Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Gaps

 

Cognitive dissonance, the study of psychology tells us, is the internal tension that results when our experience doesn’t match our professed beliefs and values. It is that sense of unease when we encounter something that contradicts what we have held to be true. We often experience this tension in the course of academic training as we learn new ideas. Or we can be jolted as we meet new people with vastly different backgrounds and cultures from our own.

But perhaps dissonance is felt most acutely when it occurs in the realm of faith commitments and expectations. Why is it that even when the right thing is done, the good action taken, nothing appears to change in my life or circumstances? If suffering is merely an illusion, why do so many people experience so much pain? How is it that marriage can be so difficult and yet God’s ideal for relationships? How is it that prayer seemingly goes unanswered even in the face of faithful and persistent prayers? How do I reconcile personal and global suffering with a view of a good and benevolent Divinity governing the world?

Some, to be sure, might claim to have never experienced (or noticed) cognitive dissonance as a reality in their own lives. There are always quick explanations offered for those who don’t find it quite as easy to reconcile the gaps between beliefs and experience: We have drifted away from our moral center. We have not studied enough, or prayed enough. We have not understood right teaching. Perhaps there are times when all of these explanations may be true.

But is it always so easy to explain dissonance away? I asked this question anew when I looked at the questions raised by John the Baptist as presented in the New Testament. John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus of Nazareth. Like Jesus, he had an extraordinary beginning, having been born to parents beyond child-bearing years. The last of the great, Hebraic prophets, the gospels portray John with all the intensity and moral outrage of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Malachi. John was fearless in his proclamation issuing the call of repentance to sinners and the religious leaders alike. He even baptized Jesus in preparation for his own itinerant ministry. He was resolute in his stand against immorality and hypocrisy. He understood his unique and limited role in preparation for the Messiah. Even as his own disciples came undone and complained that the crowds who once clamored to see him were now flocking to Jesus, John stood clear in his calling: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I have said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but ‘I have been sent before him’” (John 3:26-28).

Yet knowing all of this background creates a dramatic contrast when we hear John speak after he is imprisoned by Herod. His resolve was shaken. Both Matthew and Luke’s gospels record his own experience with dissonance: “Now when John in prison heard of the works of Jesus, he sent word by his disciples, and said to him, ‘Are you the expected one, or shall we look for someone else?’”(2) His question belies the ‘gap’ between the reality he envisioned and his current reality in a cold prison cell. If Jesus is the Messiah, John must have wondered, why am I sitting in this jail? The Messiah John proclaimed would “thoroughly clear his threshing floor” and “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). The Messiah was coming to rid Israel—and indeed the world—of evil. Yet in John’s day to day existence in his lonely prison cell, evil had won the day. “Are you the expected one, or shall we look for someone else?”

John’s dissonance is not unlike the gaps between belief and experience. Yet perhaps, according to author Scott Cairns, “[These also] can become illuminating moments in which we see our lives in the context of a terrifying, abysmal emptiness, moments when all of our comfortable assumptions are shown to be false, or misleading, or at least incomplete.”(1) Surely, John thought, the Messiah would free him from prison, bring justice, and bind up all the wicked like chaff to be burned. Yet, what was expected was not experienced. John experienced the terrifying and abysmal emptiness that came in a Jesus who was free from his expectations and of his own assumptions.

Jesus acknowledged that his ministry would be disruptive, and even be misunderstood. In responding to John’s doubts, Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who keeps from stumbling over me” (Matthew 11:6). Like John before us, those who seek to follow Jesus often stumble over him. The gaps between what we believe and what we experience create fissures in faith into which many fall. Yet, as Cairns suggests, might mining those gaps uncover the treasure of encountering Jesus in new ways? Might mining the gaps we experience hold the treasure of new insight and the beauty of a more faithful devotion if we are willing to let go of “comfortable assumptions” and cherished expectations? If so, then might all the faithful dig deep and find that what is precious and most valuable is often found in the fissures of dissonance.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2009), 8.

(2) Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20.

