Achieving Spiritual Confidence Begins with Believing

Luke 10 & John 10:22-42

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. -John 10:27-28 NRSV

Rejection is something that all of us have, or will, face in this life. And, I can honestly say that it never feels great. You know that feeling where you feel like your stomach hits the floor? For a moment, it’s hard to catch a breath. In that moment you feel like you’ve lost it all. As humans, we want people to believe in us. We want to be trusted in, relied upon. And, we also hate the loneliness that comes from people choosing to walk away from us or not abide in our words. 

So, what must it have felt like for our Messiah to constantly face people who were unwilling to believe him? How did he have the strength to continue to persevere? We see in the ministry of the Son of Man, the Perfect Man, an ability to consistently rely upon the Word of his father. We see in Jesus complete confidence in God and his plan for Jesus’s ministry. And, over and over, we see Christ giving all glory to God. Jesus knows with complete clarity where his power is coming from and how important it is.

Can you imagine knowing you are the Son of God, proclaiming the gospel that you know without any doubt is true, and having your Jewish brothers and sisters threaten you with stoning? 

Fear, dismay, sadness. I can say if I had been in the shoes of Jesus at the end of John 10, I would be overwhelmed with emotion. The steadiness that we see in the Lord is astonishing, and takes an exuberant amount of courage. 

32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?”

Wow. Jesus has just laid out his cards. He is saying, “Look this is who I am. I have been sent by my father to do his good works. You have seen many of these works. And you are going to stone me now?” He is making it clear that by stoning Jesus, the Jews are going against the glory of God. WOAH. What an argument. Its clean, simple, and most importantly, transcendent. 

Although we see that Jesus escapes being stoned that day in John 10, we all know that he did have to endure the cross for us. The perfect man that did it all right covered our sin with his blood. And then, God raised him from the dead. Because of that, we have been grafted into an eternal kingdom where righteousness will reign! 

But in this life, we will continue to face rejection. We will always have people that don’t believe us. And no, we aren’t going to be perfect. But because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we have the ability to also trust in and rely upon the Word of God. We have the opportunity to serve and be loved by our Creator. How beautiful is that? 

When we choose to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we learn what it takes to be spiritually confident. Trust in God. Trust in his Word. Proclaim his good works. That is where true confidence begins. 

-Leslie Jones

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 10 and John 10:22-42

Tomorrow we will read Luke 12-13

In Need of a Shepherd

John 9:1 – 10:21

Imagery of sheep and shepherd are found all throughout the Bible, in both the old and the new testaments. Because of this, I think we sometimes forget some of the metaphorical imagery that comes with the sheep and shepherd dynamic. Sheep are not an intelligent animal in any sense of the word. They often wander off and get themselves in trouble. When threatened by predators, sheep will often clump themselves together in such a tight pack, that sheep in the center will often suffocate. All in all, sheep are fully reliant on their shepherd for protection, food water, and for their own survival.

Here in John 10, when Jesus is speaking about sheep, and he being the good shepherd, the people probably would have seen it as insulting when he compared them to sheep. But the point that Jesus is trying to make, is that like sheep we could not depend on ourselves for salvation from the consequences of our bad choices. God had to send us a shepherd who would “lay down his life for his sheep”. So he sent us His son Jesus. And as Jesus said, no one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord. I don’t think we could have asked God to send us a better shepherd than who He sent us, His one and only son, Jesus. In just over a week, the Thanksgiving season will begin, and I think that this year we need to spend time thanking God, for the gift of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life willingly, for us his sheep.

Jonny Smith

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 9:1 – 10:21

Tomorrow’s passages will be the rest of John 10 and Luke 10.

2 Fathers?

John 7-8

Okay, let me start by saying, it was SO hard deciding where to even start when I was writing today’s devotion. There is just so much meat in these two chapters, and I highly recommend that you set aside enough time today to really dig into these scriptures.

