Prepare the Way

Luke Chapter 3

Luke 3 4

Luke chapter three talks about a very important and specific job that John the Baptist had.  This job that John had was documented all the way back in the book of Isaiah and quoted in Luke 3:4: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John needed to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.

 

Jesus’ public ministry only lasted about three years.  It was important that people were ready for his ministry, as he had a lot to accomplish in little time.  Therefore, John prepared the way, so Jesus could make the most out of his little time here on earth.  John did a number of things to help prepare the way for the Lord.

 

One way that John prepared the way for Jesus was to baptize people with water.  This baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (Luke 3:3).  I’m sure that we all understand the importance of repentance and the forgiveness of our sins.  Therefore, we can see the importance of this baptism by water, as it was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

 

John also spent time teaching and preaching to help prepare the way for Jesus.  The crowds asked John, “what then shall we do?”  John went on to describe the importance of being generous with our possessions and money (verses 10-14).  John also focused on preaching “good news” (verse 18) to the people.  That good news that John preached about focused on the message of the kingdom, as evidenced by Matthew 3:2.

 

Preparing the way for Jesus was the main responsibility that John had.  We also have that same responsibility that John had.  Right now, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, but one day Jesus is going to descend from heaven and return to earth.  He is going to establish his Father’s Kingdom.  We have to prepare the way for Jesus to come back to earth.

 

We have to prepare ourselves and others for Jesus to establish his Father’s Kingdom on earth.  You can’t prepare others if you yourself are not prepared for God’s coming Kingdom.  Therefore, if you aren’t ready yourself, then get ready!  If you find yourself ready, then it is paramount that you focus on getting those around you ready for Jesus’ return.  In essence, we have the same responsibility that John the Baptist had.

 

Kyle McClain

 

Baptism – What is the Big Deal?

Matthew 3:13-17

Matt 3 17 (1)

Conversations abound over the importance of water baptism. Is it the baptism or simply a confession of faith? If baptism, then is it pouring, sprinkling or immersion? There is a semi-famous song about this. What about infant versus conscious baptism? What about those who do not have access to water? So many questions surround this topic. And these are just focusing on the methods and timing. What about what happens when we are baptized? What is the point or reason for being baptized? Why is it a public thing? It can be exhausting and at times confusing.

So let us look at the example set by Jesus. He travels from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jordan River where his cousin John is baptizing people in droves. Baptism itself was commonplace but it was a simple cleansing ritual. It was not too deep or meaningful and was certainly not a public spectacle. The people had never seen anything like what John was doing. In addition to the large masses of people coming to him he was telling them that this baptism was for the repentance of their sins. John was the precursor to Jesus, the keynote speaker if you will. He was highlighting the points that would be vital to Jesus’ ministry – repentance and the coming kingdom.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. John however recognized Jesus as the Messiah and understood that it was Jesus who should be baptizing John. He tried to argue with Jesus because he understood that among them only Jesus was righteous and sinless. Jesus was the only one who did not need this baptism.

Jesus’ response was that he must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In doing so he was consecrated by God and officially approved by Him. His baptism had nothing to do with Levitical Law though. John’s message of repentance and the coming kingdom pointed to a Messiah who would be righteous and bring righteousness to the sinner. Jesus was identifying with the sinful world even though he himself was without sin. His baptism also marked the arrival of the long expected Messiah and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And finally his baptism was symbolic of his death, burial, and resurrection and was an example for his followers to come.

Upon being baptized the spirit of God rested upon him. This is the moment when God gave Jesus all authority and power to carry out his Father’s perfect will here on earth. Jesus later told his disciples that this same spirit, a portion only however, would come upon them. It is the same spirit received by all who come to God through Jesus and the waters of baptism. This spirit strengthened and encouraged Jesus when he needed it most, as it does for each of those who faithfully follow his example.

So he comes up out of the water and the Spirit of God comes upon him and then it happens! Something incredible! Something amazing! Something that has not happened for four hundred years. Man hears the first words from God since the close of the Old Testament. His silence is broken so that He can confirm Jesus is His son, “Whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” This statement in itself is timeless. God was not simply pleased that Jesus was beginning his ministry. It is the culmination of a millennia old plan to bring all people back to Him. The fulfillment of His covenant with Abram is realized in this moment. All people will be blessed through Jesus if they choose Yahweh as their God and Jesus as the way to Him. Past, present and future balanced on this man’s obedience to God.

