Christianity 201

April 10, 2019

He Gave Up A Successful Ministry in order that His Congregation Could Find Something Better

“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’” – John 4:26

While I’ve linked to Matt Tullos before at our other blog, I’ve not mentioned him here until today. I was originally going to go with the shorter blog post which appears at the end of today’s writing — and I hope you see the connection between them — but decided instead to let you see more of his writing. I was going to build from the first post to include some other writers, but again, didn’t want to shortchange you.

Only a few times have we included poetry here, but it’s a very powerful writing form, as you see below. Click the headers to read the individual pieces at the source and thereby encourage Matt.

Jesus, the Increasing One

They came to John the Baptist with a report of Jesus baptizing. “All are going to Him,” they observed. This itinerant preacher who made his home among reeds and wild goats listened and then replied. “You heard me saying from the start that I am not the One. Don’t expect me to be anything other than elated by His renown, All must go!

John’s was the first all-in believer who gleefully tossed his ambition into the fire of His coming.

“He must increase and I must decrease.”

This is the disciple’s passage into the Kingdom: “It’s not about me. It’s never been about me.” 

Once a disciple of Jesus understands the grand, expansive nature of Christ, everything else falls away. The things that were once important and needful are now flimsy and unsatisfying. The things we chase after aren’t worth the wind. It’s not a sudden change. At least it hasn’t been for me. We often give in to the instinct to build our own castles and place His name on the threshold. As we grow closer to Him, we begin tearing down these false edifices for something more beautiful: the presence of Christ… in every inch of our souls. Piece by piece we dismantle the personal idols and achievements to make more room for His presence. We learn that the works of our hands are best used as kindling for the fire of our own sanctification. No relationship, account, possession or achievement can touch the joy of falling headlong into His grace. And so we toss it all in with little thought of their merit. As we do this, Christ’s presence expands and overtakes our territory. He increases and we decrease.

Like Enoch, if we walk with him long enough we will be no more.

I often lust for definition
affirming nods
Self-decision
Protection for extreme derision
Better plans
And high ambition

Then…

I come to see
And come to say
that what I need
in close of day
is more of you and less of me
More of you and less of me

The world doesn’t need more of me
My brains, my skill, my vanity
I wish to take a solemn vow
To say to heaven here and now
That what I have is travesty
With less of You and more of me.
Life is filthy rags times three
When there’s less of Him
and more of me.

So drown the egocentric urge
Begin the Romans 12:1 purge
My ever foolish bent to judge
To trust myself
To hold a grudge
Let truth be told
And words be few

Less of me
And more of you.
Less of me
and more of You.

[Bonus content:]

Jesus, The Early Riser

We see Jesus rising up early:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Mark 1:35-37

Jesus leaves the house before the crow of the rooster. He retreats into the morning air.

There’s something about waking up alone and experiencing the first stirrings of morning. The air seems pure. The sounds of night in glorious stillness. The whole countryside waits in longing anticipation for the light of morning. This is the dawn-treading Messiah sleuthing for the stillness of the dawn’s advent.

Before any healing, deliverance, miracle or story, Jesus’ days begin with the power of stillness, intimacy and prayer. It is the key to true mindfulness.

He wakes to pray…

He prays to wake…

Lord. of the Dawn…

King of Creation…

Teach me your abiding peace that seeks the Father before any other relational transaction.

When everyone is looking for me, may I, first, begin to look for You.


…If this left you wanting more, here’s one more devotional from Matt on the life and ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist: Jesus the Beloved Son

October 24, 2018

Taste Testing the Reality of God

This is our second feature sourced from Don’t Ask The Fish, written by Florida pastor Dr. Tommy Kiedis.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!

— Psalm 34:8 CSB

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith.

Last week I read the stories of Ezekiel and John, two men who tasted the reality of God, albeit in different ways. Ezekiel was the bold prophet sent to pronounce God’s judgment on his rebellious people, while John the Baptist trumpeted the arrival of Messiah and saw him walk, talk, teach, and heal.