In today’s first chapter, John 7, we watch as Jesus instructs his disciples to go to the feast without him, because the Jews do not hate the disciples as they do Jesus. Eventually Jesus goes, but in secret. He went to the temple and began teaching, aware that if he were to make himself known to too many people, things wouldn’t end well. Which of course, in the long run, they didn’t – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Jesus said, his time had not yet fully come. This is one of the reasons he was often so discreet. He couldn’t yet draw too much attention to himself, because he knew that would almost immediately lead to his death. This is important to note because he was not done with his time on earth; he knew there was more to accomplish before fulfilling the prophecy. And so he did, showing as much love and kindness as possible,
and bringing thousands and thousands of people into the light. (And in doing so, setting an example for us to do the same.)

We could, of course, continue to talk about this one chapter for days and days,
however, there’s also a ton of good stuff worth addressing from the next chapter, John 8. This one’s actually jam-packed with wise words and food for thought… so let’s dive in.


The first little section in John 8 is the story of the adulterous woman, which is
definitely a good one and can teach us a lot. However if you don’t know already, this story was not in early manuscripts of the book of John, and was likely not written by him. Regardless, the important take away of this story is that none of us have the right to judge another, for we all sin, and we all deserve forgiveness. What stood out to me most though, is that Jesus said “I do not condemn you, either. Go…” which of course is the point of the story, but then he said, “From now on sin no more.” We can’t forget this part in Jesus’ line of thinking. Yes, we can be forgiven, but that doesn’t mean just getting away with something and then going and doing it again. It’s also about repentance; turning yourself around and doing things different from there on out. That’s maybe the most important step: what you do after the fact.


In the next few sections of chapter 8, we’re walked through a series of conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees/Jews. Repeatedly, Jesus (humbly) says something authoritative, and repeatedly, the Pharisees have some illegitimate reason to disagree. Jesus describes himself in many ways over chapter 8: the Light, the Son, the Truth, etc. This is who he is, always, but it is in this chapter that these attributes resulted in so many people coming to believe in him, and so many people coming to hate him. What the Pharisees failed to understand was that Jesus truly did have authority over them. He is the Mediator between God and man. When he claims all these things about who
he is, it’s not to glorify himself, it’s simply the truth, God’s truth. As the Son of God he speaks God’s truth, not on his own initiative, but as the Father teaches him (John 8:28).


Jesus has to repeat himself many times in chapter 8, because his audience is really not getting it. At one point he even asks, “Why are you not understanding what I am saying?” which I always imagine was said in slight exasperation. From this point on, he really begins spelling it out for them, and for us. In verses 38-47 Jesus refers to two fathers, ours and his. At first the Jews think he means their descendant, Abraham. He proceeds to tell them that if they were truly children of Abraham, they would be acting like Abraham, but they’re not. Then they try to refute this by saying, oh well actually no, God is our one Father. Jesus then replies with, well if God was your Father, you would love me, because He’s the one who sent me. Then he reveals that the father he was really referring to as theirs was the devil, which had to have stung, but should
really make us think. Who are we allowing to lead our lives? As children of God, are we fully giving ourselves to Him- our Creator, our Potter, our Abba.

Lastly I want to quickly mention something about 8:58. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (NASB). Many times trinitarians take this verse and try to claim that this means Jesus was around forever, making him one with God. However, it was really translated wrong, (as many verses are, due to the overwhelming amount of biased translators) and if translated correctly, would read something more like, “I am he,” or “I am the one,” which in this context, would just be referring to himself as the Messiah, existing not physically in Abraham’s time, or before, but in God’s plans for the world.

As you go through the rest of your week, pray that, being of God, you may hear the word of God, because followers of God WILL hear Him, and will know the truth (John 8:45-47), and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).

– Isabella Osborn

It’s a treat to hear from Isabella today. She is a wise and caring home-school student from South Carolina who loves loving God and others.

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 7-8

Tomorrow we will read John 9:1-10:21 as we continue on our journey through God’s Word. Come follow along!

