Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Today’s Scripture – September 7, 2017

Luke 7:28-30 (NIV) I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

John the Baptist was, even by Jesus’ estimation, a profoundly great man, even greater than Elijah in whose spirit and power he came (Luke 1:17, Malachi 4:5-6). But John’s greatness was not Jesus’ point here. His point was that, regardless of how great John was, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Jesus embodied the kingdom and demonstrated its reality everywhere He went. But the kingdom did not become a reality for the rest of the world until the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). John was filled with the Holy Spirit from even before birth (Luke 1:15) so that he could powerfully preach the words of God to the people and turn their hearts back to God before the kingdom did arrive.

But the power and riches of the kingdom of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the ability to do even greater things than Jesus did (John 14:12-14) were not available to John, because Jesus had not yet died, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. These had to wait until the appropriate time, and John would be executed by Herod before that time came.

Therefore, as Jesus pointed out, even the least in the kingdom of God has access to far more power, authority, wisdom, and grace than anyone before the kingdom became a reality, even John. The deep tragedy is that so few people who actually live in God’s kingdom today really grasp or believe this, and even fewer exercise it to move the kingdom forward and transform their homes, their communities, and their nations.

The response of the people to this announcement was predictable, even though few at the time understood its full implications. Those who had been baptized by John and who had thus bought into his message, predominantly common people including “sinners” and tax collectors, received it as truth. But those who rejected John’s message, refused his baptism, and hardened their hearts against Jesus, predominantly the religious leaders and the Pharisees, rejected this message as well, and thus turned away from the reality of the kingdom.

Father, this promise of the blessings of Your kingdom is staggering in its implications. It so powerfully reassures us of the reality of Your kingdom, and of Your power and grace that is freely available to those of us who live in it, just as Jesus promised. Help me to walk in that power, in that grace, in Your kingdom today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 5, 2017

Luke 7:24-27 (NIV) After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’”

One thing about true prophets is that they are who God has called them to be, and they staunchly refuse to be anything or anyone else. John was not trying to win any popularity contest or to increase his ratings or his church attendance. He was solely focused on fulfilling his calling.

Jesus pointed this out to those gathered there after John’s messengers left. He reminded them that they had not sought after John to find a reed swayed by the wind, someone who continually tried to fit in with popular opinion, or who just told people what they wanted to hear. John’s message was inflexible and uncompromising; it was God’s own message, and John knew that he was not authorized to modify or adapt it, or to soften its impact. The message had a purpose, and that purpose could only be accomplished if the message was delivered straight.

Neither was John a man who was pampered and rich, living in luxury and cut off from the common people and their hard-scrabble lives. John lived in the realest of real worlds, the wilderness, where if God didn’t provide for his needs, there would simply have been no way to meet them. He didn’t live the life of a “normal” person, but one actually more dependent on God that he could point those “normal” people to, so that they could experience the same communion and closeness with God that he had.

Instead, the people sought John as a prophet, one who is so close to God that he could actually know His heart and speak His words. To hurting, seeking people, mere philosophy or theology has no draw. It is only the direct word of God that can touch their hearts and help them to receive the understanding, comfort, and transformation that they so long for.

But John was far more than just a prophet. He was the forerunner of the Messiah, as foretold through the prophet Malachi (3:1). He was indeed a messenger from God, but he had the core assignment of preparing the hearts of the people for the One who would follow to establish the kingdom of God.

Father, even today, the advice of those who try to tell us what we want to hear is worthless to the hurting, seeking heart. The advice and lifestyle of the rich and famous leave us empty. It is only Your word that can transform a heart and give us all that we need to live our lives in Your presence. Thank you for that word today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 1, 2017

Luke 7:21-23 (NIV) At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

John was concerned that Jesus was just another forerunner like himself, and not actually the Messiah. This concern arose not because of what Jesus was doing, but because of what He was not doing, specifically, fulfilling the popular notions about the Messiah: that He would oust the Romans and the Herods, declare Himself king, and restore Israel to its former glory.

But when John’s messengers approached Jesus with these concerns, Jesus refocused their attention on what he was doing, which was the real point. That very day they had watched as Jesus healed diseases, cast out demons, and restored sight to the blind. They also heard Him teach about the kingdom of God in ways that the simplest of His hearers could understand.

Jesus instructed these men to go back to John and to simply tell Him what they had experienced and seen with their own eyes, as well as what they had heard testified about among Jesus’ followers. Not only were those with illnesses and disabilities healed completely, but the dead were raised by Jesus and His power. And, to top it all off, the good news of the gospel, the news of the here-and-now reality of God’s kingdom, was being preached, not to the rich and powerful, but to the poor, both the poor in spirit and the materially poor.

The messengers left satisfied. All of these were signs of the Messiah and of the coming kingdom as foretold by generations of prophets and seers. The fact that Jesus was doing such things, and not just occasionally, but all the time, showed them clearly that Jesus really was not only the Lamb of God, but the Messiah Himself

Father, so often we get hung up on our own expectations, to the point where we don’t see clearly all that You are doing in our midst. Keep my eyes open and my vision clear at all times, Lord, so that I can see Your hand at work in my life and in the lives of those around me, so that my testimony of those works can assure any skeptics of who You really are. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 31, 2017

Luke 7:18-20 (NIV) John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”

Some try to protect John’s reputation by saying that he really wasn’t doubting Jesus, but that he was simply prompting Him to declare Himself publicly as the Messiah to move the process along.

But the fact is, as John sat in prison, as he heard the things that Jesus was doing, the doubts did start to creep in. John knew what he had heard and seen at Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-34), and that he himself had proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God. But he, like a lot of others, had expected things to move quickly to their completion once the Messiah had actually appeared.

Yes, Jesus was doing all kinds of wonderful miracles, but what about taking away the sins of the world? Yes, He was delivering people from demons, but what about the deliverance of God’s people from the tyranny of the Romans? Yes, He was a great teacher, but why were so many still walking in error?

It’s important to note that Jesus’ performance was not lacking in any way. The problem was with John’s expectations. His understanding of what Jesus had come to do, coupled with his own frustration at being locked up, produced in him an impatience that things were moving forward so slowly.

Over the centuries, many people have become frustrated by their circumstances, and because their expectations of how Jesus and God would act to rescue them, and when that would happen, weren’t met. Then their faith would wane, and they would sometimes even turn away. But God’s actions, and the timing of those actions, are never dictated by the desires and expectations of people. God sees all things, even things that are hidden from any human eye, and He acts when the time is exactly right, not a moment before.

The correct response from God’s people when things don’t seem to be happening on time is for us to hold on to what we know, to stay faithful, and to wait patiently, knowing that every promise God has ever made to us will be fulfilled.

Father, I do sometimes get impatient while waiting for Your promises. Forgive me. I do sometimes lose faith and give up when my expectations are not fully met. Forgive me. Help me instead to do all that You suggest here. Help me to hold on to what I know, regardless of the circumstances. Help me to stay faithful, doing all that You have called me to do while I wait. And help me to wait patiently, knowing in my heart that every single promise You have made will be fulfilled. Amen.

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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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