 

Charles Spurgeon – Holy violence

 

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12

Suggested Further Reading: Genesis 32:22-32

Frequently complaints are made and surprise expressed by individuals who have never found a blessing rest upon anything they have attempted to do in the service of God. “I have been a Sunday-school teacher for years,” says one, “and I have never seen any of my girls or boys converted.” No, and the reason most likely is, you have never been violent about it; you have never been compelled by the divine Spirit to make up your mind that converted they should be, and no stone shall be left unturned until they were. You have never been brought by the Spirit to such a passion, that you have said, “I cannot live unless God bless me; I cannot exist unless I see some of these children saved.” Then, falling on your knees in agony of prayer, and putting forth afterwards your trust with the same intensity towards heaven, you would never have been disappointed, “for the violent take it by force.” And you too, my brother in the gospel, you have marvelled and wondered why you have not seen souls regenerated. Did you ever expect it? Why, you preach like one who does not believe what he is saying. Those who believe in Christ, may say of you with kind partiality, “Our minister is a dear good man;” but the careless young men that attend your ministry say, “Does that man expect to make me believe that which he only utters as a dry story, and to convince me when I see him go through the service with all the dullness and monotony of dead routine?” Oh, my brethren, what we want today in the churches is violence; not violence against each other, but violence against death, and hell, against the hardness of other men’s hearts, and against the sleepiness of our own.

For meditation: Do you mean business with God or do you just go through the motions? It can make all the difference (2 Kings 4:31-35; Mark 9:28,29).

Sermon no. 252
15 May (1859)

Streams in the Desert for Kids – Pit Crew

 

John 10:41

In the world of professional auto racing, only a few people get to be drivers and have their names splashed across the newspapers and TV. But for every successful racecar driver, there are dozens of back-up people, many of whom are called the “pit crew.” Pit crews are vital to the success of any racer. When the driver comes off the track and heads to the pit, the crew springs into action. They fuel the car and change all the tires in seconds. They make minor adjustments and get the driver back out on the track. Time spent in the pit impacts the outcome of the race. A slow pit crew can cause a driver to lose.

In the Bible, John the Baptist is an example of someone who never got to be the “driver.” He was more like part of Jesus’ pit crew. John’s role was to tell everyone that Jesus was coming and they should get ready. While John did not perform any miracles, he had an important job to do by alerting everyone that someone was coming soon who would take away the sin of the world. When some people asked John if he was the Christ, he simply replied, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” It takes a really big person to step back and let someone else shine in the spotlight. But when we perform the most everyday, insignificant tasks, God still sees what we are doing.

Dear Lord, Sometimes I want to be the person everyone talks about and praises, but help me to be humble. Amen.

John MacArthur – Breaking the Bondage of Legalism

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

Legalism can’t produce a pure heart.

By the time Jesus arrived, Israel was in a desperate condition spiritually. The Jewish people were in bondage to the oppressive legalism of the Pharisees, who had developed a system of laws that were impossible to keep. Consequently, the people lacked security and were longing for a savior to free them from guilt and frustration. They knew God had promised a redeemer who would forgive their sins and cleanse their hearts (Ezek. 36:25-27), but they weren’t sure when He was coming or how to identify Him when He arrived.

The enormous response to John the Baptist’s ministry illustrates the level of expectancy among the people. Matthew 3:5-6 says, “Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” The uppermost question in everyone’s mind seemed to be, “How can I enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus Himself was asked that question by many people in different ways. In Luke 10:25 a lawyer asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In Luke 18:18 a rich young ruler asks exactly the same thing. In John 6:28 a multitude asks, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, came to Jesus at night with the same question, but before he could ask it, Jesus read his thoughts and said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

As devoutly religious as those people might have been, they would remain spiritually lost unless they placed their faith in Christ. That’s the only way to enter the kingdom.

Still today many people look for relief from sin and guilt. God can use you to share Christ with some of them. Ask Him for that privilege and be prepared when it comes.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Pray for those enslaved to legalistic religious systems.
  • Be sure there is no sin in your life to hinder God’s work through you.

For Further Study

Read Galatians 3.

  • Why did Paul rebuke the Galatians?
  • What was the purpose of the Old Testament law?

Our Daily Bread – Son Reflector

 

 

Read: John 1:1-9
Bible in a Year: Joshua 13-15; Luke 1:57-80

 

This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light. —John 1:7

The cozy little village of Rjukan, Norway, is a delightful place to live—except during the dark days of winter. Located in a valley at the foot of the towering Gaustatoppen Mountain, the town receives no direct sunlight for nearly half of the year. Residents had long considered the idea of placing mirrors at the top of the mountain to reflect the sun. But the concept was not feasible until recently. In 2005, a local artist began “The Mirror Project” to bring together people who could turn the idea into reality. Eight years later, in October 2013, the mirrors went into action. Residents crowded into the town square to soak up the reflected sunlight.