More than Just a Free Lunch

John 6

Some days I have trouble feeding my hungry family. It’s not because there isn’t lots of food options in the house (only some of them past-dated). It’s just that sometimes I didn’t plan ahead and I am missing that one ingredient needed for what sounds good, or I am just tired, or it’s simply one of those days I would rather be anywhere but the kitchen. Feeding 5 seems like a rather large chore some days. I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do if I was given the job of feeding 5,000 men! This is definitely time for a miracle!

The Feeding of the 5.000 must have been a favorite event to recall during the time of the early church as it is one of the very few (or, even the only) miracles of Jesus recorded in all 4 gospels. It is fun to see the slight differences each writer brings to their retelling.

Matthew records this event as happening right after Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist(14:13). Mark and Luke recall that the disciples had just returned from their Jesus-appointed “mission trips” and were reporting on all they had experienced. Jesus was definitely looking for a quiet place to be alone with his disciples so he took them to a remote location. But the crowds still found him. As an introvert I love and value the time I have alone with my quiet. But as a follower of Jesus, I must remember so much of the job he would have me do requires connection with others (in-person or even virtually in 2020). Jesus had compassion on the crowd, re-ordered his calendar and priorities, and pushed back his quiet time with God til later (he DID still get his quiet time though – even if it was when most people were sleeping). Luke records, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.” (9:10).

Today we are reading of the event from John’s gospel. John had been an eyewitness to see so many of Jesus’ miracles, but he chose to include only 7 in his gospel account – one of them being the Feeding of the 5,000. Dr. Joe Martin, New Testament professor at Atlanta Bible College, loves to point out all the details we get from John. Unlike the other gospel writers, John wrote his gospel later in life, when the brain’s old memory bank is overflowing with fun little details of events long past. John is in fact the only author who tells where the 5 loaves and 2 fish came from – the little boy’s lunch. John even includes that the loaves were made of barley (a cheaper grain most often consumed by the poor). He also recalls and includes which disciple said what when. He did all he could to help his readers watch this amazing miracle unfold.

Can you picture yourself in that crowd, stomach growling but not wanting to leave to find food – you don’t want to miss a minute with Jesus. And then, you’re told to sit down and the food starts coming – and coming – and coming. Sure, it is simple barley loaves and fish, but they taste so good and filling. Word passes around that all this food came from one little boy’s lunch. How in the world could so many people eat and be filled with 5 loaves and 2 fish? There was no logical explanation. This man Jesus who had taken the bread and fish and gave thanks to his Father had just performed a miracle and you were there to see it and taste it and fill you up inside. You can’t wait to tell your friends and neighbors about your experience with this man Jesus.

After a retelling of the amazing walking on water scene (which truly deserves a devotion of its own), John includes the teaching Jesus gave calling himself the Bread of Life. Jesus realized that since he had miraculously fed the multitudes he would have a following constantly looking for another free lunch . How could he explain to them that through God’s plan, he (Jesus) could offer them so much more than a free meal that would fade away and be replaced with gnawing hunger again. God’s design was so much greater. Jesus said: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

You may have missed the free lunch, but don’t let this offer pass you by!

Remember Jesus’ words to Satan (and recited from what would become Deuteronomy) “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 NIV). Look to God, fill yourself up on His Word and His Son. Nothing else satisfies. Nothing else leads to eternal life but the Bread of Life, the Son of God.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – John 6.

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 15 and Mark 7 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible reading plan.

Incident at the Pool

John 5 – The Healing at Bethesda

In Jerusalem there was a pool, called Bethesda, where blind, lame, and paralyzed people would gather.  My Bible has a footnote that says John 5:4 isn’t in the most reliable manuscripts.  John 5:4 says “From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters.  The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”  If this verse isn’t legitimate, the rest of the story doesn’t make sense, so I’ll assume it is valid.

Anyway, there was a man there who had been an invalid for 38 years.  Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well.  This seems like a strange question to ask someone who was an invalid.  But who knows, maybe he was making a good income begging, and wanted to stay in his condition.  

Instead of saying, “Yes!”, the man started making excuses – he replied that he didn’t have anyone to help him into the pool when the water was stirred, so he never got into the water first.

