This has been an interesting year. I have been sticking with the 1-year reading plan (for the most part, but catching up when I fall behind). It’s been very enjoyable, but I almost feel like the pace is too fast to really let things sink in. As I read, I’ve been making notes of certain verses that stand out, places to which I want to return and dig deeper. Additionally, the Lord has provided some paid work (hallelujah!), which has taken up some of the time I would have used to formulate coherent devotionals. Don’t take the lack of posts as a sign that this site has been abandoned; there’s a lot kicking around in my mind that I hope to unpack and explore in the next few years here.
As an aside - if you follow either my personal blog or my tech blog, you’ve already read the “We’re back on WordPress” posts. This blog is included; it’s now back to running WordPress after a year on BlogEngine.NET. All the old links should redirect to new ones, and the goal is that you wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything. :)
I leave you with a quick word of encouragement from yesterday’s sermon.
10If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
On the suggestion of a friend, I subscribed to the Daily Audio Bible (DAB) podcast. In this podcast, Brian Hardin reads the Bible through each year - 2010 is the fifth year. It’s been a blessing to me to listen to God’s Word, as well as enjoy some of his comments as well. (I’ll have to own up to skipping a good bit of the commentary, especially when I was trying to catch up a few days.) It was great to be able to listen while I did other things; however, this was a mixed blessing. I found that I would sometimes get distracted with the “other” thing that I was doing, and would mentally check out of the podcast. During one of these distracted times, I felt the Lord telling me that it was time to take the next step.
For this reason, beginning 2 Jan 10, I’ll be beginning a 52-week Bible reading plan, reading it the old-fashioned way, off words printed on paper. My main Christmas gift this year was an ESV Study Bible, and this will help put that to good use. One of the aspects of DAB that I liked was the community; I knew that, although I might be the only one listening to my computer, there were thousands others that were listening to Brian. Although my participation in that community could be described, at best, as a lurker, it encouraged me to have it there. To help encourage others, I’ve created a group on Facebook called Read the Bible in 2011. This group will function as a community where we’ll encourage each other along this journey. I’d like to invite you, my reader, to join me in this journey. The group is closed, but if you request access, just send me a separate message so I’ll know who you are.
While the goal is to read through the Bible in a year, we don’t want to go so quickly that we don’t have time to stop and listen to what God is trying to tell us in the passage of the day. So, the stated goal of reading through the Bible in 2011 is not really the goal; it is merely the means to the greater goal of allowing God to speak to us. I’m looking forward to it - won’t you join me?
I’ve been thinking a good bit about where this blog is headed, and I thought I’d share these thoughts with you.
When I started this, I had what turned out to be very lofty goals for it - a devotional week-in, week-out, well-thought-out and based on what I was currently studying in the Bible. With other responsibilities and activities that I have, I simply have not been able to meet that goal. This isn’t to say that the goal isn’t a good one; I just have fallen short of it. Weekly devotions will remain the goal (and the name), but there will be a change. While Wednesday at 7am will remain the unofficial schedule, each devotion will appear when I have completed it; if I complete it early, it’ll be on time, but it may be late. The best way to keep up with this is via the RSS feed. I also will post links via my Twitter account, and the NetworkedBlogs application automatically posts entries to my Facebook profile.
I’ve also been doing some research regarding versions of the Bible. I still like the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but over the summer, I was introduced to the English Standard Version. While the HCSB’s goal is a more contemporary English sentence structure, word-for-word for the most part but thought-for-thought where the word order may be confusing, the ESV is a literal word-for-word translation, similar to the way the King James Version was translated. Far from confusing, I have found it to speak to me in a way the HCSB has not. Beginning in 2011, I will switch to using the ESV as the default version for my devotionals.
I am grateful to have seen God use these devotionals to bless people that I have never met. I will post what I feel He is leading me to post, when He enables me by providing the thoughts about which to write and the time to pull it together into a coherent post. I pray that, as we head into 2011 and beyond, that God will use this site to bring others to Him, and encourage His own to a deeper relationship with Him.
Today, our series “The 3:16s of the New Testament” reaches its other bookend (the end if you’ve been reading along, the start if you’re looking at it once it’s done), as we look at Matthew 3:16, presented here in context with verse 17.
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered two weeks ago. This week, though, I’d like to focus on the One who was baptized - Jesus. After He was baptized, the sky opened up, and God the Father was heard confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son; He also expressed his pleasure with Him. This happened before Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and before the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). By allowing Himself to be baptized by John, He confirmed that John had been doing the right thing; He did the same thing that John had been telling the people they needed to do. So how do we find out who Jesus is? One of the best ways is to simply look at what He said about Himself, and what others said about Him.
First, Jesus said why He was here.
17"Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished."
