low places in the road that tended to become muddy being filled in with rock, and all of the bumps being smoothed out.

But Isaiah went even further, painting a picture of such thorough preparation that the hills themselves were torn down and the valleys filled in to make a level road that would be welcoming to the arriving King. And this was actually a very good picture of the preparation work that John had been sent to do. The average person didn’t have just a few small potholes to be filled in, just a couple sections of washboard road to be graded. The average person then, like today, had mountains of sin that needed to be brought low, and deep holes in their relationship with God that needed to be filled in, as well as numerous crooked ways that needed to be straightened. John’s job, his whole purpose for being, was to help people to recognize these realities, and to help them begin the process of renovation and restoration by leading them to repentance.

Father, this really is quite a graphic picture of what sin does in our lives, raising up high mountains of brokenness and dysfunction, and putting large holes in our relationship with You and with others. And what a great picture of repentance, as preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives and hearts, recalibrating our lives so that they are reoriented and realigned with You and Your commands. Help me to always stay alert to any place in my heart where I am allowing sin to degrade Your ways. And if I find any, help me to repent immediately, so that Your ways are always straight and smooth in my heart. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 24, 2017

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

This small “slice of life” that Luke includes in his gospel gives a very small taste of who the boy Jesus was growing up to become. By the time He was twelve, Jesus knew a lot about the Scriptures, the history of the Jewish people, and theology. He was a strongly motivated student, partly because of what His parents had told Him about the circumstances surrounding His conception, birth, and first year of life (before life began to take on a normal rhythm in Nazareth), but also because of His own growing awareness of who He was, and what He had been born to do.

This was not Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. It was the norm for whole families to go to the festival together, and to travel in large groups of extended family and friends from the same village. That was the reason that Mary and Joseph did not miss Jesus on the return trip. Twelve-year-old’s had quite a bit of autonomy in that culture, and His parents reasonably assumed that He was traveling with friends or family somewhere in the larger group.

He wasn’t missed until they stopped for the night and inquiries revealed that no one had seen Him all day. Traveling after dark was slow and dangerous, so Mary and Joseph spent a restless night and left at first light, sending their other children on to Nazareth in the care of family members.

It was the following morning when they finally found Jesus in the temple courts, deeply involved in a theological discussion with the teachers of the law. He was listening with shining eyes and eager interest etched on His face. From time to time He contributed an opinion, or asked what the rabbis conceded were very good questions. To tell the truth, the rabbis were enjoying Him and His input into their discussions as much as Jesus was enjoying the spirited back-and-forth over each passage of Scripture.

Mary and Joseph were expecting to find Jesus terrified at being left behind in the big city, not enjoying a Scriptural debate! They stood and watched for a couple of moments in stunned silence. Mary was the first to find her voice, and she called His name, snapping His attention away from the discussion, and drawing Him over to where they stood, frowning, with arms crossed. A modern version of Mary’s speech would sound like: “Just what do you think you’re doing, young man? Your father and I have been worried sick! We’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

A small furrow appeared between Jesus’ brows as He processed this. The He asked in all innocence and sincerity, “Why were you looking all over for me? Doesn’t it make sense that I would be right here in my Father’s house?”

Mary and Joseph had no idea what to make of such an answer. Raising the Son of God definitely came with some unique challenges! So, for now, they just gathered Jesus, excused themselves as politely as they could, and started the long trip back to Nazareth. There was a lot of silent pondering along the way, as each of them looked long at this young man skipping along the road ahead of them, and then at each other with question after question in their eyes.

Father, Jesus’ growing sense of who He was in His relationship with You sparked a greater and greater hunger and thirst to study and understand Your word, and to be where You were present and working. May it be in my life that each day, as I understand more and more of who I am in my relationship with You, that it sparks exactly that same hunger and thirst in my own heart. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 23, 2017

Luke 2:36-40 (NIV) There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Anna was another person who was completely devoted to the Lord, and had been since her youth, even before her husband died when she was in her very early twenties. She spent her days in prayer and contemplation in the temple complex, also listening to such teaching as she could hear going on around her in the temple or in the synagogue services she attended on the Sabbath. Women in those days did not generally have an opportunity to read the Scriptures for themselves or to take classes like the men did. But every word she heard she treasured in her heart.

That morning God alerted Anna that the Messiah would be at the temple, so she went with great expectancy. When she heard the song that Simeon was chanting and the words that he spoke to Mary and Joseph, she knew that this child was the One. That started her own prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord, and then she started speaking to all of those passing by, pointing out the child to them as the Messiah. And, as usual, Mary and Joseph took careful note of all that was said about Jesus.

Mary and Joseph did not immediately return to Nazareth, although Luke does point out that they didn’t head back home until after they had completely fulfilled all of the requirements of the law of God. The wise men would soon show up, and immediately after that they would have to escape Herod’s clutches by fleeing to Egypt for a few months (Matthew 2:1-18). But when they came back to the land after Herod’s death, they went back to Nazareth and resettled there among their family and friends.

Jesus grew into a young man who was full of wisdom and grace. He was a quick pupil, whether the subject was the Scriptures or carpentry. Despite the fact that He was in fact God in the flesh, He was humble and obedient to His parents, and kind and gracious to those He met.

