Life Lessons from John’s Baptism
Matthew 3:7-12, Luke 3:7-18
Wednesday, 22 December, 2021
John the Baptist is calling Israel to renew their covenant with God through baptism. The crowds wanted to escape eternal punishment due to a fear of the future judgement. They did not, however, turn to God for salvation. He called on them to change their behavior not merely their rituals. Does your conduct match your words? If not, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees, your life is marked by hypocrisy.
Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable. Faith without works is dead. Fruit trees should bear fruit – God’s people should bear a crop of good deeds. Calling yourself a Christian and doing nothing about it is fake. Others should be able to see faith in the way we treat them, or we may not be God’s people at all. The religious leaders of the day wanted to be authorities without changed hearts and minds. Is your faith motivated by a desire for a new, changed life, or merely a vaccination or insurance policy against possible disaster?
Repentance must be tied to action or it isn’t real. Following Jesus cannot be only about our words. To be productive we must obey His teachings, resist temptation, actively serve and help others and share our faith. Our lives will be judged for unproductivity. How productive are you?
John’s baptism was a sign that they had asked God to forgive their sins and decided that they wanted to live as He wanted them to live. The crowds wanted to know how they should live. John said to share their tunics and food. He told the tax collectors to only collect what was required. To the soldiers he said not to extort money or accuse people falsely, being content with their pay.
Baptism is an outward sign of commitment. To be effective it had to be accompanied by an inward change of attitude leading to a changed life – the work of the Holy Spirit.
John was clear that he was not the Messiah, but that one was coming the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (Luke 3:16). John said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The fire looked ahead to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would be sent by Jesus in the form of tongues of fire.
John said that Jesus would clear the threshing floor with a winnowing fork. A winnowing fork is a pitch fork used to toss wheat in the air to separate wheat from chaff. The wheat is the part of the plant that is useful; chaff is the worthless outer shell. Because it is useless, the chaff is burned; wheat, however, is gathered in the barn. Winnowing is often used as a picture of God’s judgment. Unrepentant people will be judged and discarded because they are worthless in doing God’s work. Those who repent and believe will be saved and used by God. Are you the wheat or the chaff?
Luke 3:1-6, Isaiah 40:1-11
December 21, 2021
My idea of the Wilderness is a stay at the Howard Johnson’s hotel. I like flush toilets and hot showers. I have a friend who is traveling the Appalachian Trail, carrying a heavy pack and sleeping in her hammock as she traverses some rough terrain. The wonders of what she experienced eclipsed the difficulties. I wonder if I could enlarge my wonder at God’s creation if truly traveled in the Wilderness? Have you experienced a Wilderness journey? Where do you like to stay when you travel? God used His chosen people’s experiences with Wilderness Wanderings to work on their hearts. Wilderness experiences can make you bitter or better. Wilderness experiences can push people to desire “The Promised Land”. Wilderness experiences can be used to point people to God.
Have you ever wondered why God took His chosen people from the oppression of Egypt to the wanderings in the Wilderness? How did God’s people respond to their wilderness experiences? I feel like my response to porta potties and rough trails was a lot like the Jewish people’s responses. They complained bitterly at their experiences; they failed to see the wonder of the Creator God and they sinned. In Hebrews 3:8, we read, “do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness” I wonder how you have been tested? I wonder, is your experience making your bitter or better?“The Promised Land” looked that much sweeter after God’s chosen people’s experiences in the Wilderness. “and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:31)
I wonder what lessons from your Wilderness experiences have pushed you closer to God? In Isaiah, we see our wandering Israelites are now a remnant in Babylon. As they looked back they saw their failure and sin and they needed encouragement and isn’t that just like us as well? I wonder, where did the remnant find hope? I wonder where do you find hope? Isaiah reminded the discouraged remnant, “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6) Wilderness experiences are designed to draw us to repentance, to help us recognize hope, and to restore us into a right relationship with God. Isaiah sought to comfort the Jewish remnant in Babylon. Isaiah saw in Israel’s restoration, a preview of what God would do for them at the end of the age. Let’s wonder with them at God’s faithful love and forgiveness. “…You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout….do not be afraid; say…Here is your God.” (Isaiah 40:9) God’s love and calling to His people was foretold in Isaiah 40:3, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” John the Baptist fulfills the words of Isaiah, when he appeared on the scene; no prophetic voice had been heard in Israel for 400 years. I wonder why John the Baptist was chosen to pave the way for Jesus’s ministry? He announced the arrival of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:3), and urged people to repent. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. Spiritually speaking, the nation of Israel was living in a “wilderness” of unbelief. It was John’s task to prepare the nation for the Messiah and then present the Messiah. I wonder who prepared the way for you to meet Jesus? I wonder if we can embrace the “wilderness” experiences as preparation for meeting Jesus and becoming more like Jesus until we reach “The Promised Land”? Frederick Buechner stated: “To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness-especially in the wilderness-you shall love Him.”
From My Perspective
Luke 1:5-25; 57-80
December 20, 2021
When Gabriel told Zechariah he was going to have a son, the aged priest asked what seemed to him to be a very logical question. "How can I be sure of this . . . we're too old." From his earthly perspective, fathering a baby was an impossibility.
How have you questioned God, even doubted his Word? What was that doubtful period like?
Mary had asked the same question for an entirely different reason. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" From her natural perspective, she couldn't become a mother until she and Joseph had consummated their marriage.