John was baptizing in a river and most examples of baptism in the New Testament appear to be in or around large bodies of water so immersion in water makes the most sense for how we ought to be baptized. There are biblical examples of baptism of the spirit alone, a confession of faith without involvement of water. These examples however appear to be the exception and not the rule. People without access to water or without time to get to water are exceptions.

If someone has the means and opportunity to go through the waters of baptism and does not are they saved by confession of sin and repentance alone? I do not know just as I do not know if someone who confesses, repents, and is baptized is saved. We have biblical and personal examples of people being baptized and living in a way that is completely opposed to God’s will. God alone knows our hearts. He knows where we stand.

One of the radical things about what John was doing is that those who came to him to be baptized were obeying God from their heart. It is a conscious decision to be baptized. I was “baptized” as an infant but it meant nothing to me. I had not made the choice to change my life. I had not chosen God or His son until I was a grown man. That has been the point from the beginning, back when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They had a choice to choose God or not, trust Him or not. They chose not. Jesus presents to the whole world that very same choice.

In this moment when Jesus was baptized God’s confirmation of Jesus was both for his assurance and for a witness to others. This is the same reason for us to publicly surrender and commit to God through Jesus. We need the inner confirmation of His great blessing upon us, and the world needs the testimony of a life committed to His will through Jesus.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Peculiar

Phil 2 15.png
If someone were to describe your behavior as “peculiar”, you would most likely not take it as a compliment.  Peculiar’s origin as a word stems from particular, singling out an item or idea from the rest, but over time the definition, and more importantly, the connotation has shifted.  To be peculiar is not simply to be different, but to be strange, funny, odd, specifically to a way we act or think seemingly with rational or reasonable explanation behind the behavior.  Peculiar could be someone who wears different styles, colors, and heights of socks simultaneously (me), or someone who doesn’t like the food on their plate to touch (my wife), or someone who would turn down all the wealth of this world to serve the will of God (Jesus, Matt 4).

There is truly something odd about the Christian life.  We are constantly denying our instinct in order to fulfill our call.  Many times Jesus uses radical, hyperbolic language to teach the most important disciplines of the strange Christian life.  These words are meant to shock, encourage whispers, and dramatically shift the way we act and think.  Those who want complacent faith? To have miracles without the mindset? To have salvation without giving up their reputation or station?  They walked and will continue to walk away.  They don’t want to be perceived as peculiar, and more accurately, don’t want to be forever changed – a holy-first mindset.

In keeping with today’s theme, here is a shortlist of six of the most odd and convicting teachings of Jesus.  If you’re not different or weird because you do these things, then you are doing them wrong.  As you devote time to reading this list, use this as an opportunity for a gut check – are you only a listless spectator watching and critiquing without any action or any sacrifice or are you actively working on becoming a sold-out slave to the Savior’s summoning?

1. You must be baptized for forgiveness and to receive the Spirit – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 – Jesus has an eye-opening conversation with Nicodemus about the way God uses this symbolic gesture that had become a part of Jewish religious culture.  John the Baptist, like others before him, uses immersion in water as a means of symbolically cleansing us from our sins, but Jesus sets the example (Matt 3) that this also symbolizes a changing of our mindset.  The death and burial of our old self, and the rebirth of someone who is ready to receive the Spirit, the dwelling of God’s power in us.  There are theological nuances that we will leave to the scholars to debate, but this symbolic act is clearly exampled and talked about by Jesus, and practiced and talked about some more by his disciples.  This is the beginning.  If you haven’t been baptized, but you see the compelling case for Christ in your life, now is the time.  This symbol marks the launching point, not the precipice to our walk in Him.

2. You must be willing to live and die for Christ – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16:24,25 – Obviously the apostles saw something happen that dramatically shifted the trajectory of their lives forever.  After the resurrection of Jesus, they were accused of moving His body to perpetuate the story that He had risen.  But would every single one of these men be ready and willing to travel so far and literally give up their lives for Christ? While a single man might die to protect a lie, I find it very hard to believe a whole group of men would do so. All of them, save John who was exiled, were put to death, each one receiving their punishment, not simply for their beliefs, but for their pursuit of evangelism and sharing the good news.  They each daily sacrificed their life, and even used their death, as testimony of the life-altering Gospel message.

