Tag Archives: John the Baptist

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – January 12, 2017

Matthew 14:12-14 (NIV) John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it.  Then they went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.  Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

The death of someone we admire and appreciate always has a strong impact on a person.  And Jesus admired and appreciated John (cf. Matthew 11:11).  Besides that, it is one thing to hear that a person like that has died, or even been killed.  But to hear that their head was cut off and given to a pagan princess added a whole new dimension to the grief that Jesus felt.

It wasn’t that Jesus was hopeless over John’s death.  He knew that John was a man who belonged fully to God, who fully obeyed His will, and whose place in heaven was ultimately secure.  But the brutality of John’s death brought strongly to Jesus’ mind the cruel death that lay not that far in His own future.  He needed a little time to process, to pray, and to lean on His Father for strength.

But Jesus’ celebrity never made it easy for Him to have much privacy.  The crowds heard that Jesus was leaving, and were able to see from the direction the boat was sailing where He was going.  So they hurried by foot to meet Him there, bringing along their sick for Jesus to heal.

Jesus would have been within His rights to tell the people that He needed a little space to grieve John’s death.  Or, seeing the crowds, He could have instructed His disciples to head back out onto the lake and set ashore somewhere else.  But Jesus was never ruled by His passions, nor controlled by His needs.  He had come not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).  He had been born as the fruit of God’s own love and compassion for humanity.  And He knew that the way to spiritual strength was not through retreat, but through being right in the center of His Father’s will, walking in the path of His plan.

So Jesus went ashore into the throng of waiting people.  He healed the sick, and taught the people about life in the kingdom of God.  And in that process, He regained His center; He received comfort for His loss and strength for the future; and He was reassured of His path forward.

Father, it really is human nature to want to withdraw and lick our wounds when we are hurt.  But here we see a better way.  Not service for service’s sake, but merely staying in the center of Your will, keeping ourselves in the midst of Your calling for our lives.  It is only there that we can walk in Your presence and power, and it is there that we can best find the comfort and healing that we crave.  Thank You for this insight.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – January 9, 2017

Matthew 14:3-5 (NIV)
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.

Herod was a weak man, easily manipulated and easily swayed.  The “crime” for which he imprisoned John was simply reminding him of the requirements of God’s law that he was violating.

It was not that John was mistaken, either in his knowledge of what the law said, or in how he was applying it to Herod’s specific situation.  The law clearly stated that a brother’s wife was off limits (Leviticus 18:16).  Herod divorced his first wife in order to marry Herodias, his half-brother.  Herodias divorced Herod’s brother at the same time, with the same ends in mind.  Not only was the relationship forbidden by God, but this pair of divorces were not undertaken because of any stated fault of the former spouses, but purely for the sake of getting into a relationship with someone else – adultery.

John’s accusations were galling to Herod, because he had no reasonable defense.  He was out of line with God’s moral standards, and he knew it.  And they were doubly galling because Herodias was an ambitious woman who saw that Herod had the potential to give in to John’s urgings, which would have cast her away from the center of power that Herod represented.

So Herod was stuck.  On one side was his wife who was continually badgering him to execute John in order to protect her own position.  On the other side was his fear of an uprising among the people, who he feared would rise up against him if he were to execute someone that they considered a genuine prophet.  As Mark notes (Mark 6:19-20), Herod himself believed John to be a holy and righteous man, was fascinated by him, and listened to him all the time.  That alone was enough to alarm Herodias.  But she was both patient and sly.  She knew that as long as Herod held John in jail, the time would come when she would be able to force the issue and have him executed.  She would wait.

Father, it is clear that Herod didn’t have to be in that hard place.  He could have avoided getting there in the first place by simply obeying the law and staying married to his first wife.  But the thought of repenting, or of divorcing Herodias was even harder.  Herod was addicted to his lust for Herodias, and he was a morally weak man who was unwilling to admit that he was in the wrong.  Ultimately that weakness made his life far more unpleasant that it needed to be, including a war caused by his divorce from his first wife, and ultimate exile.  How much better it is to live in accordance with Your clear moral teachings from the beginning, so that we can live under Your blessings every day.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations