Be the Very Last

Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

In each of our passages that we read today is the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus had just asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” The Jewish people revered Moses and Elijah as great prophets of God. I believe that this vision was a way to show them that Jesus is even more than a great prophet. To the Jewish people God was always associated with the cloud. In Exodus, He was in the cloud that was leading them through the desert; when He talked to Moses, He appeared in a cloud; when the glory of the Lord was in the tabernacle, it was covered in a cloud, and when they dedicated the temple, the glory of God was associated with a cloud. 1 Kings 8:10 says,”When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.”

The transfiguration is showing them that Jesus is to be more honored than both of these men. Mark 9:7 says, “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’”  God is telling them, and in essence telling us, to listen to what Jesus is saying. To take his teachings to heart. Jesus is not trying to lift himself up and tout his own glory. He is trying to glorify the Father, and teach others about the kingdom.  Acts 3:22 reads, “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” Yes, they had other prophets but they paled in comparison to the Son of God, and we are told to listen to everything that he tells us. We need to make sure that we are reading and closely following what Jesus was teaching them. Today, there is a “Be Kind” movement.  Jesus started that movement years ago, it’s just now catching on. He said to “Love God, and Love others.” Pretty simple and straight forward. The world would be a much better place if we would all listen to the words that Jesus spoke. But we can’t just listen, we also have to act on the words that he said.

Sometimes we, just like the disciples, have a hard time living what Jesus was teaching. It goes against our natural desires, which is to look out for ourselves. Jesus tells them once again about his impending death and resurrection, and he sees them having a conversation. He asks them, even though he knew, what they were disputing about as they walked to Capernaum. They would not answer him, because they had been arguing over who would be the greatest among them. This story always reminds me of one of my children and their first cousin. When they were together, they always wanted to be first at everything. The first to get their food, the first to finish eating, the first in running, etc. So one day I told them, “In the Bible it says, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Then they both decided they wanted to be last, so they would then be first. They may not have learned the true meaning of these words. Mark 9:35 says “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” With these simple words, Jesus has given us a fundamental truth. So many of the world’s problems would be solved if we would take these words to heart. If we would try to make others’ lives better instead of making our life better. If we would become the servant of those around us. Jesus typified this when he washed the disciple’s feet. He could have sat down and demanded that someone wash his feet, because he was the Son of God, but instead he showed true leadership by serving them. With his death he was serving all of mankind so that we would have a chance to share in the kingdom when he comes back as the King of Kings.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9:28-62

Tomorrow’s passage will be Matthew 18 as we continue on our Bible reading plan. It’s not too late to jump on board to learn more and more about this King of Kings!

When Evil Triumphs

Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

Each day’s new reading through the gospels brings more “favorites” from the life and teachings of Jesus. So it is with today’s – too many great stories to choose what to write about. Since we will be reading John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 and Walking on the Water tomorrow, we will focus today on Herod, his wife (and former sister-in-law) Herodias, her dancing daughter and the head of John the Baptist.

It is a difficult story to stomach. So much evil. Perhaps we have gotten used to questionable leaders and too much violence, and the familiarity of this short passage on Herod and John the Baptist can make it quick to read and pass over. But imagine knowing these people, living amongst them, and hearing of these events for the first time. Imagine sitting down to your morning cup of coffee, opening the newspaper and reading of the events that transpired just last night.

Of course you would have known King Herod was having his birthday party last night – everyone could hear the sounds from his palace. And, yes, the newspaper calls him King Herod, since that is what he loves to be called, even though everyone knows his dad had been the last King Herod (yes, the one responsible for killing all the baby boys of Bethlehem about 30 years ago). In reality, now Herod Antipas was just a “tetrach”, ruling over just one quarter of his father’s territory, all the while being watched over by the real Roman authorities.

Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. The only trouble was this prophet of God known as John the Baptist had been speaking out against this marriage, saying it was unlawful. Unlawful for who? Who’s law was it anyway? God’s? Herod wasn’t one to try to follow all those outdated laws – it was so much easier to just make new laws instead (similar to today’s society which is very good at ignoring God’s law and replacing it with their own).