In a spiritual sense, much of the world is like the village of Rjukan—mountains of troubles keep the light of Jesus from getting through. But God strategically places His children to act as reflectors. One such person was John the Baptist, who came “to bear witness of the Light”—Jesus—who gives light “to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (John 1:7; Luke 1:79).

Just as sunlight is essential for emotional and physical health, so exposure to the light of Jesus is essential for spiritual health. Thankfully, every believer is in a position to reflect His light into the world’s dark places. —Julie Ackerman Link

Dear Father, help me to reflect Your light into the world around me today. May all that I say and do bear witness of Your light and truth. May others see how wonderful You are.

A world in darkness needs the light of Jesus.

INSIGHT: The author of the gospel of John is not the same John referred to in today’s reading (1:6). John the Baptist, the “man sent from God,” was the fulfillment of the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3:1 (see Mark 1:2-3). His main task was to introduce Jesus to the world and “to bear witness of the Light” (John 1:7-8). The miraculous circumstances of John’s birth are told in Luke 1:5-80. He was probably a cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:36), had the privilege to baptize Him (Matt. 3:13-15), and was imprisoned and later beheaded by Herod (14:1-12). His ministry is recorded in Matthew 3; 11:1-11; Mark 1:1-9; and Luke 3. Jesus said that of “those born of women” (i.e., those born by ordinary human birth), none is greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).

John MacArthur – The High Cost of Free Grace

 

“In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood” (Eph. 1:7, emphasis added).

Redeeming grace is free to us, but its cost to God is inestimable.

Sin is not a serious issue to most people. Our culture flaunts and peddles it in countless forms. Even Christians who would never think of committing certain sins will often allow themselves to be entertained by them through television, movies, music, and other media.

We sometimes flirt with sin but God hates it. The price He paid to redeem us from it speaks of the seriousness with which He views it. After all, we “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold . . . but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

In Scripture the shedding of blood refers to violent physical death—whether of a sacrificial animal or of Christ Himself. Sin is so serious that without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sin in God’s sight (Heb. 9:22).

The sacrificial animals in the Old Testament pictured Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That’s why John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Old Testament sacrifices were necessary but incomplete. Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, complete, and once for all (Heb. 10:10). No further sacrifices are needed other than the “sacrifice of praise to God” for what He has done (Heb. 13:15) and our very lives in service to Him as “a living and holy sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).

By His sacrifice Christ demonstrated not only God’s hatred for sin, but also His great love for sinners. You could never redeem yourself, but Christ willingly paid the price with His own precious blood. He “gave Himself up for [you], an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). His sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, so your redemption was paid in full. What magnanimous love and incredible grace!

 

Suggestions for Prayer; Worship God for His wonderful plan of salvation.

Worship Christ for the enormous sacrifice He made on your behalf.

Worship the Holy Spirit for applying Christ’s sacrifice to your life and drawing you to Christ in saving faith.

Ask God to help you guard your heart from flirting with sin.

 

For Further Study; Read 2 Samuel 11.

What circumstances led to David’s sin with Bathsheba?

How did David attempt to cover his sin?

How did David finally deal with his sin (see Ps. 51)?

Presidential Prayer Team; H.L.M. – Fresh Immersion

 

The Jordan River stretches 70 miles between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and it is Israel’s eastern border. Many significant events in history took place there. It was by the Jordan River that the Israelites renewed their covenant with God before entering the Promised Land. It’s also where John the Baptist called them to renew their covenant with the Lord again through baptism.

They were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Matthew 3:6

The word “baptize” means “to dip” or “to immerse.” The Jews of John’s time used baptism to signify one’s change of heart toward God. This bold move implied that Jews did not belong to God only by virtue of their descent from Abraham, but through a transformed life.

As you spend time in prayer and reading God’s Word, ask Him to give you a fresh immersion from the Holy Spirit. Praise your Heavenly Father that He has made you a new creation through Jesus Christ – where old thing are gone, and all things are new. Intercede also for this nation’s senators and representatives to experience a flowing river of God’s love and grace in their hearts this year, and for more American Christians to take up the call to pray for their leaders.

