A People Prepared

Advent Candles

Reading the Word

Luke 1:16–17 (ESV)

16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

It is December and we are quickly approaching the Christmas holiday. We just finished several days focusing on being thankful. Now it is time to focus on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. With that in mind, my plan over the next few weeks is to follow the readings as laid out in John Piper’s book, Good News of Great Joy. I will be using Piper’s daily readings, but will be offering my own insights. I do recommend Piper’s book for those who may be interested.

John the Baptist came on the scene preaching a message of repentance just as the book of Malachi had said he would (Malachi 4:6). He came as a forerunner to prepare the people for the coming King.

The Christmas season is a time when many are more open to hear the message of Christ. It is a time when believers must tell the world that there is a King who has come into the world and that he has promised to come again. All people must prepare themselves while there is still time through repentance and trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation. Let us take the message of Christmas to the world!

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Boldly Proclaiming Jesus Christ

Acts 238 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Acts 2:22–41 (ESV)

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Understanding and Applying the Word

After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and began to preach. This is quite a change in Peter. Remember, he is the same person who had ran away when Jesus was arrested and then denied that he even knew Jesus. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he stood before the crowd and declared that Jesus was the Christ and that they had crucified him. When the crowd heard Peter’s words, they were convicted of their sin and asked what they should do. Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Then they too would receive the Spirit and be equipped to tell others.

The disciples went from being cowards to boldly proclaiming the gospel because of the power of the Holy Spirit at work within them. Their transformation is amazing! We too have received the Spirit and given all we need to preach the truth of Jesus Christ to the world. We have no reason to fear, but have been called to go bravely into the world and call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Quiet Confidence

man standing in the middle of road

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Reading the Word

Matthew 27:11–14 (ESV)

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Parallel Text: Mark 15:2-5

Understanding and Applying the Word

Pilate was amazed as he questioned Jesus. He was amazed because of the outrage of the religious leaders. How could Jesus cause such heated feelings that these men would want him put to death? He was also amazed because Jesus remained calm and collected even in the midst of the accusations and looming condemnation. How could Jesus seem so confident during all of this?

In the eye of the storm that was raging around him, Jesus stood confidently trusting in the Father. Jesus knew he was going to the cross. He knew that he had to die. He did not panic. He did not plead for his life to be spared. He stood in quiet confidence. This amazed Pilate.

Believers should also be marked by confidence. We may face difficult things in life, but we know what the future holds and it is good. It is very good. We will be with the Lord forever in a world without sin and suffering and death. We are confident because we trust in the plans and purposes of God. Our confidence should be something that others notice about us. As Peter wrote in his letter:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:14–15, ESV)

Let us go forward in confidence, proclaiming the goodness of God and trusting in the future he has promised.

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The Power of Prayer

man standing on rocks near beach during golden hour

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Reading the Word

Matthew 21:20–22 (ESV)

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Parallel Text: Mark 11:20-26; John 14:12-14

Understanding and Applying the Word

When the disciples saw the fig tree wither, they were amazed. They were not focused on the meaning of Jesus’ sign, but on its power. How could Jesus do this? Jesus answered by telling the disciples if they “have faith and do not doubt” they could tell the mountains to be thrown into the sea and it would be done. In fact, they could ask for anything in prayer and receive it, as long as they had faith.

This is a passage that has been abused and misused by many. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they can hold God hostage to give them whatever they desire as long as they use the correct magic formula (i.e. faith). In the Bible, true faith is not one’s ability to believe in a particular outcome. True faith is the exercise of trust in God, whether the circumstances or outcomes are what is desired or not. So, to exercise faith is to trust in the plans and purposes of God, even in the midst of difficulty. Jesus is not teaching “name it, claim it” theology. John 14:12-14 says that whatever you ask “in my name” will be done. The phrase “in my name” tells us that what we ask for has to be consistent with the plans and purposes of Christ.

Jesus’ words to his disciples are to encourage them. They will have great power and authority of their own and it will be exercised through prayer. The Lord stands behind them and what may seem impossible to them, like throwing a mountain into the sea, will be possible through the power of God working in and through them. This is a truth that the disciples would need to remember in the days ahead as Jesus departs from the world and they are left to bear witness to the world. It is also a message that Jesus’ followers today need to remember as we proclaim the gospel in a world that stands in opposition to Christ. Incredible things can happen through prayer and the power of God working in and through us. Let us pray and let us have faith!

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A Man Willing To Give It All Back

Luke 1910 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 19:1–10 (ESV)

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

If you grew up going to church, you are probably familiar with this story. You may have even learned a catchy little song about this incident. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were despised by the Jewish people and thought of as traitors and thieves. They both worked for the Romans and cheated their own people out of money to line their own pockets. This is why we often read of the “tax collectors and sinners” listed together. They were thought of as the lowest of the low.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. To get a better view, he climbed a tree. While he was in his tree, Jesus passed by and called up to Zacchaeus to climb down because he desired to go to his house with him. Zacchaeus immediately got down and welcomed Jesus. Of course, many grumbled that Jesus would spend time with someone so unworthy!

