Tag Archives: John the Baptist

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 14, 2017

Luke 1:76-80 (NIV) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

When Zechariah had thought of having a son, he dreamed of a son who would take up the “family business’ and succeed him as a priest of God. But ever since the angel Gabriel had announced John’s conception and birth, his mind was filled with a different vision: John would become a prophet, like the priests Isaiah and Jeremiah. Zechariah knew that a prophet, one whom God used to speak to His people, was an even higher calling than that of priest, and rejoiced that his son would be someone who would be that important in God’s plans.

He could already see that John would go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 4:5-6, to prepare the hearts of the people for the soon-to-follow Messiah. This was essential, but would be challenging because too many of God’s people were content with the status quo. They were comfortable living out lives that included Him in theory, but in which He was only really a factor on the holy days, or when they were in trouble.

John’s job would be to hold up the mirror of God’s standards, of His word, to their lives, helping them to see that, instead of being at the center of their lives, God had become a bit player, an add-on, and that without a vital, ongoing, 24/7 relationship with Him, they were just as lost as the pagans at whom they sneered.

But it was not just a message of condemnation that John would bring. It would also be a message of hope laced with warning. Hope because the Messiah was coming to show them the way of salvation. And warning because if the people refused to repent and get ready for Him, they would find themselves under His judgment instead of His blessing.

Zechariah knew that all of this was happening because God was keeping the promises He had made to His people centuries before. The time had finally come.

As John grew into strong, early adulthood, God drew him out into the wilderness to spend quality time with Him, to teach him complete dependence on Him for his every need, and to teach him all that he would need to know when the time came for him to begin his mission.

Father, Your plans are always perfect, always perfectly designed to accomplish what You intend for them, including the people whom You choose to play pivotal roles. Help me to faithfully do what You, in Your wisdom, have laid out as my role in Your plan, so that I never become a blockage that You need to work around to accomplish what You want to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 5, 2017

Luke 1:8-17 (NIV) Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah had been praying for a son for many long years, but he didn’t understand that God was planning something special for Him and Elizabeth. Now that the time had come, God was going to tell him that his prayers had always been heard, and were now going to be answered. So He arranged for Zechariah’s name to be drawn by lot to burn incense in the temple. For that task, he would be alone in the holy place and focused on God, so He could send His angel and find the man in a very receptive state.

Offering incense in the temple was a rare opportunity. Some priests never got their name chosen their whole life. So Zechariah was thrilled to actually get the chance to enter the temple and do this task for God. Immediately after he put the incense on the hot coals, producing a fragrant cloud of thick smoke, Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger appeared to him. Needless to say, Zechariah was startled at the sight, and instinctively jumped back. But before he could turn and run out of the temple, Gabriel delivered his divine pronouncement.

First of all, he reassured Zechariah that his prayers had not only been heard, but were finally being answered. Elizabeth would give birth to a son, even at her advanced age, and Zechariah was to give him the name John. John was to be a man devoted to God for a special purpose, even from birth. As such, he was never to drink anything fermented. Instead, God would fill him with the Holy Spirit his whole life, even before he was born, something that He had never done for anyone before.

Then Gabriel dropped the real bombshell: John would be the one who would go out in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah Himself, fulfilling Malachi 4:5-6. Zechariah, like many of the people of that day, was waiting expectantly for the Messiah to appear, and now here was a mighty angel of God telling him not only that the Messiah was on His way, but that his own soon-to-be-conceived son would be the Messiah’s forerunner! It was almost more than he could comprehend.

Father, it is interesting to think that Zechariah had prayed so long for this one heart’s desire that he had fallen into habit, and was shocked when he heard that you actually were answering him. And what an answer! So much more than he ever could have imagined. Help me to be both steadfast and faithful in my prayers, so that I always bring them in a state of expectant anticipation until I see Your answer. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 4, 2017

Luke 1:5-7 (NIV) In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

God chose this moment in time to act, because all of the necessary preparations had finally been completed. A large swath of Europe and the Middle East had a single trade language, Greek, and the Romans had built and were continuing to build roads and other infrastructure all of which would enable the messengers of the gospel to get the message out to millions of people quickly and easily. The time had now fully come (Galatians 4:4), so He began to put His plans into motion.