This was one of the first things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes. This qualification was important for several reasons. First, Jesus said it - that’s a given, but it is a good reason nonetheless. Second, He was about to issue some pretty big clarifications to the law, and contradict some other teachings of the church of that day. He was letting His hearers know that what was about to come wasn’t meant to tear down the law, but to fulfill it. Third, this is early in His ministry. People may have only heard rumors about Him up to this point, and He wanted to make sure that these seekers and followers knew what He was about. Fourth, the current religious leaders were very strict legalists; they would react negatively to someone saying that the law was invalid. (They reacted negatively anyway, but that’s another story.) Finally, this lets us know, 2,000 years later, that everything we’ve read in our Bibles up to this point, the whole of the Old Testament through Matthew 4, is not null and void. Rather, He was the One who had been foretold. The law pointed to Him.
Jumping ahead, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15"But you," He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
At this point, Jesus had been at His ministry for a good long time; and, although He was very popular, it’s almost like they weren’t really hearing what He was saying. John the Baptist had been jailed and beheaded; Elijah had been gone for thousands of years; Jeremiah had been gone for hundreds of years. Yet people seemed to think that Jesus was one of these men, other than the Messiah, as He claimed to be. Of course, we can’t be too hard on the casual observers - even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die. However, the disciples were sure of His identity. Simon Peter makes what is one of the most famous declarations of Jesus’ identity in response to His question. Peter had the right answer, and the term Messiah was key in his response. Jesus was the One who had been promised ever since man fell, just a few days after the creation of the earth. All of the sacrifices were simply pictures of the Sacrifice to come; and, God could have made the sacrifices last longer than they did, but He wanted them to be continually reminded of what was to come. It’s a shame that, by the time He did arrive, the Jewish religion had become more ritual than heartfelt. (Is our religion today any different? If it’s not, whose fault is it?)
We’ll finish this with one final statement from Jesus, which he said after arriving in Bethany and finding Lazarus had died.
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”
Fulfilling the law is good, and being the Messiah is great, but this is the awesome result of that! I’ve written in depth on this wonderful news when we looked at John 3:16 and Romans 3:16, so I won’t write a whole lot here. I will point out, though, the center of the verse, where Jesus very succinctly says who may obtain this eternal life - anyone who believes in Him! That’s it - it’s no more complicated than that. If you have not accepted this free gift of His, and would like to know more details about how you can accept this gift, please read God’s Simple Plan of Salvation - it explains, in detail, our need for a savior, and how Jesus fills that. If you have accepted Christ, rejoice in Who has claimed you for His own. He gave His life so that we could live with Him forever - praise God!
Here, Mark lists those that Jesus called out to be His disciples while He was performing His earthly ministry. Looking at who He chose will give us a good idea of the type of person He used, and help us see the type of person He will continue to use. The first part of this may seem like a history lesson, but it is all background to illustrate the point that comes near the end.
First in the list is Simon Peter - he is one of the main characters in all four gospels. He was a fisherman, and he gave 100% to everything he did, even if he hadn’t stopped to think about it first. Much is made of his sinking while he was walking on the water towards Jesus, as an illustration of a lack of faith; while this may be true, it is also true that he is the only one who got out of the boat, and to this day the only person other than Jesus to accomplish this miracle. He famously declared that he would never deny Jesus, then denied Him three times, just as Jesus said he would. Peter, though, became a central figure in the early church; nearly all of the book of Acts that doesn’t concern Paul deals with Peter and his ministry. He was even used of God to write two books that are in our New Testament today!
James and John are next in Mark’s list. James is described as the son of Zebedee, which distinguishes him from James, Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James. Together with Peter, these two brothers were the only disciples with Jesus when Jairus’s daughter was raised, the only disciples to view the transfiguration, and the disciples that Jesus took with Him further when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal. They were called while they were with their father by the seashore; the implication is that they were also fisherman.
Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. He was a fisherman as well, and was the one to whom Jesus used the term “fishers of men.” Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together; they were from the same town, but the Bible doesn’t reveal their line of work, and extra-biblical writings don’t shed any more light on their history. Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus, and was used by God to write the gospel of Matthew. Like Philip and Bartholomew, we don’t know what Thomas did for a living; however, Thomas is much more famous for his unbelief rather than his belief. When Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, Thomas wasn’t there; he did not believe until he actually saw Jesus for himself. James the son of Alphaeus does not appear much in the gospels past his being named in lists of disciples like the one above. Thaddaeus is an interesting study; in some places he is called Jude, some Thaddaeus, and in one place even called “Judas not Iscariot,” to distinguish him from the last disciple in the list. Simon the Zealot was from Canaan, but we don’t know his profession before becoming Jesus’ disciple either.
Last on the list is Judas Iscariot. We don’t know what he did before becoming a disciple, but we do know that as a disciple, he filled the role that we would today call the treasurer. His attention to money served the disciples well; there is no record in any of the gospels of Jesus and the disciples being out of money. However, he seemed to have his mind more on the money than on the ministry. Some have speculated that his objection to the expensive oil being used to anoint Jesus’ feet had less to do with his concern for the poor than it did his concern for holding even more money. Sadly, his desire for money was his ultimate downfall, as he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Well, there’s the list. What do each of these men have in common? Let’s look at couple of examples.
