Jesus’ Story – Day 15

March 4, Wednesday

NainOne evening Jesus went alone to a mountain and He spent the whole night in prayer. The next morning He called His followers together and chose twelve from among them to be His apostles. Their names were Simon (whom he named Peter), James and John (the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus affectionately called the “Sons of Thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (Alphaeus’ son), Thaddaeus, Simon (the political activist), and Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

In commissioning them He endowed them with the power to heal and cast out demons just like He had.

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The next day as they came into the town of Nain, they encountered a funeral procession. A large crowd accompanied the grieving widow who had just lost her only son. They were carrying his body to the cemetery. Jesus approached the woman with deep compassion and encouraged her to stop the weeping. As He said this, He touched the open coffin and the crowd came to a standstill. “Young man,” Jesus said, “get up.”

Instantly the boy sat up and began talking. Jesus reunited him with his mother, and a wave of fear and awe swept through the crowd. One and then another exclaimed, “God has come to help us! What a prophet He has sent us! Glory to God!” This amazing miracle got reported far and wide, as you can imagine.

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All this time John the Baptist had been languishing in prison. When he heard reports of the great miracles Jesus was doing, he sent some of his disciples to ask Him whether, in fact, He was the promised Messiah or if they should still be looking for someone else to come and deliver them.

They brought the question to Jesus even as He was healing many who were sick, blind, and oppressed with demons. Jesus told them to reassure John that He was doing the work of the Messiah (even though it hadn’t resulted in deliverance for John the Baptist): there were blind who could see, lame who could walk, dead who were alive, and masses of poor who’d heard the good news. “And tell John,” He went on to say, “blessed are those who don’t get offended when My actions don’t fit with their expectations.”

After John’s disciples left, Jesus used the occasion to talk with the crowd about John and his ministry.

“Speaking of expectations, what did you think you’d find when you first went to meet John? A wimpy hermit? Or maybe a flashy grandstander? Those of you who expected a prophet found what you were looking for — and much more! In the honorable trail of God’s spokespersons, John had the prime assignment as the messenger predicted by Isaiah who would “prepare the way before Me.”

“However, as great as John was, being the last of the old order, those who now respond to the Kingdom message are in a greater position than he was. Yes, tax-collectors accepted God’s message by submitting to John’s baptism; while the Pharisees and experts in the Law refused his baptism, rejecting God’s plan for them. From the beginning of John’s preaching till now, the Kingdom has been making progress in spite of the violent attacks against it. And before John came, all the prophets of old and even the Law of Moses pointed forward to this time. For those willing to hear My message, John is obviously the promised forerunner, the one coming ‘in the spirit of Elijah’ to herald the new Kingdom as Malachi foretold.

“But how can I describe this fickle generation? It reminds Me of the children’s rhyme you hear in the market, ‘We play happy songs and you won’t dance; so we play sad songs and you don’t want that either.’ What I mean is, John showed up with an austere, restrictive diet, and folks said he was possessed; while I come feasting and partying, and they reject me as a glutton and drunkard, a low-life. Well, time will tell. In the end all will see what’s right.

Jesus then turned the focus on the cities of Galilee where He had done most of His miracles.

“What a golden opportunity this generation is missing! Why, if Tyre and Sidon had seen and heard the things you have, they’d have repented long ago. And as for you, Capernaum, who think you’re so great, Sodom and Gomorrah will get off easier on Judgment Day than you will; because if I’d have shown up and done there the miracles you’ve seen, those cities would still be around today.”

As He often did, Jesus looked up right in the middle of talking to the people and began talking to God: “Thank You, Father, Supreme Lord of heaven and earth. I love how You work, You’ve hidden these things from all who think they’re so smart, while revealing them to any who receive it with childlike simplicity.”

Turning again to the crowd, He explained, “Everything I say and do comes from the Father. No one knows Me as He does and no one knows Him as I do, unless I choose to reveal Him to them. Come, all of you who are worn out with trying to get it right; experience My rest. “Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”[1]

[1] As paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message.