His wife, Herodias, was not one to stand idly by while a prophet pointed out the sins of her family. Something had to be done. Herod (prompted by his wife) had John arrested, bound and put in prison. But, that wasn’t enough. While Matthew records that Herod wanted to kill John, Mark has a slightly different interpretation of Herod and perhaps digs a little deeper into his motives, relationships and thoughts. Mark says that it was Herodias who, “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:19-20) which I am sure made his wife even more livid.

So, we come to the night of Herod’s birthday party and the entertainment for the evening – Herod’s dancing step-daughter (unnamed in the gospels, but Jewish historian Josephus records her name to be Salome). We aren’t told the details (thankfully), but we can guess that this was not a 5 year old girl performing her latest ballet or tap recital pieces for her father’s dinner guests. Whatever the dance included, it seems likely she was being exploited by her mother and ogled (or worse) by her step-father and all his male guests. These men liked her dance so much Herod thought it fitting to offer this dancing wonder anything she wanted (up to half his kingdom).

That’s a lot for a girl to think on – so she goes running out to get her mother’s advice. Herodias is prepared for this moment and she has no trouble involving her “innocent” daughter in getting what she has been waiting for – the death of John the Baptist, in the most gruesome way she could imagine – his head on a platter for her daughter.

Herod is in conflicted agony but sees no way out. The execution is ordered and completed. The head is delivered.

Can you imagine the varying emotions of each and every participant and those who will hear of these events.

What are John’s last thoughts?

Does Salome have nightmares? What does she become?

What do Jesus – and his 12 Disciples feel? If this is what comes of the one who prepares the way of the Messiah, what is the future of the Messiah – of his followers?

Herod will be mentioned just once more in the gospels – when Jesus is arrested, bound and brought before Herod on trial. Jesus remains silent – but quite likely he is remembering Herod and John as well as looking into his future.

Some days it just looks like evil triumphs.

But God is still at work. This is not where the story ends.

Herod will go to war and suffer defeat at the hands of the angry father of his first wife, whom he had divorced to marry Herodias. Later, Herod and Herodias will be sent into exile, where it is recorded Herod dies.

But, that’s not really the end, either.

A resurrection day is coming. A day when John the Baptist will rise from the dead. Can you imagine the reunion he will have with Jesus? I want to see that!

And, a judgment day is coming. Herod and Herodias will appear before the judge. At that time there is only one law that will matter – God’s. And, only one way to salvation – to accept the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some days it looks like evil triumphs – but that’s not how it ends!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

Tomorrow we will read John 6 for another witness of some of today’s events as well as a special teaching on the Bread of Life.

Be a tree!

Matthew 13 & Luke 8

There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God. 

Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now. 

There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown. 

To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus. 

John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” 

So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 13 & Luke 8

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 8:14-34 and Mark 4-5.

The Great Debate

Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.

What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.

The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.

In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.

The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.

Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.

There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we continue on our…

All Night Long

Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3 & Luke 6

There were so many good topics from today’s reading, it was hard for me to pick just one for today’s devotion.  But I finally settled on discussing what Jesus did immediately before calling the 12 apostles.

Jesus had many disciples following him.  A disciple is a follower, an apprentice, someone who is learning.  From among these followers, Jesus was going to choose his apostles – his chosen messengers with a special commission. We’re told in Luke 6:12, that before choosing his 12 apostles, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer.  Did you catch that?  Jesus spent the whole night praying.

Why would Jesus need to spend the whole night praying? First, opposition to him was growing – immediately before this story, we’re told the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus.  He knew this would eventually end in his crucifixion.  I’m guessing he was praying for strength for the task that lay before him.  Second, this was a turning point in his ministry.  Until how, he had just been a one man show – a traveling preacher and healer.  Now he was picking the men who would be the foundation of the church after he was gone.  I’m guessing he was praying for discernment.  Finally, according to John 6:64, Jesus knew from the beginning who was going to betray him, and He was going to pick him as one of His apostles.  I’m guessing Jesus was struggling with emotions at that prospect; it was through prayer that He made this difficult choice.

We find many instances of Jesus devoting lots of time to prayer.  Whether it was getting up before dawn to pray, or sending the apostles away in a boat so he could pray, or … You get the idea.  But wait, Jesus was the Son of GOD!  In John 3:34, we’re told that Jesus was given the Holy Spirit without measure.  And He still spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer!