Father, it would probably be understandable to us if Jesus was a bit haughty from time to time, especially as He grew and became more and more aware of Who He was. But the fact is, You are not haughty or overbearing, but kind, gracious, loving, and forgiving to all who love You and want to know You. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see all of those positive traits beginning to show up in Jesus as He grew older. Help each of us to also reflect those traits in our own lives, so that we, too, can bring honor and glory to Your name. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 22, 2017

Luke 2:25-35 (NIV) Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Even in the darkest times in Israel’s history, God always preserved for Himself a remnant, a faithful few who kept the light of whole-hearted devotion burning. And He kept those faithful, righteous and devout people in the loop as to what He was doing.

Many in the days when Jesus was born were waiting for the Messiah, and believed that the day was drawing near. But a few, like Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Anna, and Simeon and Anna were waiting with a different kind of expectancy, because God was able to speak directly to their hearts and show them what He was doing. Simeon did not know the exact day that he would lay eyes on the Messiah, but he knew that it would be soon, before he died.

That morning, God spoke to his heart through the Holy Spirit and told him that the day was finally here. He rushed into the temple courts, his eyes sweeping continually from side to side, looking for some sign as to which of the hundreds of people gathered there was the One.

Finally he saw a man with a woman who was holding a child close in her arms, and the Holy Spirit said, “That’s Him; that’s the Messiah!” Simeon approached the family with tears rolling down his wrinkled cheeks. He had waited so long, and now here was the proof that God was still working His plan for His people. He held out his arms expectantly and, after only a brief hesitation, Mary handed the child to this stranger. He held the child securely, and caressed his tiny, smooth cheek. Then a sing-song chant of praise burst through his lips: “Sovereign Lord, You promised that I wouldn’t die until I had seen Your Messiah, Your Savior. Today I have seen Him, so now I can die in peace! This tiny child is the One! He will not only save Your people, Israel, and draw them into Your glory; He will even draw Gentiles to know You!”

The man seemed lost in a trance of ecstasy. But suddenly his eyes cleared and lowered to meet those of Jesus’ astounded parents. His voice was low but intense as he predicted that, in the course of His life, this child would not just be a beneficent religious figure, but would shake up the entire Jewish society and religion, and would end up on the hit list of some pretty powerful people, who would show what they really were by their intense opposition to Him.

But it was his final sentence, “And a sword will pierce you own soul, too.” that turned Mary’s blood cold and dimmed the joy of the day. Any mother has the potential to be crushed by tragedy that strikes her child. But few live with the certainty that that day will come.

Father, I am amazed at how many people You brought into the loop so that they knew who Jesus was, even as an infant. Some in the vicinity were likely skeptical of what they were hearing, and some were likely oblivious, so caught up in their own agendas that they didn’t even notice all of the buzz. But those with eyes to see and ears to hear got to experience the joy of hope realized, the exhilaration of knowing that You were on the move. And You are still moving today! Help me to stay tuned in to Your voice so that I can share the good news of all that You are up to with everyone around. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 21, 2017

Luke 2:21-24 (NIV) On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

As previously noted, Joseph and Mary were both righteous and completely obedient to God’s commandments. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth in exact conformity to the law (Genes 17:12, Leviticus 12:3). And at that time He was given the name Jesus in exact obedience to the angel’s command (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary completed the days of her purification (Leviticus 12:2-4), so they went up to the temple in Jerusalem to both make the purification sacrifice for Mary (Leviticus 12:5-8), and to pay the redemption price for Jesus as the firstborn son (Exodus 13:12). The sacrifice they brought, two young pigeons, was reserved for those who couldn’t afford a lamb for the burnt offering, a testimony to their low estate. (It also shows that the wise men had not yet come with their gift of gold!)

Such elaborate and expensive rituals may seem odd to people living today, but all of them spoke to very specific points of history and holiness.

  • Circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, when God officially inaugurated him as the root of the nation that He would own as His people, and through whom He would bless all of the people of the world. When a Jewish boy was circumcised, it was a sign in his flesh that he was a part of that covenant, and identified him as belonging specifically to God.
  • The days of impurity after giving birth had to do with the blood that accompanied the birth process. Blood is a precious substance, the very stuff of life, spilled out in the sacrifices that atoned for sin. For that reason, God taught His people to treat it with awe and respect. It was never to be consumed as the pagans did (Leviticus 7:26-27, 17:13-14), but only offered to God. And the blood of another was never to be contacted. God taught His people that such contact with the blood of someone else would cause them to become unclean in His sight. Even those who were involved in war had to undergo cleansing rituals before they could come back into the camp (Numbers 31:19-20). And menstrual blood was to be avoided for the same reason (Leviticus 15:19-24).

Joseph and Mary never questioned the need for such rituals and sacrifices, or rationalized away the need for compliance with them. They simply obeyed, desiring with all of their hearts to keep themselves, body, mind, soul, and spirit, blameless and holy in God’s sight.

Father, Mary and Joseph were completely obedient to all of Your commands without the slightest aroma of legalism about them. They didn’t obey to get something from You, they had already received so much, but simply out of their wholehearted love and devotion. Help my obedience to be just as complete, just as pure, just as untainted by any false motives as theirs was. Amen.

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