17"Follow Me," Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”18Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Just as in these two examples, in every calling of the disciples recorded in Scripture, Jesus said “Follow Me” and they did. They were willing to leave their current profession, their current livelihood, and follow Jesus. (Yes, even Judas Iscariot did this - at one point, he was a disciple in good standing.) This is the key! I believe this is one reason why, as we tried to look at what some of the disciples did before following Jesus, we could not figure out what everyone’s existing profession was. If this information had been recorded, we as checklist-oriented people would have written them down. We’d have 12-member churches where each of the 12 members was from the profession that the disciples had followed. By leaving it a mystery, the Bible is telling us that it is not an important piece of information for us to have; if we were doing a scientific study, we’d leave that variable out of the equation.
What kind of person are you? Are you an act-first, think-later hard-charger like Peter? Are you a nit-picky ledger-balancer like Matthew? Are you as unsure of yourself and everything in the world as Thomas was of Jesus’ resurrection? Are you a behind-the-scenes sort of person, like James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, or Thaddaeus? Do you identify with James and John more than with any of these? This is one of the wonderful realizations from looking at the disciples; Jesus called people with lots of different personalities, backgrounds, and education levels. And, whether they were used to write books, or you just know them from their names in a list of disciples, every single one of them (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went out and spread God’s Word after Jesus ascended back into heaven. Once again, in our study, personality gets left out of the equation.
I could go on, but you probably see the pattern here. Every other factor we could come up with would, upon examination, be discarded. There’s no formula - there’s just one step. Look at the last three words of both passages above - “…and followed Him.” That is the single item on the checklist of someone God can use; they must be willing to be used by God.
How is your willingness today? Are you holding back because you don’t think God can use you? Are you holding on because you want to do something for God, instead of letting Him do something through you? Those are two sides of the same issue, which is a lack of willingness to follow Christ. If you’re still, you’re not following; if you’re out ahead of Him, you’re not following. I pray that, today, each of us will learn from the one common factor among all the disciples, and be willing to follow where Christ leads us.
This week brings us to Luke 3:16, where the apostle John is preaching.
16John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Today we’ll take a quick look at baptism. While many different religions use baptism to symbolize many different things, we’ll look at how it was used in the New Testament around the life of Jesus. In this passage, Luke is summarizing John the Apostle’s ministry. John has called out in the wilderness, worn his animal skins, eaten locusts, and called the people a bunch of snakes. Most of the people who had come out wanted to be baptized, and some were even speculating that John was the one who was prophesied. His response is the verse above; he told them that he was going to baptize them with water, and that while he was not the Messiah, the Messiah was coming soon.
Just a few verses later in Luke, but out of sequence (as John was locked in prison in the previous verse in Luke), Jesus Himself was baptized. Matthew goes into more detail about this occasion.
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”
15Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him [to be baptized].
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
Can you imagine being John? Here you are, telling people that Jesus is coming, and here He shows up wanting to be baptized just like these “snake” people! I can completely understand John’s reaction. I know I wouldn’t think myself worthy of baptizing my Savior! However, notice what Jesus tells John. Not only should John baptize Jesus, but Jesus said that it is the way for them to “fulfill all righteousness.” That’s an interesting term; while I’m not going to try to come up with an exhaustive list of what that might mean, one meaning we can take away from it is that Jesus was confirming both John’s message and methods. Jesus came to this earth as a man, so that He could live the way we do. If he had refused baptism, this would have introduced a conflict into what John preached and what Jesus did. Was John wrong for proclaiming their need for baptism? Was the One who was going to baptize them above baptism Himself? God sent a dove to illustrate His pleasure with the baptism that had just taken place, confirming John’s message and Jesus’ identity.
Baptism was mentioned again by Jesus just before He ascended back into heaven.
19Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
Here, Jesus commands His disciples to go and make disciples of everyone. Once they had done that, they were to baptize these new converts, in the name of each member of the Godhead. There is nothing magic in this; Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, not known as the cleanest body of water in Judea. However, the baptism has a great symbolism. When the body of a new convert is lowered below the water, this alludes to the death and burial of Jesus; when the body is raised from the water, this symbolizes Jesus’ raising from the dead. By choosing to be baptized after accepting Christ, the new believer is publicly identifying themselves as a follower of Christ.
Apart from the public identification, the other main point of baptism is obedience. In Matthew 28:19 above, Jesus commanded those who were doing the converting to baptize their converts. It’s very difficult to baptize a person who doesn’t willingly go along with it. (I think of the child’s sentence gleaned from a report - “No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.”) This means that the new converts were supposed to voluntarily get baptized. And truly, if you think about it, it is a great first public act of a Christian life. There is no cost involved, no studying required, no fees to be paid - all that is involved is a submissive heart willing to obey what God has told them. The only thing required, at its most inconvenient, is a change of clothes. At a camp we attended this summer, though, they did baptisms in a lake; after the baptism, the lake was open for swimming. It was an amazing celebration of new life in Christ, followed by an afternoon enjoying God’s creation.
Are you saved? If so, have you been baptized? If you haven’t, ask your pastor about it; I’m sure he’d be happy to explain it more in depth, if you need it, and help you follow in the steps of Christ with this obedience. If you have, praise God for His salvation, and join Him in celebrating another soul saved from hell.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.