Matthew 11:7-19: A Self-Righteousness that Deafens

Read: Matthew 11:7-19

One of the popular things to do with movies is to prefix the title with “The Last” then append some word. A few popular examples are The Last Samurai or The Last Jedi. The motif of being “the last” of anything in these movies shows the last of a long lineage that has come to its end. If someone was to make a movie about John the Baptist, they could call it “The Last Prophet” for the same reasons. John was the last prophet in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. The Old Testament prophets gave warnings of doom should Israel not repent, but also foretold of redemption or blessing should they repent.  John came with the same message where he proclaimed the kingdom of God and offered a baptism of repentance. Jesus calls John a prophet and even more.

Matthew 11:10 quotes from Malachi 3:1, which is the promise of one that is coming to prepare the way. Immediately following the verse in Malachi is a commentary on those who would “stand” when he appears. The question it asks is rhetorical, as the answer to this is only the righteous who will be cleansed. But to those who do not will receive justice.

Jesus draws on this imagery pointing out two kinds of people: those who hear him and those that do not. The imagery of the piper playing a happy tune and the hearers not dancing or the dirge and the people not morning is precisely the conditions of those that don’t here, rather they are apt to accuse the messenger of things he is not guilty of rather because he associates with those who are less than righteous in the eyes of those who believe themselves to be righteous.

Self-righteousness even today can blind one from hearing the message that they need to hear. The antidote to self-righteousness though is a constant reminder of one’s own sin and ones need for repentance and cleansing. Jesus offers this to whomever is willing to humbly come to him and ask for it. May it be as John 1:9 says – repentance so that God will forgive and cleanse all unrighteousness.

Lord, keep me humble so that I can hear you and see my sin!

Read Matthew 11:1-6: Show and Tell

Read Matthew 11:1-6

When asked by John’s disciples about who he was, Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question, rather he gives a more cryptic answer as Jesus would typically do. Here, he alludes to many scriptures that point to his coming. (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:4-6, Isaiah 43:6-7, Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 61:1-3, Isaiah 66:2, Zechariah 11:7). There’s two things that are remarkable here: the declaration of miracles and the declaration of the good news being preached.

These two prongs of Jesus’ ministry where quintessential.  While Jesus was a miracle worker, he made no apology about preaching a message of sin, repentance, and salvation for those who would believe. For some, however, this message was offensive and they didn’t want to hear it. If Jesus would have been merely a miracle worker, it’s likely that he would have not offended anyone, but he did manage to get the religious elite stirred up because of what he preached.

Today’s Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and commanded by to do great deeds in Jesus’ name. Jesus declares later in Matthew that the ones who do so do it unto Jesus (Matthew 25:45). Given this though, good deeds to the world is not a substitute for declaring the Gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Yes, the gospel will offend some, but to others it will be the best news they ever hear because it means forgiveness and eternal life!

Lord, help me to show others your love and declare the truth of your gospel!

 

Luke 3:15-20: Minimize Me

Read: Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist knew his place when it came to Jesus. He was well respected and revered as a prophet by the people that were coming to be baptized, and many thought that he may be the Messiah. In spite of all this, John humbled himself and used whatever authority and influence he had to point people to Jesus. John says of Jesus that he is not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal, which was considered a lowly task generally performed for the lowliest servant when guests came to one’s house.

John’s message was called “good news” yet Luke depicts Jesus as one with a winnowing fork. The winnowing fork was an instrument used to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff was carried away by the wind and burned in fire. John speaks of Jesus baptizing by the Holy Spirit and my fire. Baptism of the Holy Spirit – that is receiving the Holy Spirit – is something that happens to all who believe when they become Christians. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers (John 2:20; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The allusion to fire though is not clear. It could either be a prophetic statement about what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) or a reference judgment that will come. In the context, the latter makes more sense because John is talking about Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff, and burning the chaff.