Their experiences got me thinking about the proverb, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Actually, “the proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb.” So says Ben Zimmer, language columnist at the Boston Globe. Zimmer notes, “The original version is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food in order to know whether it was good.”

In one sense, Ezekiel and John got to “try out” the food. Their experiences were first-hand, the kind most of us wish for from time-to-time: “Oh, if I could have just heard the voice of God like Ezekiel!” “If I could have just witnessed the work of Jesus like John.”

Not so fast.

Despite having seen Jesus, John the baptizer had his own crisis of faith. His doubts about Jesus spilled out as he sat in Herod’s prison. So unsure was John that sent his followers to ask:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

— Matthew 11:3 ESV

How does Jesus respond to this temporary lapse of faith? “You go and report to John what you hear and see:”

  • The blind see
  • The lame walk
  • Lepers are cleansed
  • The deaf hear
  • The dead are raised
  • The wretched of the earth learned that God is on their side.

John, the proof is in the pudding. If this is what you were expecting, count yourself most blessed! Because you’re seeing it. The reality that I am the Messiah.

John’s problem — his nagging doubt — reminded me that we all live in the tension of proof and faith. In other words, we may get to see the pudding, but not taste it this side of heaven.

I turn the pages of my Bible to Hebrews 11, to those notables whose pictures grace the faith Hall of Fame: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the rest of that confident cohort. They possessed a faith so strong we’re on a first-name basis. Yet, in one sense each of these only saw the pudding, never sampled it.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

— Hebrews 11:

The members of the Faith Hall of Fame tasted the reality of God, but walked in the unseen reality of the day-to-day. What are we to make of all this?

For starters, God does not owe you or me a tidy wrapped package that is the life of faith. “Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God.

I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words to the crowd after this encounter with John:

“How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” — Matthew 11:16-19 The Message

Jesus is telling me that while the meal may not look the way I want it, I still need to come and eat. And as I continue to read Matthew 11, he urges me to come to his table.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith. But Jesus, like the Psalmist, knows the happy person is the one who sits to dine, who comes to him.

Ezekiel, John, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab . . . they all dined with God. They trusted him — even when it didn’t seem to make sense — and found he is good.

How about you? Taste and see. The proof is in the pudding.


Note: “The proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb . . .” from “The Origin Of ‘Proof Is In The Pudding’“, transcript of Morning Edition, August 24, 2012. National Public Radio. www.npr.org. Accessed October 15, 2018.

September 14, 2018

When You Thought You Had Rid Yourself of a Problem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

This is our third time sharing with you the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. Don is in a series on 1st and 2nd Peter, but this reading, from Mark’s Gospel is taken from sermon notes posted online. Click the title below to read at source.

A Strange Sequence of Events

John Has a Bad Day

Mark 6:14-29

Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9

The real “meat” in this text is found in verses 14-16, the part most commentators discuss and teach is in 17-29, unfortunately. Thomas Jefferson had a painting of John’s head on the platter hanging in his dining room, and I can attest that it is still there, yet the important part is not in what happened to John, it’s what people were saying about Jesus at this point in His ministry.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Mark 6:14-16

“King Herod had heard about this” “This?” What was “this?”

In context, this passage in Mark’s gospel follows immediately the passage about Jesus sending out the twelve, it is relating to the Kingdom Tour, and we know that news and accounts of Jesus’ activities had spread like wildfire throughout the region; the Pharisees had already begun to consider how they would kill Jesus, and they were exactly the ones who either knew, or with reasonable diligence they should have known that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod Antipas was another matter. Recall that he was the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem upon hearing of the birth of Jesus. He was the Vassal-king of Judea, serving under the Roman Emperor, a marginal Jew at best in a secular administration, who one day would have his own problems with the Romans.

Who was this guy up in Galilee?

Nobody could figure that out for sure, but there were rumors.

Elijah? A prophet? No, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead!

It’s clear that on some level, John had gotten to Herod. It’s also clear that as a result of a stupid party stunt, Herod has randomly had John murdered. If you are Herod, and you are feeling guilty for what you did at that stupid party because you shot your mouth off… probably after a few drinks, and you think that John the Baptist has come back from the grave with miraculous powers, how do you feel about this new situation?