Recommended Reading: Colossians 2:6-14

Charles Stanley – The Light of the World

 

John 1:1-5

The book of Malachi contains the last prophecies of God recorded in the Old Testament. The intertestamental period, as the next four centuries are known, was devoid of messages from God to His people. Zacharias—the father of John the Baptist—broke the 400-year silence when he prophesied that “. . . the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79).

Zacharias was announcing the birth of Jesus into a spiritually dark world. Here is how Paul described the condition of mankind without Christ: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The state of unbelievers today is the same as it has always been. Darkness plagues the earth because people live with a sense of frustration and futility as they attempt to please fleshly appetites that are never satisfied.

The light of Jesus Christ lets people see themselves as they really are: sinners in need of a Savior. When His hope is allowed to penetrate the heart, darkness is chased away. Receiving Him as Savior means that sins are forgiven and the death sentence lifted. The Son’s light has a second purpose for the believer. Jesus illuminates the right path for our life so that we need not give in to temptation. Whoever chooses to walk in the light—obeying God’s commands and seeking to live by His principles (Eph. 5:8-10)—cannot walk in darkness.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Selective Hearing

Ravi Z

We may live in a world full of individualists and individualism, but when it comes to reaching the individual conscience and the individual ear, it is often not so simple. For the one in the crowd, for the individual among the masses, any appeal for moral action or ethical change is likely to be heard more with one’s neighbor in mind than oneself. Whether rooted in human nature or simply another form of individualism, it seems our neighbors’ flaws are far more worthy of commentary. F.W. Boreham noted this tendency in any congregation with more than one member. “[I]n a congregation of two, each auditor takes it for granted that the preacher is referring to the other.”(1)

True to form, it is on rare occasions that the words of ancient prophets, who cried out at injustice and wept loudly for repentance, seem like they are talking to me. Most of the time, they seem very clearly to be talking to a people and situation well in the past, or at best a wayward culture, or a particular philosophy, policy, or party. This is perhaps why the prophets had to weep and yell so loudly. Though the great command of Israel assumes that the crowd is listening—”Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”—often, we are not. Or rather, we might be listening, but we are listening for someone else.

With every fiber of their unique beings, the prophets attempt to counter our selective hearing. The last prophet, the prophet who cried for the world to recognize the savior among them, was no different. John the Baptist came bounding through the wilderness with an immensely personal message, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and calling the masses to see their collective and individual need for the one who could make all things new. This is where Mark begins his gospel: with the cry of a prophet to open the ears of all. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, he tells us, begins with the call of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”

Somewhere along the path to Christmas, many Christians revisit these words first recorded by the prophet Isaiah and later described as the message of John. It is a message that perhaps seems easiest to hear for someone else; after all, John’s words were aimed at the “Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” who responded by coming to the Jordan to be baptized. Or maybe the prophet’s call for universal preparation just seems an all too familiar part of a familiar story. Regardless, it is likely that all the many years of hearing the prophet’s cry for someone else has dulled the command in our minds.

Yet in fact, no matter whom we hear that message for, it is actually quite a radical suggestion. How does one prepare roads for God? How does anyone make the paths of God straight? What does that even mean? When you remember the story of Christmas, do you picture men and women preparing the road that brought God to earth, human beings taking an active role in shaping the paths and highways of God’s coming?

Now, how much more radical is this image if you hear the command for yourself? Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight! Beginning his gospel with the cry of the prophet, Mark attempts to open ears to this very thought. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ involves you. How are you preparing the way of the human Son of God, paving roads and clearing paths for the sake of God among us? It is a question every bit as much aimed at your ears and your life as it was the first audience who heard it—or your neighbors who might need to hear it.

The story of Christ’s coming as an infant in Bethlehem marks the beginning of the great promises and reversals we anticipate because of his presence with us—beauty rising from ashes and mourning turned to dancing, waters breaking forth from the wilderness and streams from the desert. But this story is not finished. John continues to call us to prepare the way for the one who shares our own humanity, to join in the restoration that God has started. All of the prophets, in fact, continue to cry out with inviting and challenging images of God’s countercultural movement: swords made into plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, wolves lying down with lambs, cows and bears grazing together, justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like ever-flowing streams, the desert blossoming, the blind seeing, the lame leaping, the lowly lifted up, and the hungry filled with good things. How are you participating? How might your life change, if the prophets are talking to you?