Jesus then told him, “Get up!  Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

This is a curious miracle.  The man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him.  The man didn’t have faith that Jesus could heal him – when asked, he didn’t even know who had healed him.  Also, there were many sick people there, and Jesus only healed this one man.  First, I do have to acknowledge this is a tremendous example of grace.  But I do have to wonder, why did Jesus heal this man?

If we keep reading the story, we find that instead of being happy for the man that had just been healed, the religious leaders criticized him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  He told them he was just doing what he was told by the man who had healed him.  When asked who that was, he didn’t know.

Later, Jesus found him again and told him to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him.  (We can assume Jesus meant the final judgement, but we’re not told.)  After this, the man went back to the religious leaders to tell them Jesus had healed him – on the Sabbath.

Now, I think we are finally at the point of understanding why Jesus healed this man.  I wonder if Jesus wanted to shake up the understanding of the religious leaders of his day, and this was a good way to get their attention.  He told them, “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”   Notice that Jesus said “My father” instead of “our father”.

The Jews recognized that Jesus was telling them that He is the son of God.  In this chapter, He also called himself the “Son of Man”, which they would have recognized as a messianic reference from Daniel 7:13l.  They were furious that not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, he was claiming that He was (is) the son of God.  And they made the mental leap to say that if Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, he was claiming to be equal with God.

They studied the scriptures regularly, and thought they would “earn” eternal life because of that.  Jesus pointed out, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” 

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t accept what He was telling them.  Instead, they just wanted to kill Him.  What about you?  Do you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who will one day judge the living and the dead?  To paraphrase James 2:19, the demons acknowledge this too – and shudder.

If you do acknowledge Jesus, what are you going to do about it?  I would encourage you to take a cue from the man who was cured, and obey what Jesus said.   No, don’t pick up your bed and walk – instead read your Bible to understand all Jesus taught about, and obey all of that.  Finally, we should all take to heart Jesus’ warning to the man, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Because, as we’re reminded in John 5:28-29, “… for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 5

Tomorrow we read Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3, and Luke 6 as we continue in our Bible reading plan.

Jesus Talks with a Samaritan Woman

John 2-4

You may be familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan”.  But do you know the story of the “Bad Samaritan”?  You might know this better as the story of the woman at the well.

In Jesus’ day, Jews thought very little of Samaritans.  It may not be an overstatement to say the Jews hated the Samaritans.  The origin of this animosity dated back to the Assyrian invasion of Israel around 721 BC.  The Samaritans were of mixed race, partially Jewish, and partially who-knows-what.  They weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, so they worshiped in their own temple in Samaria.  And, as Jesus pointed out, they worshiped what they didn’t even understand.

In John 4, we find Jesus arriving at a well near Sychar around noon.  Jesus waited at the well, while his disciples went into town to buy some food.  As Jesus waited, a woman came up to draw water.  I’ve heard this would have been a very unusual time to draw water – and she probably came then to avoid having to interact with others – because even the people in town would have looked down on her.

Anyway, Jesus started up a conversation with the woman, asking her for water.  In doing this, Jesus cut across all the social norms of his day.  First, Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was an “inferior” Samaritan.  Second, as I understand it, men of the day felt superior to women, and again, wouldn’t typically strike up a conversation.  Finally, Jesus was holy and the Samaritan woman wasn’t.  And religious leaders of his day felt superior to common sinners, and wouldn’t associate with them.  Jesus cut through all of those norms to interact with this woman.  The obvious reason given was because Jesus was thirsty, and the woman could draw water from the well.  I believe the ulterior motive was to share salvation with this woman and ultimately with the whole city.

Right from the beginning of the conversation, the woman was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her, since he was a Jew.  Jesus pointed out that if she understood who it was she was talking with, He could offer her something amazing – water welling up to eternal life.  Jesus told her to get her husband, to which she replied, “I don’t have a husband.”  When Jesus told her that she had had 5 husbands and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with then – she recognized Jesus was a prophet. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Jesus told her directly, “I who speak to you am he.”  The woman left her water jug and immediately went into town to tell everyone that she had found the Messiah.  The whole town came out and ultimately believed – first, because of the testimony of the woman, then eventually because of their experience with Jesus.