This guy is a rock star, the people are loving Him… and He has miraculous powers and you think he is the resurrection of the one you had murdered. What do you do now?

You could repent and beg forgiveness, but how would that look in the morning papers on the Emperor’s desk the next day? (so to speak) How will that play on the nightly news? What will your approval numbers do with the people? (Remember, this guy was a politician in a tough spot)

Is there a way you could try to kill him again? But he doesn’t stay dead!

What you really need are powerful allies, and sooner or later He is sure to catch wind of a plot against Him. I have a strong hunch that we might see Herod’s fingerprints later in the story!

 

March 23, 2018

Wisdom is Justified by Her Children

This is our third visit with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the title below to read at source.

Wisdom’s Children – Luke 7:18-35

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35, ESV).

John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus to find out if He was the Messiah. When they asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus did not answer them explicitly. Rather, He sent them back to John with this message:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23, ESV).

But Jesus explicitly identified John as the one whom the prophet Malachi described as the messenger who would prepare the way when the day of the Lord comes. Although this explanation of John’s ministry satisfied many of the people in the crowd of people following Jesus who were also John’s disciples, the Pharisees and scribes rejected His testimony about John because they didn’t believe John the Baptist was sent by God.

Then Jesus points out that God’s purpose is accomplished in multiple ways: John’s abstemious method and Jesus’ intemperate style.

Jesus and John didn’t try to justify their own behavior. They didn’t behave a certain way because it’s the “right” way.

Instead, they each carried out the ministry to which God called them. With John it was declaring people’s sinfulness and need for repentance. With Jesus it was declaring God’s forgiveness and mercy and then sacrificing His life for us. Each rendered service to God in the way in which God called them and according to their own personalities and perspectives.

So, it’s not about which way is right and which is wrong–it’s about doing God’s will!

Think about it. Is the right way to serve God by living in the wilderness and “eating no bread and drinking no wine” like John the Baptist? Or, is the right way socializing and “eating and drinking” with people like Jesus did?

Our trouble is that we want it to be one or the other. This is right, that is wrong. In other words, we compartmentalize our faith–we’re either right or left, evangelical or liberal, Arminian or Calvinist, preterist or futurist.

And then we want to impose the compartment in which our faith resides on others. If they don’t believe the way we do then they must be wrong and we need to fix them!

Being wisdom’s children is not simply about knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is about seeing our purpose in life from God’s perspective.  Each of us must find out what we should do and then do it according to the personality and perspective God has given us.

And, accept the perspective of others who are doing likewise…

When our lives are focused on justifying God rather than our own point of view, then we are the children of Wisdom.

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24, ESV)

December 23, 2017

Joy in the Christmas Narrative

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

All week long our friends Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (dailyencouragement.net) have been looking at the theme of joy in the Advent narrative. Here are highlights from the series with a link to each day’s full article.

Day One – Mary & Elizabeth

…In a loud voice she [Elizabeth] exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you [Mary] among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!’” (Luke 1:39-45).

…John was just six months along but made his presence felt by his mother when leaping in her womb. He had also heard Mary’s greeting and apparently had some Spirit-given knowledge of the significance of that greeting. The experience resulted in Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Scripture highlights her excitement with the phrase, “In a loud voice she exclaimed.”

What follows is a powerful Scriptural assertion of the sanctity of life. Christ had been supernaturally conceived only a short time before this. He was at most only weeks old.

Yet Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Notice that she identifies Mary as “the mother of my Lord”. Even at this early stage in prenatal development Mary is a mother! …

Day Two – John the Baptist

“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14).

…[T]he verse actually isn’t referring to Jesus but to John! (Check the context in Luke 1:5-25). Zechariah and Elizabeth had not had their own children. The Bible informs us that, “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old” (Luke 1:6,7).

But God had other plans for them and, like Abraham and Sarah, they became parents long after Elizabeth’s barren child bearing age had passed. Today’s text was an angelic assurance to Zechariah from Gabriel.