3. You must live out communion  – “For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of me“ – John 6:56 – Here we have another physical gesture that is symbolic of Christian life.  While it is not too difficult to eat a piece of bread or crackers, or knock back a cup of wine or grape juice, the conviction of these symbols is terrifying – we must always remember that we are striving to be one with Christ.  Anything we put in our body, use our body for (i.e. sex, 1 Cor 6:18), or anything that happens between our two ears, has to be reconciled by or repented to Christ for Him to remain in us.  This means the act of communion, whether done formally or figurative as a daily discipline, should be convicting and purging us from the things that tear us away from Christ.

4. You must find joy in persecution and dejection – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 – Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to strike back.  If you hit me, I will return the blow.  If you hurl insults at me, I will use my wit and tongue to put you in your place.  Even when we gratify ourselves with revenge, there is no joy in it.  In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles receive a verbal and physical lashings.  What is their response?  Jubilation.  They found great joy in suffering for Christ because it meant they were becoming more like Him, and they were living out the Great Commission.  We should be ready and willing to be challenged, made fun of, and even receive physical abuse because we have taken a stand for Christ.  When we take a stand and our joy grows, but so does our testimony and resolve (James 1:2,3), compelling others to seek out the reason for our peculiar perseverance.

5. You must be willing to count anything as loss – “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8 – The example Jesus uses is a challenge to control our carnal nature using figurative language. If someone had the resolve to literally cut off the hand or foot, they definitely have a resolve to control other behaviors in the life.  But are we willing to literally cut out other things?  Are you willing to give up comfort? Opportunities? Sports? Friends? Family members?  Would you be willing to be thought of as dumb, ignorant, a fool, and even pitied?  Would you be willing to part with all of your money, all of your possessions, and all of your time?  It is better to lose your identity in this world or  to have no home, than to be thrown alongside your pride and identity in the fire.  It is better to throw away a coveted scholarship than for you to be thrown alongside your degree to be thrown in the fire. It is better to find new friends and family, or even have no friends and family, than to be thrown alongside them in the fire.  Now each of these things are placed in the proper perspective; pride, a degree, friends, family can all be great God-filled things, just like hands and feet, but if they are moving you away from Christ, they are not beneficial.  We have to remove them.

6. You can’t stop loving others. Ever. – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39 – It would be so much easier if Jesus never said this.  The most radical, the most challenging, the hardest-lived statement is in these five words.  Loving God is truly easy – He deserves honor and praise, He loved us first, and He has established things in past, present, and future for us that are greater than we can ever imagine.  I would even dare say I am loving God more than myself on my greatest days of faith (which is not nearly enough).  But loving my neighbor. C’mon.  What have they done to deserve my love?  My neighbor could bash my faith on social media.  My neighbor could be making such poor choices with their money.  My neighbor could be abusing their family.  My neighbor could be lying to me, stealing from me, and badmouthing me all over town. My neighbor could physically spit in my face, beat me to the point of death, and hang me on a cross.  And that’s when we realize, we are Christ’s neighbor.  He have power to change our lives forever by living out the love of God.  He was so purposeful in His love in God that He saved us all from eternal separation.  By doing this, He has given us the power to peculiarly love people we don’t know, but even more so, people we know well.  We have the same opportunity as Christ.  We can do everything possible to love our neighbor into conviction and submission that comes from seeing, hearing, and feeling the Gospel message coming from God through us.  Yes, this is the most peculiar of all, but as strange, odd and weird as it is, it’s the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most fulfilling thing we could ever do on behalf of our Father in heaven who so much loves His peculiar people.