To illustrate how the gospel is offensive to some, Luke uses John’s encounter with Herod. John was bold enough to call out Herod, a strong and power ruler, on the adultery that he had with his sister-in-law, Herodias. Matthew 14:1-12 gives more details on the matter, where Herodias prompted her daughter, who had danced for Herod pleased him, to ask for the head of John the Baptist. Herod had John arrested and beheaded to fulfill her wishes. John made no special provisions for anyone and did not really care about his safety either, rather he was concerned about proclaiming good news and pointing people to Jesus.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. The coming of Jesus is good news for those that will accept it. For those that will not, it is offensive because it confronts people with their sin. But John the Baptist was embolden to preach this good news of Jesus rather than live in fear of what might happen to him. John’s martyrdom, zeal, and humility for the sake of gospel of Jesus serves as a reminder of the the attitude and priorities Christians ought to have concerning Jesus. Christians ought to get the good news of Jesus out and put Jesus in the spotlight so that he can be exalted.

Lord, help me to minimize myself and maximize Jesus in all things!

Luke 3:7-14: Detestable Religion

Read: Luke 3:7-14

John’s words are harsh. He calls those that are coming out to be baptized a “brood of vipers”, which in that time and place was not something nice to say. “Vipers” in the ancient near east were associated with wicked men. Jesus uses the word to describe the Pharisees and Sadducees on 3 occasion (Matthew 3:7, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33). It was a serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden too (Genesis 3:1-15). Being called a viper was to associated a person as cunning and subtle with ulterior motives – they saw baptism as yet more religion. Those coming to be baptized by John were “fleeing wrath” which implies that they knew judgment was coming and were looking for a means to effectively purify themselves. The thinking was that the more piety one had, the less likely judgment was to fall in them. Likewise, as implied by verse 8, those coming to be baptized were clinging to their heritage as well, thinking that because they were from the line of Abraham made them special and that they wouldn’t face judgment.

The people were right to recognize that there was impending judgment, but they were approaching it the wrong way, wanting to address sin with religion and traditions without changing their hearts and actions. John on the other hand saw through both of these. He was calling people to repent (that is, change one’s heart and mind about sin) and bear fruit in accordance with repentance. He agrees with the people that judgment is coming when he says the ax is near the root of the tree and every good tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and burned. He specifically addresses three groups of people: those with abundance, tax collectors, and soldiers calling them to do good and be generous rather than hoard and extort.

When faced with sin or hard times, the natural tendency of people is to want to get “right with God” and they do so by by getting more religious. They will attend church, undergo rites and rituals, pray, read their Bible, among other things. None of these things are inherently bad, but if they are being done for the wrong reasons, then they are of little or no use because religion doesn’t help one’s standing before God. God wants people to repent and come to him in faith, not continue to live the same way as they did before and attempt to atone for sin with religion. The natural overflow of repentance though isn’t religion, rather charity and righteousness which God desires more than religion. In fact, James 1:26-27 says that “true religion” isn’t rites and rituals, rather caring for orphans and widows. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 1:1-17 aptly describe how God sees religion in light of righteousness – religion is detestable to God when one’s deeds and heart are evil. Rather than seeking out more religion, Christians should repent and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God!

Lord, I repent of my sins! Help me to bear fruit in keeping with repentance!

Luke 3:2-6: “Prepare the Way”

Read: Luke 3:2-6

John the Baptist was a kindred spirit to Jesus and apparently a relative too. His birth took place on months before Jesus’ birth did (Luke 1). The scriptures don’t contain anything about John’s early life, but the story of John picks up around the same time Jesus’ does in 29 AD. Luke likens John the Baptist to Isaiah as a prophet that “received the word of the Lord” (John 1:21) and went out into the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s status as a prophet is confirmed by likening him to Elijah (Luke 1:17, John 1:25) and Jesus himself appealed to the testimony of John about himself as a witness to confirm the veracity of his message (John 5:31-34) because n that day and having a second testimony other than one’s own was necessary to deem a testimony as true. John’s witness to Jesus was set in place that when Jesus did come, he could point others to Jesus, as he did. John was calling people to repentance to prepare hearts to receive Jesus for salvation.

To drive the point home and link it to his theme of universally accessible salvation, Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:3-5 from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) noting that there was a voice crying out in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord” The text in Isaiah is in the context of a text to no condemn people, rather to comfort them telling them of a one who is coming and will shepherd them. The chapter ends with the famous verse talking about how those that wait on the Lord will renew their strength and soar. John is the the voice calling out the wilderness who is preparing the way for Jesus, who is the Lord in Isaiah 40. Luke extends the quote from Isaiah more than Mark 1:3 does to include a quotation about the “salvation” of the Lord. Luke’s regard for the salvation of “all people” is evident here and elsewhere in Luke 2:30-32 and Luke 2:10.