“He will be a joy and delight to you.” After John’s birth, recorded in Luke 1:57-66, the focus of the gospel turns to Jesus and we have no record of John’s infancy or childhood. Surely Elizabeth had some help from a younger relative or house maiden during John’s terrible two’s stage. However Zechariah had received a promise that John would be a joy and delight and we are sure he was!

“And many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Indeed at the time of John’s birth he created quite a stir. Luke 1:65,66 tells us “All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.”

The final childhood reference to John states, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1:80).

Day Three – The Announcement

“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord'” (Luke 2:8-10).

Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord. That can and should be our experience.

The very heart of the gospel is the message the angel proclaimed to the shepherds as expressed in Luke 2:10, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”. Just consider the aspect of “great joy” these lowly shepherds received in the message of the Gospel. It was certainly a night unlike typical night watches where shepherds move about in the dark, gathering stragglers and keeping watch for predators and other dangers.

This event had none of the normal trappings we associate with joy today. It wasn’t available to just the Hollywood elite, the intellectual, the wealthy, or the big name politicians. The joy the angel spoke of wasn’t related to flashy consumer goods; there was no big sweepstakes giveaway, no great buy at the mall.

Instead the angel spoke of joy that originates from an entirely different source. This great joy is the result of the birth of Jesus who came to save all people who ask forgiveness for their sins. The angel’s message went on to proclaim, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”

The joy we have in Christ is:
1. A great joy.
2. A lasting joy.
3. A pure and holy joy.

Day Four – Those Filled With Re-Joy-Cing*

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

Careful consideration of Scripture actually reveals that the wise men who followed the star arrived some time after Christ’s birth. They had first seen the star while in the east and had traveled to Jerusalem to inquire regarding the exact place of Christ’s birth. In the verse following today’s text we read that the Magi came “into the house” (Matthew 2:11).

Just who these wise men (or Magi) were remains a mystery. Possibly they were among those from the Jewish line who stayed in the East (present day Iran) following the Exile or perhaps they were proselytes who were very familiar with the Messianic promise.  After receiving the information that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem they went there with a specific purpose – to worship the Christ Child.

For some reason, after initially seeing the star in the east, it was no longer seen for a period until after they had been to Jerusalem and were on their way to Bethlehem. (Compare 2:2 with 2:9,10.)

These men were earnest seekers. The journey from the east to Jerusalem was likely long and hard, but they were persistent. It was the reappearance of the star on the way to Bethlehem that prompted the response described in the KJV when they “rejoiced with exceeding great joy”. The apparent redundancy in the English is an attempt to convey the richness of emotion that Matthew uses four Greek words to express. The Amplified says, “thrilled with ecstatic joy.”

Why were they filled with such great joy? After all, at this point they had not yet seen Jesus (read the text carefully). Clearly, it was the reappearance of the star that prompted their joy. It reassured them that this was the real thing and also gave them the ability to continue their journey to find the Christ child.

I believe we have here an example of how God reveals Himself to the earnest seeker. They had seen the star while in the East and then went to Jerusalem by faith. The reappearance of the star on their way to Bethlehem gave them an assurance that their seeking was not in vain!

At times the light of God’s guidance is remarkably clear like the star seen by the wise men while in the east. At other times God’s leading is less clear, such as when the guiding star was no longer visible. But like these wise men, as earnest seekers, we walk by faith and obedience to God’s Word.


*my title, not Stephen & Brooksyne’s!  I encourage you to click that particular link and read this one in full.

 

 

 

January 1, 2016

Baptism of Repentance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , ,

NIV Luke 3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar… 2 …the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

NIV Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “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.

We start the year introducing a new author,

Repentance

“I’m sorry.”

I think I’ve said those words at least a few dozen times to family and friends just within the last week. And, I’ve meant them. And I was told “I forgive you.” But often times, while hearing “I forgive you” is much needed and comforting, it’s sometimes a difficult phrase to believe – especially when we know we’ve hurt someone else. How can we be forgiven by simply saying “I screwed up. I’m sorry.”?

