God Has Visited His People

clouds

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Reading the Word

Luke 1:68–71 (ESV)

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;

Understanding and Applying the Word

When John the Baptist was born, Zechariah praised God. Luke 1:68-71 are the opening words that Zechariah spoke. The focus of his praise was on God keeping his promises and saving his people. The Lord was fulfilling his promise of a Messiah from the line of David to bring salvation.

Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and Zechariah recognized that the wait was over. Jesus came into the world to redeem all of mankind from sin and death by giving his life as a sacrifice. The Messiah laid down his life for his people so that they could live. We too should pause this Christmas season to remember our Redeemer and offer praise to him.

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A People Prepared

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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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Questioning Jesus

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Reading the Word

Matthew 21:23–27 (ESV)

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Parallel Texts: Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8

Understanding and Applying the Word

The last time Jesus was in the temple he had driven out the money changers and those selling pigeons. So when Jesus returned, the chief priests and elders were quick to confront him. Who did Jesus think he was? Who gave him the authority to do the things he was doing? After all, the temple was under the authority of the priests.

When Jesus heard their questions, he responded with a question of his own. He asked the priests and elders, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From Heaven or man?” The priests and elders refused to answer this question because no matter how they would have answered it, they would have been in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they would admit that John acted on behalf of heaven (i.e. God), which means they should have listened to him. On the other hand, they would deny that John was a prophet and anger the people who believed John. Since the leaders would not answer Jesus, he refused to answer them.

If the priests and elders had been willing to acknowledge the source of John’s authority, they would have also known the source of Jesus’. John’s entire ministry emphasized that Jesus would come and he would be greater than John. The leaders were unwilling to see this even after all they had witnessed through John and also through Jesus. They had heard the teaching, witnessed or heard about the miracles, but they refused to believe. Their hearts were hardened to the truth.

Today, many have hardened their hearts towards Jesus in much the same way. Many refuse to see Jesus for who he is because they do not want to, regardless of the truth that is available. What should we do? We must continue to share the gospel and pray that the Lord would soften their hearts and open their eyes.

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When You Do Not See Results

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Reading the Word

John 10:40–42 (ESV)

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Have you ever felt like your service to the Lord was accomplishing nothing? Perhaps you have shared the gospel with many people, but have not known any who have actually come to trust in Jesus.

When Jesus escaped the people who wanted to seize him (see yesterday’s post), he went across the Jordan to where John the Baptist had ministered. John’s ministry took place before Jesus’ and he served as a forerunner to tell people of the coming Messiah. However, many did not believe John. Then he was arrested and later killed. When Jesus arrived, the people saw that everything that John had told them was true. As a result, many believed in Jesus. John never saw the fruit of his labor, but his faithfulness had a profound impact on the lives of many.

We too must remember that God has called us to be faithful to proclaim the Good News. We may not see the results, but we may be laying a foundation for someone else to continue building. Let us not lose heart, but instead let us pray for those who need the Lord and continue to trust in the One who gives new life.

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The Son of Man Will Suffer

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Reading the Word

Matthew 17:9–13 (ESV)

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Parallel Text: Mark 9:11-13

Understanding and Applying the Word

After the Transfiguration, Jesus tells the disciples not to say anything about what they witnessed until after he is raised from the dead. Of course, they obviously did not fully understand what he meant by this because the resurrection will be an unexpected surprise when it happens.

The disciples did take an opportunity to ask Jesus a question regarding prophecy and the coming of the Messiah. The scribes, the teachers of the Old Testament to the people, had taught that Elijah must come before the Messiah. If this is true, where is Elijah? How can Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah has not come? This understanding comes from Malachi 4:4-5 and Isaiah 40:3.

Jesus responded that Elijah had indeed come. John the Baptist was the one who fulfilled the prophecy. It was not that Elijah himself was going to return, but one who would come in the spirit of Elijah (cf. Luke 1:17 and John 1:21). John appeared as a forerunner of Jesus to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry to the people.

John the Baptist not only served to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, but he also served as an example of how Jesus would be received. John was rejected, imprisoned, and later beheaded for his ministry. Likewise, Jesus too was rejected, arrested, mocked, beaten, and crucified. And Jesus tells all of his followers that if the world rejected him, it will also reject his disciples:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)

Lord, grant us the strength and grace to serve you each day as we live in this world as your people. Amen.