Often, when we read a story like this, we associate with Jesus.  We may think, “I should follow Jesus’ example, break social norms, and associate with those who are “inferior” to me.”  

While this may be true, I’d like to focus on the woman, and see what we can learn from her.  Although presumably “unworthy”, and probably a social outcast, Jesus revealed Himself to her – little by little.  She first recognized he was a Jew, then a prophet, and finally the messiah.  Once she recognized that Jesus was the messiah, the savior, she immediately dropped what she was doing to go tell everyone about her experience with Jesus. Then she literally led the people of the town to meet Jesus.  Think of how little theology she knew – how few spiritual truths.  But she had found the Lord, and she wanted to tell everyone. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to tell others of her experience with the Lord puts us to shame. 

When you were introduced to Jesus, what was your reaction?  Did you tell everyone you knew about Jesus, and what he had done for you?  Did you do everything you could to bring as many people as possible to encounter Jesus?

Jesus pointed out to his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”  He wasn’t talking about agriculture, he was talking about a crop for eternal life – people needing to come into a saving relationship with the Lord.

I challenge you to first, truly develop a relationship with Jesus.  And once you do, tell everyone you know about the good news, so they can be saved too.  The consequences are literally life and death – for eternity.  What are you waiting for?

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 2-4

Tomorrow we will read Mark 2 as we continue Seeking God, Growing our Faith, and Increasing our Love on our 2020 Bible reading plan.

Jesus’ Early Ministry

Matthew 4, Luke 4-5, and John 1:15-51

In Luke 5, we find the story of Jesus calling his first disciples. Jesus was at the Lake of Gennesaret (better known as the Sea of Galilee) teaching large crowds.  Peter had been fishing all night, without catching anything, and was washing his nets while Jesus was teaching.  In order to help the crowds hear better, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked Peter to push out from shore.  After Jesus finished teaching, he asked Peter to go into deeper water and let down his net.

Let’s think of this from Peter’s perspective. He was a professional fisherman and knew how to fish – fish at night in shallow water.  What did this stranger know about fishing?  And Peter had fished all night, and hadn’t caught anything.  If I had been Peter, I think I might have pointed out these facts and then might have dropped this uninvited guest at the shore.  Fortunately for Peter, and ultimately for us, Peter didn’t argue (much), he just obeyed – and caught so many fish the nets began to break.  After Peter called his partners in another boat, they loaded all the fish into both boats – but there were so many fish, both boats began to sink.

Peter finally recognized he was in the presence of a great prophet of God, and ashamed by his own sinfulness, asked Jesus to leave. Instead of leaving Peter, Jesus invited Peter to follow Him.  So Peter did something else irrational.  He pulled his boat up to shore, left everything, and followed Jesus.

You might be thinking, “This is an interesting story, but how could this apply to me?”  I’m glad you asked.  

First, we see that Peter obeyed Jesus in a very little thing – taking Jesus out a little from shore.  If Peter hadn’t obeyed this tiny command, he never would have witnessed a spectacular miracle.  Later, when Jesus asked Peter to do something that totally defied reason, Peter also obeyed.  I love the reason he gave in Luke 5:5, “but because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  Peter was willing to submit to authority, even though he didn’t understand the rationale – and remember, there may still have been a crowd watching from shore.  Because of his obedience, Peter was then able to witness an incredible miracle.  Finally, when Peter acknowledged he wasn’t worthy, Jesus invited Peter to join Him.  So, Peter left everything and followed Jesus.

I have found that God often builds our faith little by little.  It’s important to obey God in even the smallest of things.  God will then build on those experiences and obedience for the future.  Sometimes, this may take the form of trials.  1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I believe no one starts as a giant in the faith.  We obey little by little.  We face trials little by little.  And at some point, you can look back on your life and realize, “Wow, God and I have come a long way together.”