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) F.W. Boreham, “The Ideal Congregation,” Dreams at Sunset (London: Epworth Press, 1954), 88.

 

John MacArthur – Believing in God

John MacArthur

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is” (Hebrews 11:6).

Nothing you do can please God apart from faith.

Throughout history, people have tried everything imaginable to gain favor with God. Most turn to religion, but religion apart from Christ is merely a satanic counterfeit of the truth.

Many trust in their own good works, not realizing that even their best efforts are offensive to God (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8). And the more we try to justify ourselves, the more we offend God, because “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).

Some trust in their family heritage or nationality. The Jewish people thought they were pleasing to God simply because they were descendants of Abraham. But John the Baptist warned them, saying, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt. 3:7-9).

Apart from faith, man cannot please God. And the first step of faith is simply believing God exists. That isn’t enough to save a person—even the demons have that level of faith (James 2:19)—but it’s a start, and by God’s grace can blossom into full saving faith.

God has given ample evidence of His existence. Romans 1:20 says, “Since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” David said, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).

Creation itself proclaims the existence, power, and glory of God, yet most people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) by rejecting the Creator and denying their accountability to Him. Rather than bowing to the true God, they pay homage to “Mother Nature” or evolution. How foolish!

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Praise God for the beauty of His creation.
  • Worship Him as the giver of every good gift (James 1:17).

For Further Study

Read Romans 1:18-32. Is there a connection between denying God, practicing idolatry, and committing gross immoralities? Explain.

Joyce Meyer – A Glorious Freedom

Joyce meyer

 

A man can receive nothing [he can claim nothing, he can take unto himself nothing] except as it has been granted to him from heaven. [A man must be content to receive the gift, which is given him from heaven; there is no other source]. —John 3:27

In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the disciples of John the Baptist came to him and reported that Jesus was beginning to baptize as John had been doing and that now more people were going to Jesus than were coming to John. This message was carried to John in a wrong spirit; it was intended to make him jealous. The disciples who brought the report were obviously insecure and being used by the devil in an attempt to stir up some wrong feelings in John toward Jesus.

In the verse above, what John was saying to his disciples was that whatever Jesus was doing, it was because heaven had gifted Him in that way. John knew what God had called him to do, and he knew what Jesus was called to do. He also knew that a person could not go beyond his call and gifting. John was saying to his followers, “Be content.” He knew that God had called him to be a forerunner for Jesus, to prepare the way for Him, and that when it was time for Jesus to come to the forefront, he had to become less visible to the people.

Here are John’s words to his disciples in response to their statement regarding the crowds who were flocking to Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease. [He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so].” (John 3:30) What a glorious freedom that John enjoyed! It is wonderful to feel so secure in Christ that we do not have to be in competition with anyone.

 

Charles Spurgeon – Holy violence

CharlesSpurgeon

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12

Suggested Further Reading: Genesis 32:22-32

Frequently complaints are made and surprise expressed by individuals who have never found a blessing rest upon anything they have attempted to do in the service of God. “I have been a Sunday-school teacher for years,” says one, “and I have never seen any of my girls or boys converted.” No, and the reason most likely is, you have never been violent about it; you have never been compelled by the divine Spirit to make up your mind that converted they should be, and no stone shall be left unturned until they were. You have never been brought by the Spirit to such a passion, that you have said, “I cannot live unless God bless me; I cannot exist unless I see some of these children saved.” Then, falling on your knees in agony of prayer, and putting forth afterwards your trust with the same intensity towards heaven, you would never have been disappointed, “for the violent take it by force.” And you too, my brother in the gospel, you have marvelled and wondered why you have not seen souls regenerated. Did you ever expect it? Why, you preach like one who does not believe what he is saying. Those who believe in Christ, may say of you with kind partiality, “Our minister is a dear good man;” but the careless young men that attend your ministry say, “Does that man expect to make me believe that which he only utters as a dry story, and to convince me when I see him go through the service with all the dullness and monotony of dead routine?” Oh, my brethren, what we want today in the churches is violence; not violence against each other, but violence against death, and hell, against the hardness of other men’s hearts, and against the sleepiness of our own.