Salvation was never intended to be limited only a select group of people, rather it is intended for all people everywhere. But salvation isn’t automatically applied to everyone, rather it requires that one have faith in Jesus. Christians that receive salvation then should be about the task of preparing the way for others to receive Christ. The Isaiah text speaks of level mountains, raising valleys, smoothing rough areas, and straitening paths so that the coming of the Lord will be easy and without resistance. Part of evangelism requires that removal of barriers so that everyone everywhere has a chance to receive Jesus without hindrance. Some barriers are cultural such as language or cultural beliefs. Other barriers may be preconceived notions about what it means to be a Christian. Whatever it may be, removing barriers people can come to Jesus, repent of their sins, and be saved!

Lord, show me the barriers that hinder the gospel and help me to remove them so more can be saved!

John 5:30-47

Read: John 5:30-47

Jesus, after laying his claims for equality with God, Jesus says that if he testifies about himself, then his testimony is not true, but if there is another witness, then the testimony is true.  In the Jewish legal system, truth was not established by a single witness, but my two (or more) witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 19:15). Jesus then gives 5 other witnesses to the veracity of his testimony: the Spirit, the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of works, the witness of the Father, and the witness of Scripture.

The Spirit (John 5:32):  The “another” is uncertain, but given that Jesus testifies about the Father later on, it seems that Jesus is alluding to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who speaks truth into the lives of believers (John 14:17, John 15:26, John 16:13, Romans 9:1, 1 John 5:6, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16). The Spirit here is testifying about Jesus and Jesus, being one with God and the Spirit, knows that the testimony is true.

John the Baptist (John 5:33-35) John the Baptist gave a testimony about Jesus, calling him the Lamb of God and the one who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:19-36, John 3:22-36, Mark 1:1-13). Jesus calls him a “lamp” – a light bearer as described in John 1:6-8. John made the way for Jesus, pointing people to Christ so that they would not only have Jesus’ testimony, but also the witness of another.

Works (John 5:36): Jesus claims that his works were a sign from God that his testimony is true (John 7:31, John 10:24-38). John the Apostle recorded many of the signs in his gospel to that people might believe in Jesus too (John 20:30-31). The ultimate work of Jesus was his death, burial, and resurrection on which the Christian faith stands or falls (1 Corinthians 15:11-19).

The Father (John 5:37-38):  Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 17:5 speaks of a voice from heaven calling Jesus “My son”. Peter recalls the transfiguration of Jesus in 2 Peter 1:16-21. Perhaps Jesus is talking about the voice from heaven, although they may have audibly heard it, they did understand it because it was not abiding in their hearts. This is the condition described in Isaiah 6:10 where the ears are receiving sound, but is not received. The Father’s words abiding in one’s heart should compel them to believe in the Father, the one who sent Jesus.

The Scriptures (John 5:39-47): Moses wrote about Jesus (Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:3, Genesis 18:18, Genesis 49:10, Numbers 21:8-9, Numbers 24:17-18, Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The scriptures for the Jews in New Testament times varied depending on the sect, but they all agreed that the writings of Moses were scripture. Jesus reasons that if they believed the scriptures they would believe in him. They do not believe in him, so they do not believe the scriptures. The reason Jesus gives is that they seek glory from one another rather than God – perhaps they were looking to make themselves the prophets the scripture spoke of rather than Jesus. In that matter, they were abusing scripture. In any case, if one does not believe scriptures, they cannot believe Jesus.

Claiming equality with God would require extraordinary witnesses, but Jesus nevertheless had the witnesses he need to prove his case. Christians today, perhaps, have even more of a witness concerning Jesus. Not only do Christians have the five aforementioned witnesses, Christians have the message fully revealed and expounded on by the New Testament writers and the Holy Spirit living within. Christians have a personal testimony to share and they can also point skeptics to the veracity of scriptures that have been verified as accurate and reliable. One does not have to affirm some pie-in-the-sky claim concerning what he or she believes, but have evaluate it based on real history and verifiable facts.

Lord, your testimony is true. Help me to point others to the truth!