What should this mean for me?  

For starters, I suspect I need God’s help far more than Jesus did.  For one thing, I’m a wretched sinner, and Jesus was perfectly sinless.  Also, Jesus had the Holy Spirit without measure, me – not so much.  

From Jesus’ example, I see that I need to spend far more time in prayer, whether asking for strength, or for discernment, or struggling with emotions, or… for dealing with everything life throws at me.  And that’s just the requests for my needs.  Then, there are prayers for confessing and asking forgiveness.  Then, all the prayer requests for people I care about.  Then, there is honoring, praising, and magnifying God in prayer.  And the list goes on.  Bottom line – I need to spend more time in prayer.

What about you?  Will you join me in committing to spending more time in prayer?

This will not only benefit me and you, it may benefit the whole nation.  I’m reminded of one of my many favorite Bible verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

And God knows our nation needs healing.

— Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3 and Luke 6

Tomorrow’s reading will be Matthew 14, Mark 6 and Luke 9:1-17 as we continue on our 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 as a Child

Matthew 2, Luke 2:39-52

The Gospels describe only a few events associated with the childhood of Jesus. Considering the Greek word for “child” in Matthew 2:8, 11, and the fact that Herod sent to murder all the male children in Bethlehem that were 2 years old and younger, Jesus was months or even a year-old child when Gentile wise men came from the east to acknowledge the arrival of the King of the Jews.

What stands out in Matthew chapter 2 is the different reactions to the birth of the Messiah. The wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They came to honor the king. Most English translations have “worship” – but the word is often used in the Bible to designate proper respect and honor toward other human beings. These wise men represent Gentiles who acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and by extension, their own king.

Herod “the Great”, on the other hand, when he heard that these Gentile wise men thought the king of the Jews had been born – Herod was troubled. Ironically enough, Herod was called the “King of Jews” at the time. But he had been given that title by the Imperial Roman Government. He wasn’t born as a descendent of David and given the title by God. His anti-Christ murderous deed is emblematic of the high and mighty humans who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God’s chosen king.

The persecution and attempted murder of the King Messiah by Herod also is a parallel to the persecution of God’s chosen people Israel. Matthew quotes a passage from the prophet Jeremiah to illustrate the parallel. The nations opposed God’s work through God’s firstborn servant-son Israel. Even so they opposed God’s work through God’s ideal Israel, God’s servant-son Jesus.

And like Israel God’s son, Jesus God’s Son went to Egypt and was brought out of Egypt by God into the land of Israel. Note that the land was called “Israel” in Jesus’s day, not Palestine (Matt. 2:20, 21). Evoking the ancient name “Philistine”, Palestine was the name given to the land by the Romans 100 years later.

When Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt, they originally intended to return to Judea (Bethlehem) since Jesus was technically a Judean of the line of David. But because of the murderous nature of the new ruler in Judea, they went to Galilee instead (cf. Matt. 2:22-23 and Luke 2:39. Luke doesn’t record Herod’s murders or Jesus’s travel to and from Egypt).

Luke describes one other event in the childhood of Jesus. When Jesus was 12 years old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the Passover festival. We can see that by this time Jesus knew he was the Messiah, who would relate to God as Father, according to the promise of God to David (2 Sam. 7:14, Psalm 2:7, 89:26).

The humanity of Jesus stands out in these events. There is no declaration, as traditional Christianity claims, of God who was born a human. Rather, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

-Bill Schlegel

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

Bethlehem in Judah

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 2 & Luke 2:39-52

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 3, Mark 1 & Luke 3 as we continue on our Bible reading plan.

The Birth of the Messiah

Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38

The coming of the Messiah is one of the greatest desires of pious Jewish people. The desire for the Messiah to come is encapsulated in modern times by a statement of the 12th century Jewish teacher, Moses ben Maimon (Rambam): “I believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah”. By the promise of God, the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.

Two Gospels, Matthew and Luke, record the birth of the Messiah (in Greek translation, “Christ”). As we saw in Luke 1, the birth of Messiah was proceeded by a visit from the angel Gabriel to a Jewish maiden, Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) in the Galilean town of Nazareth. Gabriel announced to Mary that her child would be the one to inherit the throne of David. Like Solomon, he would be called the Son of God. After the child was born, Mary was to name him Jesus, which is in Hebrew, Yeshua or Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves”.