 

Preaching against Sin Is Dangerous

Feast of Herod

The Feast of Herod (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Mark 6:14–29 (ESV)

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

John the Baptist had been thrown into prison by Herod. Evidently, John had made an issue of the fact that Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, as his own. Herodias wanted John dead, but Herod feared John because he was a prophet. However, an opportunity arose that allowed Herodias to get what she wanted. Herod was entertaining guests and had his daughter dance for them. She did such a great job that Herod promised her a reward: anything she asked for would be hers! So, at the suggestion of Herodias, Herod’s daughter asked for John the Baptist’s head. Rather than face humiliation and refuse the request, Herod had John beheaded. When Herod heard of the mighty works that Jesus was doing he began to think that John the Baptist had returned from the dead. Surely this upset him because he already feared John while he was still alive. If he had returned from the dead, it could not be good for Herod!

When we read this passage, we are reminded that preaching righteousness in a world entangled in sin can be dangerous. John the Baptist’s message was “repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” When he opposed Herod and Herodias for their sin, it got him thrown into prison and beheaded. As Christ’s representatives in the world today, we are commissioned to also call the world to repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. We should not be surprised if the sinful world is resistant to the message of the gospel and if it hates us too.

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A Call to Respond

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Reading the Word

Luke 7:18–35 (ESV)

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “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. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 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!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Parallel Text: Matthew 11:2-19

Understanding and Applying the Word

This passage begins with messengers sent by John the Baptist to Jesus. They went to Jesus to confirm whether he was indeed the Messiah. Jesus responds by sending them back to John to tell him that the blind can see, the lame are healed, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Why did Jesus respond in this way? Because this is exactly what the prophet Isaiah had said would happen when the Messiah came (cf. Isaiah 26:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:11)! Yes, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah!

Jesus then turns to the crowd and speaks to them about John the Baptist. Jesus compares the crowds to those sitting in a marketplace and calling out to each other, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.” These may seem like strange words, but Jesus was making the point that no matter what was said or done, many of the people were not receptive. Whether it was a joyous song on the flute to celebrate in dance or a solemn dirge to mourn, the people did not respond. Instead, they remained skeptical, doubting, hostile, or uninterested in the teachings of both John the Baptist and Jesus himself.

Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection are not just events in history to be aware of. The life of Jesus forces us to make a decision about him. How are we going to respond to this one who came into the world, claimed to be the Son of God, taught with unparalleled authority, and rose from the grave? We must respond to Jesus. We must either repent of our sins and turn to him in faith or dismiss him. There really is no middle ground. What will you do with Jesus?

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The Kingdom for All People

jesus teaches the people by the sea

Jesus Teaches People by the Sea (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 4:12–17 (ESV)

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15

Understanding and Applying the Word

After John the Baptist was arrested, we are told that Jesus withdrew into Galilee. He went there to avoid confrontation since John had been pointing his followers to Jesus. The fact that Jesus went into this region was a fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-2, as Matthew made clear in his writing.

Galilee was a place where many Gentiles resided, as is mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy when it is called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Jesus went there and brought light to people who were living in darkness. He went there and taught those who had not heard by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles is a major theme throughout the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, the ending of Matthew stresses an ongoing ministry to both Jew and Gentile as Jesus told his disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Again, we see that Jesus came into the world not just for a select group, but for all people. If you will place your faith in him, you will be saved, no matter where you are from or what you have done. You can enter into the kingdom of heaven because Jesus came to save all people.

**Read through the Life of Christ in 2019 by following along with Shaped by the Word. Just subscribe to this page and be sure to read along every day!

He Must Increase

increase

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish extra material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ in 2019 as recorded in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Reading the Word

John 3:22–36 (ESV)

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 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.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

The Baptism of Jesus

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Reading the Word

John 1:29–34 (ESV)

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Parallel Texts: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22

Understanding and Applying the Word

As John the Baptist fulfills his role as the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah, Jesus shows up to be baptized by John. John tells us that when he baptized Jesus, he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus and remain on him. God had previously revealed to John that this would be a sign of who was the chosen one of God. In the parallel texts, a voice from heaven calls out, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.” So John now bears witness that Jesus is the Son of God.

As Jesus approaches, John refers to him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This is an amazing statement that connects Jesus to the Old Testament Passover. When God brought the people out of Egypt, he commanded that the people slaughter a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts. When they did this, they would be safe from the angel that had been sent to kill the firstborn of every family. The blood of the lamb would protect them from the judgment of God. As the Lamb of God, Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). When we trust in him, his blood is applied to us and protects us from God’s judgment on the world for sin. He takes away our sin and gives us life through his sacrifice for us. What a great Savior!

**Read through the Life of Christ in 2019 by following along with Shaped by the Word. Just subscribe to this page and be sure to read along every day!