The first item was the promised forerunner, who would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the hearts of the people for the Messiah, who would follow in his wake (Malachi 4:5-6). To bring this person into existence, God chose a unique couple who were both completely devoted to Him, and who lived their lives uprightly and blamelessly before Him: Zechariah and Elizabeth. Like many couples God chose to have special children, they were childless, and were beyond the normal child-bearing age, so that there would be no question that the child they would have was a special gift from Him.

Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were descendants of Aaron, making Zechariah a priest who served in the temple, an intermediary between God and His people. John, their son, would also be born a priest by birthright, but his intermediation would be different than that of his father and his ancestors. Whereas Zechariah brought people near to God by presenting their sacrifices on the altar, John would bring people near to God by leading them to repentance. Whereas Zechariah presented the blood of the spotless sacrifices so that the sins of the people would be forgiven, John led people to turn away from their sinful attitudes and behaviors and to turn back to God so that they would be in a position to receive the Messiah when He came.

All of that was more than thirty years in the future at this point. But everything had finally been lined up, the key players had been chosen, and the ball was finally beginning to roll.

Father, it is easy to forget that You were moving behind the scenes all through history to bring things to that point where Jesus could come into the world and begin the process of establishing the new covenant. Even the choice of parents for both John and Jesus was not left to chance. It was all too important. The salvation of all of the people of the world, including me, hung in the balance, and you cared enough to get it all exactly right. Thank You! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 8, 2017

Matthew 17:9-13 (NIV) As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.  But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

One of the things about the event on the mountain that had piqued the excitement of the disciples was the appearance of Elijah.  He had been foretold as the forerunner of the Messiah for 400 years (cf. Malachi 4:5-6), and now here he was.  This was great news!

But Jesus was now swearing them to silence about what they had seen.  It didn’t make any sense to them.  They should be shouting the news in every town and village that Jesus was the Son of God, and that Elijah had appeared to announce Him as the Messiah!  If the teachers of the law were right, shouldn’t everybody be told?  And, by the way, why did Elijah go away?  The teachers had always said that he would preach and call the people to repentance.  Why would he go away before he did any of that?

Now it was Jesus’ turn to teach.  Yes, the teachers of the law were right.  Elijah does come first, and he does call people back to God, restoring their priorities, and inspiring in them hope, in order to prepare them for the Messiah.  But that had already taken place.  “Elijah” had already done all of that, and even the Bible teachers didn’t recognize him!  Instead, he had been arrested and killed, similar to what would happen to the Son of Man.

The disciples suddenly understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.  Actually, now that they thought about it, he did kind of remind them of the description of Elijah in his camel’s hair clothes (Matthew 3:4, cf. 2 Kings 1:7-8), as well as by his fiery preaching and denunciations of the slackers and false teachers.  John the disciple remembered that John the Baptist had flat-out denied being Elijah (John 1:19-21), but that made sense, too.  John was not Elijah reincarnated, or sent as a vision.  Instead, he had come as the Elijah of their own day; a man who had the spirit and power of Elijah (John 1:19-21), and who had completely fulfilled what the old prophecies had said that Elijah would do.

Then Jesus’ command of silence made sense.  Elijah had already come, so what they had just seen was not fulfillment of the sign of the Messiah.  Besides, if they told everybody, even the other disciples, that they had seen Jesus glowing like the sun, and that they had seen Moses and Elijah on the mountain, they most likely wouldn’t be believed anyway.  Later, maybe, people would hear and understand, but not yet.

Father, it’s interesting that even those closest to Jesus were still so blind to what You were doing; so tied to what the religious leaders told them would happen, that they completely missed the fulfillment of Your word when it actually did happen, because it didn’t look exactly like they were told it would happen.  Help me, Lord, to always keep my eyes open, and my mind open, so that I never miss what You are doing in my own life, my own church, my own town.  Amen.

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