Jesus’ Story – Day 4

February 21, Saturday

baptism_of_christ_jekelJesus’ childhood was marked by extraordinary wisdom, and He became strong in both spirit and body. The only story recorded from His early years took place when He was twelve years old. His parents took Him to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. As was the custom, crowds of people made the pilgrimage for this feast. When the time came for returning to their homes, Jesus’ parents naturally assumed He was in the company of all the youth. After a long day’s travel, they looked for Jesus and discovered the fact that He was not among the travelers. So they returned to Jerusalem to find Him.

Meanwhile, Jesus had been occupied with the teachers in the temple. He participated in their discussions, listening and asking questions. These religious leaders were quite astonished at how informed and insightful Jesus was.

When Joseph and Mary finally located Jesus, they were amazed at what He had been doing.  Mary, who was quite overcome with worry, chided Him for causing them this distress. Jesus’ reply (which they didn’t understand at the time) was that they ought to have expected Him to be “doing My Father’s business.” Jesus returned with them to Nazareth, submitting Himself to them.  God’s blessing was upon Him and He was loved and respected by all who knew Him.

Mary treasured all this in her heart.

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It wasn’t until Jesus was about thirty years old that the details of His life were more fully recorded. The historical context was Tiberius Caesar’s fifteenth year as Emperor. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor in Judea; Herod, Philip, and Lysanias were Jewish tetrarchs over different regions of Israel; the Jewish High Priests at the time were Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas.

It was at this time that John the Baptizer began his public ministry calling the nation to repent and be baptized, saying that “the kingdom of heaven had arrived on earth.” Dressed in an unusual outfit of a camel’s hair tunic and leather belt, and known for a strange diet of locusts and wild honey, he was remarkably effective in attracting large numbers of people from miles around. They came to the Jordan River to confess their sins and to be baptized by him.

It’s worth noting that several prophets had predicted John’s ministry centuries earlier. They said of him, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way for You;” and, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John attracted large crowds, but it wasn’t because his message made them feel good. He confronted their hypocrisy and nationalistic ego when he said, “You brood of poisonous snakes, who warned you that you were headed for God’s wrath? If you’re coming to truly change the course of your life, it has to change the way you live. No hiding behind this empty claim of being “Abraham’s descendants” as if your bloodline is all that matters. Good grief, if God wanted to, He could start a whole new set of Abraham’s children out of these rocks. Every tree that fails to bear good fruit gets chopped down and thrown into the fire. I’m telling you, the axe is about to strike the root of the tree! You’d better make sure that your repentance isn’t just words but that it produces the fruit of real changed character!”

The people were shaken by this and asked, “What do we need to do?”

“For example,” John said, “if you’ve got two coats, give one to someone who needs it. The same goes with your food. Look out for others’ needs, not just your own.”

A few of the tax collectors in the crowd asked what they should do.  John replied, “Only collect what you’re required to.  Stop padding the bill and siphoning off excess for your own pockets.”

Then some soldiers wanted to know what “fruits of repentance” meant for them. “Stop intimidating and taking advantage of others. And stop complaining about your wages,” was John’s response.

John’s message and methods caused the people to wonder if perhaps he was the promised Messiah for whom they had been waiting. He silenced that rumor when he declared, “There is One coming who is so much greater than I am that I’m not worthy even to unfasten His sandals. Yes, I’ve been baptizing you with water, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Not only that, He also comes ready to separate wheat from chaff, gathering the wheat into His barn, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

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It wasn’t long before Jesus went from His hometown of Nazareth in Galilee down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. John was incredulous. “You should be baptizing me! Surely You don’t need to be baptized.”

Jesus simply explained that this was part of God’s process of making all things right. In identifying with those being baptized, Jesus was affirming both His humanness as well as the call to a Kingdom way of life. So Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. As He came up out of the water, the skies opened; God the Spirit came out of the clouds in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus. Then, coming out of heaven in a voice all could hear, were these words: “You are My precious Son; I’m so proud of You. You are the joy of My life.”

Jesus’ Story – Day 2

Day 1 Reading (in case you missed it)

February 19, Thursday

Zach JtB birthSix months later Gabriel was given another assignment. This time to the humble village in northern Israel, Nazareth. There a young girl named Mary, who was probably in her teens, was awaiting her upcoming marriage to a man named Joseph. The angel appeared to her in her house with this announcement: “Good news! The Lord is about to give you the highest honor any woman could have!”