-Aaron Winner

Repentance that Leads to Salvation

2 Corinthians 7

2 Corinthians 7_10

While I was at church last week, one of the younger girls that I have watched grow up  since she was a baby came up to me and was so very excited to whisper some big news into my ear. Her smile grew larger and larger as she leaned in close to reveal that she and her older sister are planning to be baptized in just a few weeks! I looked at her with excitement! I was overjoyed! What wonderful news for anyone to tell me, let alone this sweet girl who I adore. Of course as an education major, I am drawn towards investing in youth. I am passionate about teaching children in my daily life but more than that, I am passionate about guiding youth to become individuals who strive to honor God daily. In the same sense, Paul was passionate about building and growing the church. He was passionate about investing in others also as we see here in 2 Corinthians. I imagine the excitement that I had when I received the news of the baptisms in my church was similar to the excitement that Paul had when the people of Corinth were repenting.

 

 

While reading this chapter today, I was especially drawn to verses ten and eleven as they state,

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,

whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief

has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation,

what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved

yourselves innocent in the matter.

 

Question:

Is there anything in your life that is holding you back from pursuing a healthy relationship with our Heavenly Father? Moreover, is there anything in your life that is stopping you from accepting the sacrifice that His son made on our behalf?

 

  • No matter where you are at in your life right now, no matter what struggles you may be facing, I encourage you to give it all to God. Lay down all of your burdens and troubles and He will meet you wherever you are. It’s not too late to say yes to His free and perfect gift. It’s one that you don’t want to miss out on!

 

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

 

-Kayla Tullis

Reflecting on John 3

John 3

John 3 17 (1)

Hi there!

Today’s chapter could take an entire week of devotionals if you ask me!  I highly recommend having a Bible in front of you when going through today’s post.  Because of how much I found within this chapter we are going to have a slightly different format today… I am going to give the verse and then give the reflection question without too much of my own words to add to it.  Take today to really pause and think about your own thoughts instead of just mine, and I will do my best to take a backseat and be more of a guide than a driver.

 

 

Vs 3-8: How does this idea of being born again through baptism play into your life?  If baptism is a decision you have already made, are you still reflecting that “rebirth” in your life?  If you have not made that commitment, how do Jesus’ words impact your expectations for salvation?

Vs. 11-12: Do you fall into the category of those who hear of the amazing things God can do, and yet still do not believe that He can do them?  Do you think you’re missing out on some of the things God has because you don’t accept the “basic” or “earthly” teaching?

Vs. 16: We all know this verse well, but take a few moments longer to stop and think about what it means without just speeding through it.  It’s a popular verse for a reason!  What meaning does it hold for you?

Vs. 17-18: According to these verses, think about the purpose for Jesus in the world.  How can you take and apply that into your own life and relationships?  Does this change how you want to interact with the people that you are surrounded by?

Vs. 19-21: Are there any things in your life you are leaving in the dark?  Why?  What does it mean for you to be vulnerable and seen plainly in the sight of God?  How does that make you feel when reflecting on your own life?

Vs. 26-30:  John very easily could have taken a lot more credit and gained a large following for himself here.  How does his response of becoming less so that Jesus can become greater and sacrificing his own personal status relate to your life?  Is giving God the credit or putting other people’s missions/needs ahead of your own something that comes naturally?  We can all guess what the answer here should be, but it’s much harder to act on that and make a change in our own life.

Vs. 33-34: The “it” here is referring to Jesus’ testimony.  Now that we are in the time post-resurrection, do you feel people, believers specifically, still struggle to accept the truths that Jesus preached?  Go beyond just what Jesus preached about the Kingdom, and think about what he has said about who God is, or what He has done, etc… If people do not accept Jesus’ testimony, what does that mean about their relationship with God?

Vs. 36: This verse is very similar to verse 18, so clearly the message is important!  When an author repeats an idea it usually means to take special note of it.  Why would the author repeat an idea like this?  Is it a theme you see extending beyond just the book of John?  How do you feel your life reflects the truths in this verse?

I hope some of these questions made you think a little bit longer today!  I encourage you to discuss these ideas with others and get their perspective on it as well.  If you can’t find anyone… I’d be happy to share some of the answers and ideas I have floating around in my head.  In my opinion, these kinds of things are always better when you have the opportunity to talk with another believer!

Have a fantastic rest of your day!