We often feel as if we need to do something more than just say those words and mean them. We feel we need to make up for our mistakes. This is even true when we ask for forgiveness from God. We’re told we’re forgiven. And yet, that forgiveness is often difficult for us to believe in, or to hope for. All we did was simply repent.

And yet, that is the key. Repentance. When we repent – when we say that we are sorry, and truly mean it – we are not simply saying “oops, I screwed up” and then go about our lives making the same mistake without a second thought. We are instead changing – we are recognizing that our behavior or action was wrong, and that we should not do it again. Repentance changes us on the inside.

This of course isn’t to say that we won’t repeat the same mistake. And sometimes repeat it several times. But it does mean that we recognize our error and are trying to change that within ourselves, with the help of God. It means we are asking God not only to forgive us, but to help us change that behavior.

In the Gospel of Luke, we’re told that John is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the baptism we have all received. Through this baptism, we understand that we are forgiven for our sins, both past and future. We’re given hope through this baptism of repentance. And this hope is not only for us, but for our world.

This gospel reading continues on by quoting from Isaiah

“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.”

This text paints a pretty picture in my mind, and yet it is so much more than just a winding road going over hills and valleys. It is so much more fantastic than that.

Through repentance and forgiveness – through us, with God’s help, changing our hearts and actions – we are given the hope that the proud will be humbled and the broken will be lifted up. The winding, crooked, rough ways of our world will be made straight and right.


C201Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Authors chosen for inclusion here represent a variety of doctrinal viewpoints and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Be sure to click through and read more of their material, not just the single item posted here.  Your suggestions for articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

December 25, 2015

Hear The Voice

The Voice BibleLast night I read to the family from several sections of Christmas narrative in The Voice, a new Bible translation which we’ve used here a few times at C201. One of the interesting things about The Voice is the use of explanatory or transitional passages — they call them narrative links — which add commentary and context to what you’re reading. Further, in John 1, the phrase ‘the Voice’ is used where we are accustomed to hearing ‘The Word.’  Following our tradition here, I’ve left the Bible verses themselves in green, but the other sections which form part of the excerpt are in teal. (If by this time in December you feel you’ve heard the standard texts too many times, then just read the teal sections, but I assure you that you haven’t heard the Christmas texts themselves in exactly this manner.)

We start with John’s prologue in chapter one:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

    The Voice was and is God.
This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
    His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
    all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things
    with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
    blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this Light. This baptizer put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light so all might believe through him. Some wondered whether he might be the Light, but John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos.

Jesus as the Light does not call out from a distant place but draws near by coming into the world.

10 He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. 12 But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will.

14 The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth. 15 John the Baptist testified about Him and shouted, “This is the one I’ve been telling you is coming. He is much greater than I am because He existed long before me.” 16 Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination. 17 You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth. 18 God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son, straight from the Father’s heart.

Before Jesus comes along, many wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One sent by God. But when Jesus appears in the wilderness, John points others to Him. John knows his place in God’s redemptive plan: he speaks God’s message, but Jesus is the Word of God. John rejects any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepts it with a smile, but only from a few devoted followers—at least at first. Of course John is crucial to the unfolding drama, but he isn’t the long awaited One sent to free His people. He preaches repentance and tells everybody to get ready for One greater to come along. The One who comes will cleanse humanity in fire and power, he says. John even urges some of his followers to leave him and go follow Jesus.

We also read from Hebrews 1:

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.

Most images of angels are influenced by art and pop culture—and are far removed from the Bible. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and it can refer to either a human being or a heavenly being. The Hebrews author is writing about heavenly messengers.

In the Bible, heavenly messengers have several functions—executors of God’s judgment, guardians of God’s people, heralds of God’s plans. They appear at critical moments to chosen people who play important roles in God’s salvation, such as arriving to announce the birth and resurrection of Jesus and to transmit God’s law to Moses. They are no more than messengers, created beings, who serve the will of God and His Son. Recognizing their place, they bow before the Son in loving adoration.