Needless to say, Mary was as unprepared for this as Zacharias had been in the temple. Seeing the stunned look on her face, Gabriel continued, “God is so pleased with you that He’s chosen you to become the mother of the promised Messiah! When He is born, you’ll name Him Jesus; and someday He will take the throne of David and rule forever!”

Mary’s response wasn’t the same as Zacharias’ had been. Yes, she had questions about how this would take place since she wasn’t married, but there was an obvious willingness in her voice when she asked, “How will this happen since I’m not married yet?”

Patiently, Gabriel filled in a few more details for her. “God’s Spirit will  come upon you and the Power of the Highest will overshadow you so that, in fact, your son will be the Son of God. And,” he went on, “God said to tell you that your aunt, Elizabeth, down in Judah is six months along in her miracle pregnancy. He wanted you to know that with Him nothing is impossible.”

From her heart, Mary spoke these precious words, “I am the humble servant of the Lord. I am willing for this to happen just as you have said.” Then the angel departed.

Mary took the news about her elderly aunt as a hint from God that she should go to visit her. The moment she arrived, when Elizabeth heard her voice at the door, the baby inside her jumped. God’s Spirit filled Elizabeth’s heart and voice with this amazing tribute:

“What a blessing! You are truly the most blessed woman in history! And bless that little child in your womb! How is it that the mother of my Lord should grace my humble home? The moment I heard your voice, my baby leaped for joy inside! Bless you, child, for believing what the Lord has told you!”

Mary responded with her own words of thanks:

“My inmost soul is overwhelmed by the Lord. My spirit overflows with joy. He has reached out to a simple village girl like me and has given me the greatest place any woman could hope for. He is so mighty, so holy, and so merciful. This shows that He brings down all those who are proud and raises up the humble who fear Him. Those who have nothing, He has filled with good things; those who are focused on their wealth have been sent away empty. He hasn’t forgotten His chosen people but has remembered His promise to Abraham, and He will bring it to pass.”

Mary stayed on with Elizabeth for about three months until it was time for Elizabeth’s child to be born. At his birth the whole community came to celebrate along with her.

Meanwhile, Zacharias remained speechless. It was when the baby was eight days old, the traditional age for the circumcision of male babies, that he was given his official name. Everyone was sure they would name this first-born after his father, Zacharias. But no, Elizabeth was insisting on naming him “John” even though there were no men in their family line with that name. So naturally they turned to Zacharias to settle the issue. He took a writing tablet and spelled out the name, “J-O-H-N.” Everyone was shocked.

But they were even more surprised when Zacharias began speaking out loud for the first time in over nine months. He praised God, and the Holy Spirit filled his heart and lips with these prophetic words:

“Look what God has done! He has visited His people and is raising up Someone to save us from our enemies. For generations prophets have said this day would come, a Day when we could be set free to live for Him every day of our lives!
And you, my own son, will be the forerunner proclaiming a message of sins taken away. This promised Deliverer will give light to all who’ve been sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and He will guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As you can imagine, the story about these strange events rippled through the hill country for a long time causing everyone to wonder, “What kind of child is this going to be?”

John grew up in the southern desert area of Israel, and the supernatural hand of God in his life was evident as he became strong in spirit.

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Mary returned home to Nazareth, and being over three months along, there was no hiding that she was pregnant. Joseph, a God-fearing man, realized that it would be wrong for him to marry someone who was immoral. Because he was gracious and wanted to spare Mary public humiliation, he began looking for a way to deal with her sin privately.

Wrestling with this late into the night, he fell asleep and had a dream. An angel was there calling his name. “Joseph, heir of David’s line, do not hesitate to take Mary as your own wife. The child in her was not conceived in sin but by the infusion of God’s Spirit. It’s a boy and you’ll name Him ‘Jesus.’ (In their mother-tongue, this name is ‘Yeshua,’ which means ‘the Lord saves.’) He will, in fact, save His people from their sins.”

Isaiah had prophesied this seven hundred years earlier when he wrote, “A virgin will conceive, give birth to a son, and call His name, ‘Immanuel.’” (Immanuel means “God with us.”)

Once Joseph was fully awake, he made arrangements to immediately take her as his wife. However, respecting her unique condition, they did not consummate their relationship until after Jesus was born.