For meditation: Do you mean business with God or do you just go through the motions? It can make all the difference (2 Kings 4:31-35; Mark 9:28,29).

Sermon no. 252

15 May (1859)

John MacArthur – Drawing Near Devotional – Breaking the Bondage of Legalism

John MacArthur

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

By the time Jesus arrived, Israel was in a desperate condition spiritually. The Jewish people were in bondage to the oppressive legalism of the Pharisees, who had developed a system of laws that were impossible to keep. Consequently, the people lacked security and were longing for a savior to free them from guilt and frustration. They knew God had promised a redeemer who would forgive their sins and cleanse their hearts (Ezek. 36:25-27), but they weren’t sure when He was coming or how to identify Him when He arrived.

The enormous response to John the Baptist’s ministry illustrates the level of expectancy among the people. Matthew 3:5-6 says, “Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.” The uppermost question in everyone’s mind seemed to be, “How can I enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus Himself was asked that question by many people in different ways. In Luke 10:25 a lawyer asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In Luke 18:18 a rich young ruler asks exactly the same thing. In John 6:28 a multitude asks, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, came to Jesus at night with the same question, but before he could ask it, Jesus read his thoughts and said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

As devoutly religious as those people might have been, they would remain spiritually lost unless they placed their faith in Christ. That’s the only way to enter the kingdom.

Still today many people look for relief from sin and guilt. God can use you to share Christ with some of them. Ask Him for that privilege and be prepared when it comes.

Suggestions for Prayer:

•             Pray for those enslaved to legalistic religious systems.

•             Be sure there is no sin in your life to hinder God’s work through you.

For Further Study:

Read Galatians 3.

•             Why did Paul rebuke the Galatians?

•             What was the purpose of the Old Testament law?

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Your Attention Please

Ravi Z

We may live in a world full of individualists and individualism, but when it comes to reaching the individual conscience and the individual ear, it is often not so simple. For the one in the crowd, for the individual among the masses, any appeal for moral action or ethical change is likely to be heard more with one’s neighbor in mind than oneself. Whether rooted in human nature or simply another form of individualism, it seems our neighbors’ flaws are far more worthy of commentary. F.W. Boreham noted this tendency in any congregation with more than one member. “[I]n a congregation of two, each auditor takes it for granted that the preacher is referring to the other.”(1)

True to form, it is on rare occasions that the prophets, who cry out at injustice and weep loudly for repentance, seem like they are talking to me. Most of the time, they seem more clearly to be talking to a family member, a wayward culture, or a particular philosophy, policy, or party. This is perhaps why the prophets must weep and yell so loudly, though often to no avail. Though the great command of Israel assumes that we are listening—Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One—often, we are not. Or rather, we might be listening, but we are listening for someone else.

With every fiber of their beings, the prophets attempt to counter our selective hearing. The last prophet, the prophet who cried for the world to recognize the savior among them, was no different. John the Baptist came bounding through the wilderness with an immensely personal message, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and calling the masses to see their collective and individual need for the one who could make all things new. This is where Mark begins his gospel: with the cry of a prophet to open our ears. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, he tells us, begins with the call of John the Baptist: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!

Somewhere along the path to the cross, many Christians revisit these words first recorded by the prophet Isaiah and later described as the message of John. It is a message that perhaps seems easiest to hear for someone else; after all, John’s words were aimed at “the Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” who responded by coming to the Jordan to be baptized. Or maybe the prophet’s call for preparation just seems a familiar part of a familiar story: before Jesus was recognized as the son of God, John the Baptist readied the crowds to see the one in their midst. Regardless, it is likely that all the many years of hearing the prophet’s cry for someone else has dulled the command in our minds. In fact, no matter who we hear that message for, it is actually quite a radical thought. How does one prepare roads for God? How does anyone make the paths of the Lord straight? When you remember the story of Jesus on earth, do you picture the men and women God used to prepare the way of Jesus among us, human beings who took an active role in shaping the paths of God’s coming—priests and prophets, those who prayed for God’s Messiah, Elizabeth and John, Jesus’s own mom?