And also Luke 2:

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke describes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Finally, here is a short excerpt from Matthew 2, after Jesus has already been born:

9-10 The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; 11 and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They unpacked their satchels and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are exceptionally good gifts, for gold is what is given a king, and Jesus is the King of kings; incense is what you expect to be given a priest, and Jesus is the High Priest of all high priests; myrrh ointment is used to heal, and Jesus is a healer. But myrrh is also used to embalm corpses—and Jesus was born to die.

12 And then, just as Joseph did a few months before, the wise men had a dream warning them not to go back to Herod. The wise men heeded the dream. Ignoring Herod’s instructions, they returned to their homes in the East by a different route.


Read an excerpt of what we call the Palm Sunday passage in Luke 20 from The Voice.

Below is a page sample of the end of Mark 1 and beginning of Mark 2 showing the dramatic script translation style, and two types of transitional notes.

The Voice Bible - Sample Page

 

December 4, 2015

Preparing the Way of the Lord

Today we paid a return visit to FaithGateway.com.  I had forgotten what a wealth of devotional articles this site is with top authors such as Charles Stanley, Robert Morgan, Billy Graham, Ann Spangler, Craig Groeshel, Louie Giglio and many more. The devotion we selected is from author Kenneth Boa. Click the title below to read at source, then click “devotionals” to look around the site.

John the Baptist: The Forerunner

Luke 1:57-66, Luke 1:80

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son… On the eighth day [her neighbors and relatives] came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. – Luke 3:3-6

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’  – John 1:6-9, John 1:15

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ ”)

Meditation

A King was on His way. And they might have missed Him, the King who would fulfill Old Testament prophecy and become the main subject of the New Testament. So John was sent as a herald. John is the bridge, the threshold between what had been and what was about to be. He is the precursor, the forerunner, the opening act, the appointed messenger, carrying the promise that the centuries of waiting and preparing and anticipating were about to come to a great and glorious fulfillment. In John, the prophecies began to be fulfilled. And a few people understood it — the early adopters, those quick to catch on. But even to these, his own disciples, he pointed to Jesus, the One whose sandal he was unfit to tie.

As great as the teaching of John the Baptist was, it was nothing compared to Jesus’ teaching. And how well John the Baptist understood his role and stuck to it.

What amazing clarity of purpose. Yet we can learn from him too. We can learn that preparation for the Messiah (then as now) requires a conversion and a transformation of the heart and mind. We can learn that the focus is not on us or on anything that we have done or hope to do, not even if it is for God. We can learn that our job, like John’s, is to spread the Good News, to point all people to behold Jesus and to seek His message of salvation.

Prayer

Holy Father, Your grace humbles me without degrading me and elevates me without inflating me. You offer me great dignity and worth; without You I am nothing and have nothing. I am grateful that You have given me the astounding invitation to participate in something that extends so far beyond me, though I really have little to offer. I can only revel in Your kindness, grace and compassion. I know that You can accomplish what is needed in Your plan without me, and yet You invite me to participate in what will last forever. I ask You to guide me and to teach me how to fulfill Your unique purposes for my life. I pray that, by Your grace, I will become the person You created me to be, accomplishing the works you have prepared beforehand for me. In Your Son’s precious name I pray. Amen.

Excerpted with permission from Once-A-Day 25 Days of Advent by Kenneth D. Boa, copyright Zondervan.

* * *

Your Turn

Isn’t it astonishing that we are invited to join John in pointing people to Jesus? This Advent season, with whom are you sharing the Good News and your personal story of what Jesus has done for you? Come share on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

April 14, 2014

Jesus Responds to John’s “I Should be Baptized by You”

Matt 3:13Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.…

Believer's Baptism

This is a sample article from a great series — Jesus’ Baptism and Ours — by Mark Love which ran at the blog Dei-Liberations.  There is some really good study material here. To see it all, click through for this article and then click the top of the page and then scroll down to the first post on March 25th, 2014; and then scroll up to read each article. This one was titled Jesus Baptism and Ours: I Should Be Baptized By You.