When Zacchaeus came to face to face with Jesus, he promised to give back all of the money he had cheated from people and to give back four times what he had taken! In response to Zacchaeus’ words and willingness to do what was right, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

This account comes after a series of passages where Jesus addresses money, possessions, and coveting. In the previous chapter (cf. Luke 18:18-30), we read of the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his possessions to gain eternal life. Zacchaeus serves as the contrast to that mindset. Zacchaeus was willing to give up all that he had to receive what truly mattered: salvation and eternal life. Through his words and actions, Zacchaeus showed where his heart was and what he truly valued. He desired Jesus and the things of God. He wanted to do what was right and turn from what was wrong. In short, he was repentant and trusting in the words of Jesus and it changed his life.

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Your Faith Has Made You Well

man touching book

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Thank you for reading Shaped by the Word. This is a daily, Bible-reading devotional to encourage personal reading and reflection on the word of God. I do not publish devotional material on Sundays, but do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can read along every day.

Reading the Word

Luke 18:35–43 (ESV)

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

Like a Child

Luke 1817 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:15–17 (ESV)

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

People were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” Such a touch would have been to bless the children. At first, the disciples sought to stop this from happening. They shared the cultural mindset that thought of children as a burden until they were physically capable of helping the family. Jesus, however, welcomed the children.

Jesus’ words “to such belongs the kingdom of God” should not be misunderstood. Jesus was not addressing the status of children in relation to the kingdom, but using children as an example. The emphasis of Jesus’ words falls on “for to such.” It is those who are like children that belong to the kingdom. Those who have a simple, childlike trust in Jesus and his teaching are those who belong to the kingdom. It becomes more clear in the last verse. There, Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of God must be received “like a child.”

We must be careful no to over-complicate the gospel. Jesus does not require us to have extensive knowledge or the answers to every complex question. All we need is childlike faith. If we know we are sinners and trust that Jesus saves us from our sins through his death and resurrection, we belong to him. It then becomes our delight to continue to learn, grow, and mature in our faith.

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The Kingdom through Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 17:20–21 (ESV)

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. His response was that the kingdom was not coming in a visual way, as they were expecting. The were likely expecting some type of apocalyptic events surrounding the kingdom’s arrival. Instead, Jesus said, “[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The phrase “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” can also be translated “is within you.” If you compare the most popular Bible translations you will find both translations represented. What did Jesus mean by this statement? Some take the phrase “is within you” to mean that the kingdom is within your heart. However, that makes no sense since Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom within their hearts. Also, nowhere in the rest of Scripture is the kingdom spoken of as something that is internalized. It seems better to translate the phrase as “in the midst of you.” In this sense, Jesus is saying that the kingdom has come and is present in his teaching and works. Jesus made the same point in Luke 11:20.

By telling the Pharisees that the kingdom had arrived with his coming, Jesus was emphasizing that belonging to the kingdom would be dependent on how one responded to him. Would the Pharisees accept Jesus or would they continue to reject and resist him? We have the same choice before us today. Jesus presents the kingdom to all who will repent and believe. What will we do?

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Increase Our Faith

King of the hill in Arizona sunset

Reading the Word

Luke 17:5–6 (ESV)

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus’ disciples, after hearing him teach asked him to increase their faith. They wanted the amount of faith necessary to live according to Jesus’ words. Jesus’ response shows us that the apostles were thinking wrongly about faith. Jesus does not tell them how to increase in faith, but tells them that the faith of a mustard seed is sufficient. A mustard seed was often used in proverbial illustrations to speak of the smallest measure. In saying that mustard seed faith was sufficient, Jesus made the point that it is not the amount of faith, but the object of faith that is important. Faith must be in God and his word. When one trusts in God, even what seems impossible becomes possible.

When we place our faith in God, we understand that he is the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of all things. Nothing is too difficult for him. This does not mean that he will do whatever we ask him as “name-it-claim-it” prosperity theology teaches. It does mean that when we seek to live our lives for the Lord and do his will, he enables us to do so, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Who or what are you trusting in?

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Family Ties

Luke 1128 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 11:27–28 (ESV)

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Understanding and Applying the Word

A woman commented that Jesus’ mother was surely blessed because she had Jesus as a son. We must be careful not to misunderstand what this woman was saying. Of course, children are a blessing to their parents. Mary was blessed in that way. However, the woman meant something more. In Jesus’ day, there was a great emphasis placed on family lineage and women found a great deal of value in the sons that they bore. For Mary to have a son like Jesus, she was surely blessed!

Jesus’ response was that biological connections are not what is important. The one who hears the word of God and does it is the one who is truly blessed. Our relationship with God does not come through our family tree, it comes from each individual’s response to the word of God. We must not think that our relationship with God is based on anything our parents, grandparents, or children have done. Each and every one of us must decide what we will do with the word of God that tells us of our sin and the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. Those who are blessed will hear the word, repent of their sins, and trust in Jesus Christ.

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