After the baby was delivered to Zechariah and Elizabeth, her relatives and neighbors gathered around at the dedication, expecting that his name would be Zechariah, after his father, as was the custom in that day. Their perspective was normal since that's how everyone did it. But Zechariah was faithful to God’s plan.
When have you had to follow God’s direction when others had different ideas for you?
Think about perspectives for a moment. Our perspectives are limited by our heritage, environment, education, and tradition. Even today, with our unlimited access to the world via the Internet, we see things from those same vantage points. More than likely, we make our choices and decisions on the basis of all we have learned and experienced—all that created our perspective on life.
How do you view life? What has come to be your personal perspective?
Our personal perspective is just that—ours. Personal. Limited. Self-centered. It’s often very difficult to see things from someone else’s perspective until we get to know them pretty well. Someone has said, " Walk a mile in my shoes. See what I see. Hear what I hear. Feel what I feel. Then maybe you'll understand why I do what I do. Till then, don't judge me."
Neither Zechariah nor Mary could see anything except from their own viewpoint. But there was a far more important way of seeing things—the only always correct way: God’s. Luke tells the story that both of them began to see God’s perspective in what they were experiencing. God had revealed his purposes: John the Baptizer was to be Messiah’s forerunner, preparing Israel for his coming. Jesus, Immanuel, was to be the Messiah who would be Israel’s savior.
How can we discover God’s perspective today!
God has revealed himself in many ways and he finally spoke through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). And how do we gain his perspective?
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) jbd & gmd
Oh, The Deep Deep Love Hosea 11:1-12 Friday, December 17
Poor. Dirty. Orphaned. Imagine children welcomed out of poverty and off the streets. Bathed, clothed, sheltered, and educated, they were transformed by love. The love of God transforms people, and one cannot help but feel the heartbeat of God when reading Hosea chapter eleven. Although His love was spurned, He continued to lavish it upon His people.
While slaves in Egypt, Israel was in its infancy as a nation. Nearly 400 years and God seemed silent. Instructing him to inform Pharaoh that “Israel is my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22), God sent Moses to deliver them from bondage. Unfortunately, Israel did not behave like a firstborn son, although God says plainly, “I loved him” (Hosea 11:1). God bestowed upon this nation a title of honor in calling them “his firstborn.” He freed them from the yoke of slavery and led them through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground. He taught them to know Him, and, in the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, He taught them what was expected of them. He healed them. He led them in the wilderness, and He bent down to feed them. His love was unmistakable, but Israel scorned it. Make a list of the ways you have seen the love of God demonstrated toward you both from the scripture and from experience.
Israel spurned the undeserved never-ending love of God. The more He called them the further they ran from Him, but He didn’t stop calling. His love is everlasting, but they were determined to turn from Him and cling to their sin. Do we do this? What does it look like to run from God? Towards God? God’s holiness demanded He punish their sin. His heart of love was in agony. In His compassion, He promised them that He would not come in wrath or punish them in the same manner He punished godless cities. (Hosea 11:8-9) No, that wrath was saved for His Son, His only begotten Son, Jesus, who is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love.
In a way, Jesus filled to the full what Israel lacked. Because God had not spoken through a prophet in the 400 years since Malachi, was it difficult for the people of Israel to recognize God’s love for them, especially under Roman rule? Into this, God sent Jesus to deliver not just Israel but the world. In His infancy He too was in Egypt for a time. He passed through the waters of baptism in the Jordon, was led into the wilderness to be tempted and yet, unlike Israel, He did not sin. Jesus loved those He had come to save and died for them, taking the full brunt of the wrath of Almighty God, that He might draw all men unto Himself (John 12:32). God promised Abraham that all nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. Israel failed. Jesus did not.
Imagine orphans, now changed--from surviving to thriving, from hopeless to hope-filled, from unwanted to loved. Christ welcomes humanity out of the poverty of sin, gives them a new identity, clothes them in robes of righteousness, washes them in the waters of regeneration, shelters them under His wings, invites them to learn from Him and gives them a purpose and a hope—a confidence in His saving grace and promises. This is wrapped up in His deep, sacrificial, never-ending, all-consuming, overflowing love that transforms sinners from every ethnicity and nation into children of God. Oh! The Deep Deep Love of Jesus.
Every Year, A Front Door
During Jesus’ childhood, family-hope and faith revealed itself through consistent determined practice: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover (Luke 2:41 emphasis added). Making the Jerusalem journey is faith’s testimony from Joseph and Mary.
Later, and further opening the family’s front door to public inspection reveals a twelve-year old Jesus participating in adult conversations of hope, faith and practice. “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it (Like 2:43 NIV). Jesus appears to some as a theological-child-prodigy, sitting and discussion issues with adult leaders (Luke 2:46-47).
We ask, at Christmas and other times as well, “Is this the most beautiful child ever seen in human history?” Yes, and in contrast to the report of Isaiah 52:14 he remains beautiful.
Earlier, the prophet poetically proclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7 ESV). May the promises of his full coming be quickly fulfilled.
The open front door from a portion of Jesus’ childhood is an opportunity to deeply consider Scripture’s account in Luke 2. We might be aided in our own journey if we consider our brothers and sisters in the first churches. When they heard this detailed episode’s report of Jesus’ childhood, or read the prophetic utterances of Isaiah, what might they have thought?
We are also free to ask for ourselves, “Why has God preserved such details in Scripture?”
Where do you find hope in the truth of Christ’s full coming?
Do you have a willingness and a plan to share hope with others this Christmas?