In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist protests Jesus’ request to be baptized. “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” We understand John’s reluctance. Jesus seems to us an unlikely candidate for a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For John, though, Jesus’ desire to be baptized seems to be more tied to their relative status regarding the restoration of Israel. John is the forerunner, the path straightener, the warm-up act. As Luke records John’s response, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus is greater than John and his baptism is greater. The roles here are reversed.

The one who is greater is making himself the least. And this is the shape of the coming Kingdom of God.

In the movie, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a pentecostal preacher who commits a murder and escapes Texas for Louisiana to avoid the law. Duval’s character has done a terrible thing and needs forgiveness from God to be restored to his calling. So, in an amazing scene, he baptizes himself–three times–and emerges from the river, not only forgiven, but promoted. He is now an apostle. I’m not sure which is more audacious, calling yourself an apostle or baptizing yourself.

Baptism requires someone besides you. It’s a mediated act. Our way to God passes through another’s life. This is the way salvation would have to be if our besetting sin is self-centeredness. It’s different than saying a prayer or some other act that is only internal to us. Jesus can’t be only in our hearts, but must be external to us as well, calling us out of our selves and into life with and through others. In this sense, baptism is not something we do, but something we receive. In fact, in baptism we completely rely and trust another to bring us up from the watery grave. We are vulnerable and submissive (in the easiest baptisms, at least. I’ve had a few fighters). We are not the active agents in the act of baptism. Someone else is.

When my father baptized me, he represented both Christ and the community of Christ. I did not originate this story and it’s truth doesn’t depend on me. In baptism, I am being claimed by realities greater than myself.

And this is the way of the Kingdom of God. As I argued in the last post, John’s summons to repentance and forgiveness of sins would have been heard as an end to Israel’s long exile and the coming nearness of the Kingdom of God. Israel will be restored to a central place in God’s covenantal purposes for all of creation. But the nature and shape of participating in the Kingdom of God will be surprising and require repentance. Namely, it will require God’s chosen one to submit to God in everything, including death on a cross. This is not just so that God can get God’s way. This is because loving submission and covenantal trust are God’s way. This is what the world looks like when God’s rule and reign are operative.

So, it is not surprising to see Jesus come to John for baptism. First, he is aligning himself with a movement that anticipates the coming Kingdom of God. Second, the very nature and shape of that movement is based on those who are great becoming the least. The baptism of Jesus echoes throughout the rest of the gospel story. “If you want to find your life, you must lose it… The greatest will be the least, the servant of all…the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve… not my will, but yours be done.”

When we are baptized, hopefully we are saying the same things. We are aligning our lives with the good news of God’s coming kingdom and are recognizing that power in this kingdom is expressed as submission and service.

May 8, 2013

John The Baptist: A Character Study

Jeremy is the author of a now inactive blog, Serving The Purposes of God In My Generation. Love that name. This November, 2012 post is the last item there; the original title was A Life Devoted.

 He never did a miracle, but…

He was a ‘Soul-winner’
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river. Matthew 3:5-6

He was filled with the Spirit
… and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. Luke 1:15

He was humble 
After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

He pointed to Jesus 
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ John 1:29

He knew who he was
‘Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you a prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you?…’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, make straight the way for the Lord.’ John 1:21-23

He was holy
But… John rebuked Herod… because of his marriage to Herodias, his brothers wife, and all the other evil things he had done. Luke 3:19

He fasted and prayed
They said to him, ‘John’s disciples often fast and pray…’ Luke 5:33

He preached fearlessly
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?’ Matthew 3:7

He answered the world’s questions
‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered… Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher’ they asked ‘What should we do’… then some soldiers asked him ‘What should we do?’ Luke 3:10-14

He was imprisoned 
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison… Matthew 14:3

He finished his race 
He ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in prison…. Matthew 14:10

Reference: Notes taken from talk by B.Varghese, 08.11.12.

March 13, 2013

Did Jesus Need to be Baptized?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:46 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

<NLT) Matthew 11: 1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was,   “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”…

11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

(AMP) 14 But John protested strenuously, having in mind to prevent Him, saying, It is I who have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?