Now, how much more radical is this image if you hear the command for yourself? Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight! Beginning his gospel with the cry of the prophet, Mark attempts to open the world to this very thought. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ starts with our participation in God’s activity. How are you preparing the way of the Lord, paving roads and clearing paths for the sake of God among us? It is a question every bit as much aimed at your ears and your life as it was the first audience who heard it—or your neighbors who might need to hear it.

The story of Jesus coming as an infant in Bethlehem and setting his face like a flint toward the cross in his thirties is the beginning of the great promises and reversals we anticipate because of his redemptive presence with us—beauty rising from ashes and mourning turned to dancing, waters breaking forth from the wilderness and streams from the desert. But this story is not finished. Christ is coming again and John continues to call us to prepare the way, to join in the restoration that God has already started. Indeed, all of the prophets continue to cry out with inviting and powerful images of God’s work: swords made into to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks, wolves lying down with lambs, cows and bears grazing together, justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like ever-flowing streams, the desert blossoming, the blind seeing, the lame leaping, the lowly lifted up, and the hungry filled with good things. How are we participating in this very story? How do our lives change, if the prophets are indeed talking to us?

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) F.W. Boreham, “The Ideal Congregation,” Dreams at Sunset (London: Epworth Press, 1954), 88.

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Surprised by the Known

Ravi Z

It would be strange to grow up knowing that your life is set apart. Of course, to a small extent this is the experience of many modern children. Wrapped within the dreams of their parents, they grow with the assurance of a plan and a purpose for their lives—albeit a purpose shrouded in hopeful mystery. For John the Baptist, the only son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, there was much less mystery. John grew up knowing that he would one day be called a prophet. In fact, he grew up knowing his life’s exact call: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him” (Luke 1:76). He was to be a Nazirite, literally one consecrated to God and separated from the general population.

We know very little about John’s life outside of his short public ministry. We are told that this miracle child of a barren womb grew strong in spirit and lived in the desert. He ate locusts and wild honey and wore clothing made of camel’s hair. His entire life seemed to be marked with the knowledge that he was set apart for a unique and specific role. I imagine that he thought often of the day he would meet the Messiah whose way he was to prepare. I imagine that he never expected it would be someone from his own family, a cousin who grew up beside him.

John was baptizing in the Jordan River when the sky opened up and the Spirit descended like a dove, the sign that God had told him to expect. “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:31). The Spirit rested upon Jesus. Twice, John seems to note his astonishment; “I myself did not know him.” It is safe to assume that John knew who Jesus was; his mother, Elizabeth, was Mary’s cousin. But John did not know Jesus as the Christ, the one he had been set apart to proclaim, the one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie.

I wonder how often I do not see the person in front of me—the loved one, the colleague, the stranger I sell short as an imager bearer of God. John was so taken with what God revealed about Jesus that he realized he had never really known him. This distant cousin, present at family gatherings and near on holidays, was the Lord, the one he had been waiting for all his life. Without questioning God, without doubting Jesus, John immediately reframed his perspective and bowed before the Lamb of God. For the remainder of his days, John gave this testimony of Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me…  I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (1:32-34).

How quick are you to adjust your eyes to all God would have you see in the person in front of you? For the Christian, the question is repeated again and again in the gospels. If we are unwilling to let God transform the world before our eyes, there will be people we will never really know, dynamics that will go unnoticed, signs we will miss completely. In the kingdom of God, astonishment should not surprise us.

The day after John was shown the truth about his cousin, he introduced two of his disciples to the Christ. “Rabbi,” they said, “where are you staying?” “Come,” Jesus replied, “and you will see.” Like Jesus himself, this exchange has both an element of the spiritual and the physical entwined, something divine and something human. Jesus reminds us that there is a vertical quality about our lives, a reaching to taste and see the goodness of God and to know the one in whose image we were formed. But there is also a horizontal quality about the invitation of Christ to come and see. His followers are called to see the image of God in their neighbors, to be present in a crowd that prefers escapism, to reach out to the world as if reaching to Christ himself.

The disciples answered Jesus’s invitation to come and see, learning in time that it was indeed a multi-dimensional offer. They went to his house and saw where he was staying; they met his mom and saw his family. But they also discovered in his eyes a kingdom that is not of flesh and blood. They would not have known except that God revealed it. They would not have realized except that they were willing to see.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.