The child was given this name on the day of his circumcision, the eighth day after his birth. The name Jesus is the name of the human being, the “man Christ Jesus”. “Jesus” is never the name of a pre-human divine being.

Matthew begins his Gospel by describing the genealogy, or in Greek the genesis or beginning or origin of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew traces Jesus’s origin especially to David and Abraham.

God had promised to Abraham that he would have many descendants, and that his descendants would inherit the Land of Canaan, that kings would come from him, and that he and his descendant(s) would be a blessing to all peoples on earth. God’s plan of redemption for the world was to come through a physical descendant of Abraham.

Some 800 years after Abraham, and 1000 years before Jesus was born, God chose a descendant of Abraham, David, and established the only perpetual divinely ordained monarchy on earth. God promised that one of David’s descendants would rule forever over God’s ordained monarchy. The genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel declares that Jesus is descendent of Abraham and David in whom God fulfills His promise.

The birth of the Messiah Jesus was accompanied with miraculous signs that were evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah of God. Somewhat parallel to the first man Adam, who had no earthly father but whom God formed from the dust, the “second Adam” Jesus was formed by direct divine activity. Angelic beings appeared both before and after Jesus’s birth, to announce the coming of this divinely appointed human king.

Jesus’ mother came to the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth for purification according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22, Lev. 12:2-6). His parents brought the baby Jesus along. There was a righteous man in Jerusalem, Simeon, to whom God revealed that he “would not see death until he had seen the LORD’s Messiah. Simeon took Jesus up in his arms and uttered a blessing and praise. He knew the child Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to both Abraham and David:

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

-Bill Schlegel

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

Bethlehem in Judah

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 1 & Luke 2:1-38

Tomorrow we will read the rest of Luke 2 and Matthew 2 as we SeekGrowLove and follow along on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Print your own copy, read along and finish out the year 2020 strong!

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!

Jesus – the Radical One

Luke Chapter Six

Luke 6 27 28 NIV

In chapter six, Jesus is continuing on in his ministry.  We see that twice, Jesus caused the Pharisees, a group of Jews, to get upset.  Both times revolved around Jesus doing work on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were a sect of Jews that had a high priority and focus on following the letter of the law.  They wanted to make sure they were obeying every letter of the law as well as everyone else.

 

Exodus 35:2 states, “Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD.  Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”  This was the law that the Jews were to follow, and anyone who did not follow the Sabbath should be put to death.  With that said, I can totally put myself in the Pharisees’ shoes and understand why they would be so upset with Jesus not following the Sabbath rest.  However, throughout Jesus’ ministry, he had quite the radical thoughts and actions.  A superb example of this is found in the Sermon on the Mount when six times Jesus said, “you have heard that it was said… But I say to you.”  Six times Jesus took what was said in the Old Testament and radicalized it.  Jesus flipped the whole world upside down.

 

This trend of Jesus having quite the radical thoughts and actions continues in chapter six.  Jesus goes on to say that we are blessed if we are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated.  He says that in the end times, we will be satisfied, as the kingdom of God will belong to us.  He continues by saying woe to you if you are rich, full, laugh, and people speak well of you.  To the normal person, this would make no sense, but Jesus flips everything upside down.

 

One of the more well-known radical statements of Jesus is found in Luke six as well –  when talking about our enemies.  Jesus makes the bold and radical statement by saying, “love your enemies,” (Luke 6:35).  It’s common for people to disregard their enemies or even act wickedly to them.  However, Jesus tells us to take another approach with our enemies.  He tells us to love our enemies!  This goes totally contrary to how the rest of the world treats their enemies.

 

Jesus was full of radical statements and actions throughout his ministry.  He was constantly turning people’s lives upside down.  We, as Christians, need to follow our radical leader, Jesus.  He showed us the way, and it is our job to follow his lead.  Jesus did not fit in at all in his society because of his radical statements and actions, such as loving your enemies.  With that said, if we follow Jesus’ lead, then we are going to stick out like a sore thumb as well.  Be bold and courageous and live a radical life like that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Kyle McClain