So I challenge you to get into God’s word.  As you do, God will prick your conscience and guide your thoughts.  Follow God’s direction, even in the little things.  At some point, you will recognize, like Peter – “I’m not worthy.”  But the good news is, Jesus is still calling people to leave their former life behind and completely follow Him.  This includes me.  This includes you.

— Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 4, Luke 4-5, and John 1:15-51

Tomorrow we will read John 2-4 as we continue to SeekGrowLove on our 2020 reading plan.

Jesus and John the Baptist, a New Beginning

John 1 and Luke 1

The first chapters in the Gospels all describe a new beginning. There had been some 400 years of silence, prophetically speaking, since the days of Malachi the last prophet of the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has continuity with Old Testament sacred history (compare for instance Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17). Indeed, the Gospels claim that this new beginning is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes (Matt. 5:17). All the Gospels culminate with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, who is the ultimate new beginning, the first born of God’s new creation (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5).

A main emphasis in the early chapters of all of the Gospels is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer.

Luke described the amazing births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Matthew described the birth of Jesus, and then skipped to the adult ministry of John the Baptizer.

Mark and John do not describe either birth, but start their Gospels with the adult ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Why would the relationship between the two men, John the Baptizer and Jesus, be such an important issue? Because John the Baptizer was a very significant individual at the time. Many Jews in 1st century Israel believed John to be a prophet sent by God (John 1:6, Matt. 21:6 “all held John to be a prophet”).  We know from the Gospels and also from the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius that John the Baptizer had thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers (see here for Josephus’ description of John). Some people thought John the Baptizer might even be the Messiah (John 1:20). The Gospels clarify John the Baptizer’s role and make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, of higher rank than John the Baptist.

John’s Gospel’s specifically introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer already with three verses in 1:6-8, and then again in 1:15 and 1:19-35 (cf. 3:25-30). The appearance of John the Baptizer so early in John’s Gospel, the sixth verse of the Gospel, is evidence that “the beginning” of John 1:1, and all of these verses at the beginning of John’s Gospel refer not to the Genesis creation but to the same beginning that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, cf. Luke 1:1-2, Matt. 1:1, John 8:25, 16:4).

In other words, John the Baptizer is so quickly and prominently introduced at the beginning of all the Gospels, including John’s Gospel because the Baptizer has a key role in this new beginning. The Baptizer’s key role was to bear witness to the coming of the Messiah: “After me comes a man who ranks above me…behold the lamb of God…this one is the Son of God” (John 1:15, 29, 34).

One other aspect of the new beginning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inaugurates was declared by Mary the mother of Jesus when she visited Elizabeth the mother of John. The coming of the Christ was to initiate a “reversal of fortune”. In language that echoes the prayer of Hannah (the first person in the Bible to mention the coming of God’s king messiah, 1 Sam. 2:10), Mary knew that the new beginning would turn the world upside down (Luke 1:47-56). Those of low estate would be exalted, the proud would be scattered, and the mighty brought down from their thrones. As Jesus promised, “the meek will inherit the earth”.

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Jordan River near Jericho

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 1 and John 1:1-14

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38 as we continue seeking God, growing our faith and increasing our love. Come follow along and see what God as in store for you!

Why Am I Reading This?

