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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The World Will Hate You

photo of woman and inverted buildings

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Reading the Word

John 15:18–25 (ESV)

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 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. 20 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. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Jesus prepared to leave this world, he said many things to his disciples who would be left behind as his witnesses. One of the things that he told them was that they should not be surprised when they faced opposition. The world would hate them and they would be persecuted for following Jesus. After all, the world hated Jesus and persecuted him. The world hated him so much that they hung Jesus on a cross and murdered him. Why should his followers expect any different?

Living as the followers of Christ in this world is not easy. Christians throughout history have faced all kinds of resistance and persecution. Some have been tortured. Others have been imprisoned. And many have lost their lives. The world hates us because we remind them of Jesus and all he represents. Jesus taught that mankind is alienated from God by sin. Our sin deserves eternal condemnation and punishment. And the only solution to our sin is to repent and turn to Jesus, the one who paid for our sin by dying in our place. However, this is not a message the world wants to hear. The world wants to believe that there are no consequences for sin. The world denies that there is sin. “Just do whatever makes you happy,” they say. But Christians and Christ are a constant reminder that there are consequences and there will be a judgement. Do not be surprised when the world hates you for following Jesus.

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The Words of Jesus

John

Reading the Word

John 12:44–50 (ESV)

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

The word of God cuts two ways. For some, the word brings salvation and life. These are the people who hear the word and trust in it. They believe Jesus is the Savior of mankind and place their faith in his atoning sacrifice. They demonstrate this faith through obedience to God’s word.

On the other hand, the word of God also brings judgment and condemnation for some. Jesus warns in today’s passage that the Father will hold accountable those who reject Jesus and his message. Jesus came to bring light into a dark world. His message was that all have sinned and must repent and trust in Christ for salvation. To reject Jesus is to reject the message given from the Father.

We must never treat Jesus and his words as merely interesting sayings. He was not a philosophical guru. Yes, he said many wise things that were, and still are, challenging. The most challenging and the most important teaching of Jesus is that he is the eternal Son of God who speaks with the authority of God and came to bring salvation to a lost world. To reject Jesus is to reject the word of God and the only means of forgiveness and salvation. We must weigh the words of Jesus carefully.

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The Heavens Will Be Shaken

time lapse photo of stars on night

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:29–31 (ESV)

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Parallel Texts: Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus described what it will be like when he returns. The heavens will be shaken and when the Son of Man appears in power and glory, the nations will mourn. Why will they mourn? The world will realize that the gospel that has been proclaimed and denied is true and that the opportunity for salvation has passed. Jesus will send out his angels to gather those who are his.

We must realize that time is running out. As Christians, we have to understand the urgency in preaching the message of salvation and the coming kingdom. Our families’, friends’, and neighbors’ eternities depend on hearing the gospel from us. If you do not know the Lord, today is the day to reconcile with God while there is still opportunity. He sent his Son to pay the price for our sin. We must repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness and life. God has shown us his love and grace in Christ. Turn to him today.

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A Man Had Two Sons…

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Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not include supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested reading from Scripture. Please be sure to subscribe so you can follow along each day. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Matthew 21:28–32 (ESV)

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

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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The Self-Righteous

Luke 1813–14 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

This parable addresses the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus tells of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first, a Pharisee, thanked God that he was not like the sinners of the world. He even commented on his own righteousness by mentioning that he fasted twice per week and tithed on his earnings. The second, a tax collector, could hardly bring himself to the temple to pray. He stood far away and kept his eyes to the ground in shame and humility. He called out to God for mercy for his sins. Jesus ended the parable by saying that it was the tax collector who went home justified, not the Pharisee.

The reason for this parable is given in the opening verse. It was to address those who were self-righteous and looked down on others. Those who are in a right relationship with God have acknowledged their own sin and repented of it. We have asked God to forgive us based not on what we have done, but solely on what Jesus has done for us. He went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. If we believe we are righteous by our own doing and somehow deserve God’s blessing, we deceive ourselves and do not belong to God at all. Salvation comes only by grace to sinners who are undeserving.

When we acknowledge our own sin, it should make us humble. We should not look down on others. Instead, we should point fellow sinners to Jesus Christ and tell of the forgiveness and grace that are available to all who will believe.

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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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The Father Is Waiting

welcome home

Reading the Word

Luke 15:25–32 (ESV)

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Yesterday, we looked at the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable is titled based upon a son who took his inheritance, left home, and wasted all he had. The son returned home and was welcomed in celebration by his father. That is the part of the story we remember and focus on, but that is not the end of the parable. The story has two sons.

The father had another son who was older and who never left home. He stayed and served in the family home by working in the fields with all of the servants. When the older son heard that his younger brother, the one who had gone away and wasted everything, had returned home, he was not happy. His brother did not deserve a party after all he had done! He said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.”

To feel the full force of this parable, we must understand this older son. The first son represented the tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to Jesus (cf. Luke 15:1). They were hearing the teaching of Jesus and repenting of their sins and turning to God. The older son represented the Pharisees and scribes who were angry that Jesus was spending time with sinners who did not deserve such attention (cf. Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees saying, “Why are you spending time with them? We are the ones who deserve the attention. We are the ones who have kept all of the rules, but you do not spend any time with us!”

The father in the parable tried to get the older son to go in and join the celebration, but he would not. He was too righteous to join in with his brother, so he remained outside. The same could be said for the Pharisees. Jesus’ teaching invited them to repent of their sins and enter into the kingdom just as the tax collectors and sinners were doing, but the Pharisees would not. They were too righteous to join in with such sinners, so they remained outside.

The gospel calls us all to repentance. We must acknowledge our need of forgiveness and turn to Jesus. None of us deserve the rewards of the kingdom, but God is a gracious and forgiving Father waiting for us all to return home.

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