15 But Jesus replied to him, Permit it just now; for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness [that is, to perform completely whatever is right]. Then he permitted Him.

This is from David Capes at HearTheVoice.com:

When you read the Gospels, it is clear that John’s baptism is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  So the question arises: Why did Jesus need to repent?  Or what sin was Jesus guilty of that he needed to be forgiven?  In Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ baptism we are told that John finds Jesus’ request to be baptized puzzling for he demurs and says “I need to be cleansed by You.  Why do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:13-14).   But Jesus convinces John to superintend his baptism.

So why was Jesus’ baptized?  The rest of the New Testament and Christian tradition claim that Jesus was without sin so he had no need to repent—in the traditional sense of the word—and be forgiven.

Let me suggest several reasons why Jesus went to John and insisted that the prophet dip him in the Jordan River.

First, Jesus wanted to identify with John.   When Jesus heard what John was doing in the desert—calling  people to change their ways and announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God—the Nazarene wanted to be there, to drink it all in,  for he sensed in his spirit that it may be his time.

Second, Jesus wanted to identify with the women and men who were coming to John in repentance and faith.  These were the “poor in spirit” Jesus would declared “blessed” in his Sermon on the Mount.  Put another way, Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.  Later, as controversies increase around him, he will be criticized for being a friend of sinners.

Third, Jesus’ baptism marks a turning point in his life.  The word translated “repentance” in most Bible translations means “a change of mind” (metanoia).  Now a true change of mind is always accompanied by a corresponding change of behavior.  After his baptism everything changes for Jesus.  He will leave behind the carpenter shop to become an itinerant preacher and healer.  He will leave behind his home in Nazareth to set up his headquarters in Capernaum.  He will leave behind a private life and become a most public person.  Jesus’ baptism is the turning point of his life.

Fourth, Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his coming death, burial, and resurrection.  Now I must admit that this last reason is more speculative, but it is certainly consistent with the story as it unfolds in the Gospel.  When Jesus submits to John’s baptism, because of who he is—God’s Son, the Anointed One–he gives baptism an entirely new focus.  Those who follow Jesus in baptism will do so as an act of initiation into the Christian faith; through baptism they participate in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Roman 6).  For Christ-believers baptism is the start of their new life; it is the turning point of their lives just as it was for Jesus.

Read the same account with additional notes in the Bible translation David helped create, The Voice Bible.

January 12, 2013

Pointing the Way to the Messiah

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
Tags: , , ,

If you’re looking for some additional reading this weekend, David Kenney is in the middle of a series in the early chapters of Luke.  This one focuses on a very specific verse with significance we might overlook.  Enjoy The Truth Behind Sandal Straps.  (Link through and then click the banner to see other posts in the series.)

John says in Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals.

As you can imagine, well known Rabbis had young students who followed them everywhere and who were always willing to be the teacher’s pet. “Let me get that door for you, Rabbi.” “Do you need a napkin, Rabbi?” In fact it was a great honor if you could say that you were “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi, because that meant that you followed him everywhere.

Well, there was only one job that a disciple could not do for his rabbi and that was to take off his sandals. Untying sandals was the job you gave your lowest slave. Just think about it, you come home from working all day, flop down in your lay-z-boy, put your feet up on the ottoman and who takes your shoes off? Not you, you don’t have that kind of time. No, your lowest slave waddles over and removes your sandals.

John says, “Am I the messiah? No…, that guy, I’m not even worthy to perform the most degrading task for him.”

When we first met John, he was leaping for Joy in his Mother’s womb, next we listen to his Father lull him to sleep with a song, now John is in the desert, a young rebel preacher inviting people to repent and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. A man whom he says is so wonderful, so glorious, so righteous, he isn’t even worthy to take off his shoes.

Does John love Jesus? Yes he does. John is preparing the way for Jesus because he knows that the road ahead will be rough. Jesus’ ministry will meet opposition, heartache, trial and death – but John loves his Rabbi and so every day, he straps on a coat of animal hair and steps into a dirty river and calls his world to change.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.