John 20-21

Jn20

Saturday, June 3

If you are in high school, you have asked this question sometime this year. If you are in college, the question probably gives you flashbacks of finals. If you are like me, you are 300 pages deep in a 400 page textbook by the time the question comes up. By that point, you are too doggedly determined to put the book down. “By gum, I’m gonna finish it!” the stubborn, stalwart voice in my head says.
Truthfully, it is a great question. When we ask, “Why am I reading/watching/listening/responding to this?” we ask a bunch of questions at once. What do I hope to gain from this? How will this knowledge inform my future actions? In what way does this information or content contribute to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial success and well-being? And the answers to “why am I reading this?” may be diverse. Maybe, like us college & graduate school students, you read something simply to gain the information from it for a test or project. Maybe you are reading to make wiser decisions in the future. But beyond these questions, which we ask of ourselves, this is also a question we ask of the author. We are also asking, “Why did you write this?” Why did J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to paper and craft some of the most iconic stories ever? (Lord of the Rings) Why did C.S. Lewis tell of magic (The Chronicles of Narnia), of angels and demons (The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy), and teach through his lovable, accessible, British way (Mere Christianity)?
In the Bible, this question doesn’t get answered too often. The Book of Job doesn’t tell us why the author wrote it. Sure we have very informed guesses, like, “The good and righteous will suffer. That is the way of this world.” But never once does the author tell us WHY he (or she) wrote the text. The authors of Matthew, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, similarly did not take the time to tell you why they wrote. Again, there is a case to be made that the purpose can be found, like “to record history.” But then, why is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life so different than John’s, and why do 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles differ so greatly in their retelling of the same events? (There are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, but they help us in understanding the text, if we are willing to do the work.)
All this is to point to two of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, John 20:30-31. If you have never memorized a verse in your life (John 3:16?), seriously, start with these two in John, because they could basically sum up the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. Actually, there is a case to be made that the ENTIRE BIBLE could be summed up in these beautiful words.
John 20:30-31 –  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
The author of John completely acknowledges he left things out. It doesn’t matter to him that every single detail down the line be absolutely perfect. He does not even begin to suggest that he told the story in chronological order. There is no way to make the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John compatible, with one single “correct order of the life of Jesus.” That isn’t the author’s point. The author didn’t write this Gospel to give us another “play-by-play” of Jesus’ life.
What the author does say, the reason why he put his pen to paper, what the Spirit was doing in him when it moved in and used him to write down words through the authors hand and brain, is so that YOU may believe. You reader. Not another “you”. I’m talking to you. These signs, these teachings, this crucifixion and death are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The author cares about how you deal with this. See, if at the end of the day you are done reading John and you say “Jesus was a really good man” or “Jesus was a wise teacher” then YOU’VE MISSED THE POINT. The point is not that Jesus was a pretty cool dude, or that he was a man who died for what he believed in. He was inaugurating the Kingdom of God by coming, and that we can choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom now; in other words, he is the Messiah. He came to live a perfect life, overcome the world, and be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in other words, he is the Son of God. Any other reading of John is a mistake. It is wrong. Jesus is not just another good leader, good religious teacher, good dude. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son.
If you end up believing in WHO Jesus is, in WHO he pointed us toward, in WHAT he was doing by ushering in a new way of being, then you have hit the point of the message of Jesus. You understand what the author of John was doing in all these many chapters, in signs, teachings, moments with the Savior. Moreover, by believing in Jesus, you will have life in his name, eternal life, abundant life now that can’t help but last forever! I hope that is where you find yourself today. The reason why I write so much about John is because I love it. I am a mess. I am a broken and sinful mess. But there are a couple things I know. I see these signs, these miracles and this death and resurrection and I have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And because I believe, I know that I have life because of him. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve. But I’ve got it. Come, you who are also undeserving, just like me. You sinners like me. You broken messes like me. Jake, like John, calls out “Believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing, you too can have life in his name!”
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: https://biblia.com/bible/esv/John.20.29)

How Do You Crown Your King?