~Sarah

 

A Prideful Warning

matthew 3 1

Pride goes before the fall.  It is warning given to us by our elders, many times in our youth when we think we have it all figured out, and is based in one of Solomon’s proverbs (Proverbs 16:18-19).  Just when we think we are on top of the world with our wealth, education, social status, or even our religion, we are undoubtedly a gut-wrenching moment away from being put back in our place.  And unfortunately for us, the bigger the man, the harder the fall.

In Matthew Chapter 3, John the Baptist is sent out to prepare the way for Jesus.  He is the “voice of the one crying in the wilderness”, and man dressed in camel hair (although I don’t think it was cashmere turtlenecks), and a diet based on what he could find around him in nature.  No doubt, this man sent to prepare the way was a bit of a spectacle, but not deliberately. John gathered many followers, baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins. John was taken aback when he saw who was in the line – Pharisees and Sadducees.   Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were caught up in outward observance of religious law. They might pray in the streets (Matt 6:5), openly announce their giving (Matt 23), ask many religious, pious questions (Act 23), becoming spectacles themselves, yet still they only abided by the laws that conveniently roll off the tongue and fit their interest.  These men were highly regarded for their piety. They were key members of the religious community. Their roots were in the church. Yet, time and time again, John, then, Jesus see these men for who they are: prideful hypocrites.

It is no wonder they come to John to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, something common with Jewish culture even before Christ, because this was an outward observance of faith, and really the one enduring public expression that remains today.  For them, it was another way to add another tassel, place another feather, earn another merit badge to showcase their devotion (to their pride) on their whitewashed tomb (Matt 23:27-28). John calls out this action for what it is and begins to cut these men down to size, pleading with them to work on the inside: true repentance and bearing fruit (Matt 3:8).  Then he warns them that God himself will cut these men down to size if he must, not simply pruning (John 15), but cut at the very root, and throwing their fruitless mess into the fire once and for all (Matt 3:10).

As we are reading today, let this be a warning to us, especially those of us who are “church folk”. We may study the Bible, hold a position of leadership, or make eloquent confessions of faith, but to whose purpose do we do these things?  Are we lining up so we can receive our reward in full today (Matt 6:4)? Earn our badge, sticker, or tassel? I know I constantly battle my pride as I check more boxes of serving God.  As I articulate and expound on deep theological questions, cast judgement in situations of others, or feel like I have shared a great message, I can’t help but think, “Wow. Good thing God has me on His side.” How arrogant. How prideful.  How ashamed am I. The things I share, that I might selfishly revel in, that are so wonderful, so grand, are not my own, but God’s! Doing things “for Him”, like we ever could, does not assure our place in His kingdom (Matt 7:22; Eph 2:9-10). Only repentance and bearing fruit. Everyday we must fight for altruism in our lives, to die daily, to fall a little, and be consumed by God’s kingdom message.  I’d rather be eating locust and wearing camel skin, than have God bring justice to me later – but today, it is a warning – Church, check your pride.

-Aaron Winner

You Died

Col 3 3

Colossians 3:1-3

3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

I wonder how those believers in Jesus understood those words when Paul first penned that letter to them. “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”. He told them that they died. What would it have meant to them to hear that they had died? Obviously they were still physically alive and breathing. They were not zombies or vampires or other popular dead, but not fully dead creatures. What part of them was dead.

Sometimes today we speak metaphorically about death. “I’m brain dead” means that I did something without thinking it through, it was silly or stupid. “I’m dead tired” means that I need some sleep.

I think that Paul was telling the believers in Christ at Colossi that when they were baptized into Jesus Christ, that part of their nature that was under the control of “the flesh” or their brokenness and alienation from God had died. Apart from Christ, that which drives us or controls us is sin living within us. When we come to Christ, that part that controls us is put to death. Our focus is no longer to satisfy our sinful desires. We live by the spirit of God, our life is now found in God. It has not yet been fully revealed. We are still living under the influence of sin, and the new nature has not yet been fully realized in our daily living. That process, known as sanctification, is ongoing. It requires, as Paul goes on to say, a daily putting to death of things like “immorality, evil desires, greed, rage, malice, slander”.

We’re baptized into Christ, then you died, and rose again. Your new nature has not yet been fully revealed and won’t be until the coming of Jesus, but as you live as a follower of Jesus in this present age, you die to your old self a little more each day as you live by the spirit of God in practical ways.

-Jeff Fletcher