John 18-19

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Friday, June 2

(This is a longer post. Please give yourself ample time to read it and pray over the questions at the end.)
Interesting trivia: the Greek Orthodox Church fasts every Wednesday and Friday. Every single one. Why? There are reasons to believe the Jews began this practice of fasting and that they carried it on. Beyond that, they also add a religious and theological reason: on Wednesday Christ was betrayed and on Friday Christ was killed. Every single week they remind themselves that they are in some way responsible for the Son of God hanging on the Cross.
These are the chapters we read this week in John 18-19. They tell the story of Jesus’ betrayal, torture, crucifixion and death through the eyes of John. What can we learn from this?
First, Jesus said, “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11) Jesus accepted that this was the way that God had given him, and did not want to resist this way with violence. We can be so much like Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus. We can be so  quick to violence. But Jesus, even with these men sent to kill him, his worst enemies on earth, was about peace, love and healing. Luke 22:51 expounds the story by finishing up the scene. “But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, He healed him.”
That’s because Jesus is not focused on the injustice of what is being done to him. He is not looking for his personal justice. Jesus is, instead, focusing on his God-given destiny and duty. When being questioned by Pilate, he says “You say that I’m a king.” Jesus goes on to say,  “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”(John 18:37) Jesus is focused, in the middle of supreme injustice and false imprisonment, on why he was born, the reason for his existing. And what is that purpose? Not to disparage any evangelical preacher, but Jesus did not merely come to do three days’ work. Instead, he came to “testify to the truth.” The truth is humans need to be saved from their sins, he is that salvation, he is the only way to salvation, eternal life and the spirit will be given to those who seek this truth.
In the midst of this, we also see a picture of the world. Now, I’m of a specific bent that says God does not control every facet of the universe. God does not predetermine or force my hand and only make me act as he wants me or wills me to act. However, this does not mean that the world is completely and utterly out of control. In a way that is completely unknown to me, a way that I daresay we should call a mystery, God controls certain events, outcomes, or situations. Here, Jesus seems to take comfort in the fact that his own torture and death is not outside of the plan of God. God knew, “If my Son goes among the Jews and tells them the truth, they will crucify him. I will give humanity the authority to do so.” God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying, “I wish I could do something, but I’m not strong enough!” Nor is God a puppet master with all the strings making his marionettes dance. He is working out his will inside the real, free, true choices of humanity.
Interestingly, Pilate may have gotten it. Pilate, according to all the history books was a brutal and bloodthirsty man ready to squash any rebellion with the slightest whiff. But I think he understood who he was talking to in Jesus and what the Jews were asking of him. He seems to have answered his own question “What is truth?” And he answers it with the inscription above Jesus’ head “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” written in every common language. The truth is that in this suffering, we see the ultimate juxtaposition. A savior killed like a slave, a righteous man made wretched, a King on a cross. THAT’S the symbol we gravitate toward. That’s the symbol that defines Christianity. It is a cross that shows the greatest moment of humanity, depravity and sin, and the greatest moment of the God-granted mercy, compassion and love.
Then, Jesus dies. There’s no fanfare in the book of John. It is interesting that what happens in the other gospels, the earthquake and the darkness and the resurrection of righteous ones, are summarily overlooked or forgotten. They pale in comparison to the fact that the King of the Jews, the bread of life, the water of life, the SON OF GOD is hanging dead on a cross. This man, who only loved, who only wanted the best. Who demanded that the pharisees live the same life they demanded of everyone else. Who said “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge unless you are ready to be judged”. Who said “blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted.” This man who lived a life of perfect relationship and obedience to God, is hanging limp on a cross, covered in blood and bodily fluids. His arms and legs are no longer straining against the nails because he feels the pain no longer. His body bears the marks of scourging. His face is beaten beyond recognition, and above the bruises and laceration that disfigure the face of the Messiah, sits a crown of thorns, a gift from humanity to inaugurate our King.
There are many questions to ask of ourselves after this.
Do you treat your enemies with love and respect?
In times of trouble do you rest secure in the knowledge that you have a larger purpose than simply existing for today?
Do you even know what the larger purpose of your life is? Do you know specifically what the goal of your life is?
Do you rest secure in the knowledge that God is ultimately in control, whatever that might mean?
But above all of this is: what does it mean, FOR YOU, that the Son of God died on a cross? What does it mean for you that Jesus was tortured unjustly by a religious institution that couldn’t handle the fact that they were, in fact, broken and messed up and needed some saving? What does it mean for you that you were just as much responsible for the death of Jesus as Pilate and Caiaphas?
What will you do? We’ve place the crown of thorns of his head.
Will we cast our crown before him and acknowledge that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
Will you commit to making him YOUR Lord, the Lord of every part of your life?
In Christ,
Jake Ballard