John 1:35-51: Bring People To Jesus

Read: John 1:35-51

“Behold the Lamb of God,” John declared. John had already declared this the day before in John 1:29. While it’s not explicitly stated, John could be referring to Jesus as the Messianic Lamb spoke about in Isaiah 53:1-12 because Andrew acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:41). Isaiah describes a lamb that lead to the slaughter that would bear the sin of the people. 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:19-20 liken Jesus to the sacrificial Lamb and John explicitly calls Jesus a slain Lamb in Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 13:8. Undoubtedly, John knew that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb the law required as a sacrifice (Exodus 29:38, Numbers 28:1-13) and the significance of the lamb as Passover (Exodus 12:1-13). At the Passover Seder Jesus had with his disciples, he commissioned the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper which he use the elements of bread to signify a broken body and wine to signify blood spilled (Luke 20:14-20). The Lamb of God that takes of away the sins of the world is the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-14), and when John points to Jesus calling him this, they leave John to follow Jesus. Andrew was one of those two following John who left John to follow Jesus, and Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.

Nathanael’s conversion is rather interesting. After Phillip followed Jesus, Phillip calls to Nathanael and when Nathanael first hears about Jesus, he’s skeptical because of his origins in Nazareth. This was probably because many Jews felt that people from Nazareth were traitors of sort because many of the Jews in Nazareth worked for the nearby Roman encampment, the occupying army and enemy. When Nathanael comes to Jesus, Jesus makes a statement about him saying there is no deceit. Nathanael apparently had no problem speaking his mind per his statements about Nazareth and his question to Jesus, “How do you know me?” to one revered as a rabbi. Jesus says he saw (“ειδον” means “see” in the original Greek and can mean to literally see or perceive in one’s mind) him under a fig tree and then Nathanael declares that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. Jesus seems surprised by this when Nathanael believes. What’s not clear is if this is because Nathanael was incredulous or if Nathanael believed based on a demonstration of Jesus’ omnipotence as there was something unsaid about Nathanael that was going on while he was under the fig tree. It’s probably the latter because Jesus knew the content of Nathanael’s character rather than his mere appearance. In any case, Nathanael believed in Jesus.

What’s interesting here is what’s going on with people bringing others to Jesus. John brought Andrew and Andrew brought Peter. Jesus called Phillip and Phillip brought Nathanael. Already, early in Jesus’ ministry, people were bringing others to Jesus so they could encounter Jesus for themselves. John declares Jesus is the Lamb and some turn to follow (John 1:36). Andrew calls him the Messiah (John 1:41) and some call to follow him. Phillip declares that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and prophets (John 1:45) and some go and follow. In any case, they are declaring something about Jesus and people are coming to Jesus and having a personal encounter with him. When we declare Jesus, we should be as these early converts, point to Jesus as the one who takes away sin and the one who delivers us from our sin. This message is a quintessential part of the gospel. Romans 10:14-17 says that some are sent to preach, and that faith comes by hearing. This process of believing then bringing others to Christ is what is happening here in John and it continues to this day.

Lord, I believe. Help me declare you and bring others to you so they too can believe!

John 1:30-34: A Testimony About Jesus

Read: John 1:29-34

The next day, Jesus comes and John announces to the world that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and reveals that his purpose was to reveal Jesus answering the investigators question. John gives the testimony to Jesus talking about the Spirit coming down and resting on Jesus. Jesus said to John that the one on whom the Spirit remains is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and that person was Jesus the Son of God. John witnessed this all when he baptized Jesus. (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11)

Baptism in New Testament times was a common practice that was often used as a rite in conversion to Judaism or a cleansing ritual performed by the Essene community. Given this, what John was doing was not something out of the ordinary, but perhaps something the people were used to seeing or at least had heard about. A baptism of repentance and forgiveness was somewhat of an anomaly because forgiveness of sin was something was seen as only coming through sacrifice at the temple. While water baptism was something that was common, Jesus’ baptism of the Spirit was something unique. The Bible asserts John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5, Acts 11:15-16, Acts 19:2-9) differentiating these two, Acts 19:2-9 in particular. Some people in Ephesus had heard about John and were baptized for repentance, but were rebaptized in the name of Jesus at which they received the Holy Spirit.

While it is clear that Baptism of the Holy Spirit (that is, receiving the Holy Spirit) is distinct from water baptism, but this does not diminish the importance of water baptism for its symbolism. Romans 6:3-8 sees baptism as a picture of the death, burial and resurrection believers go through with Jesus for new life. Baptism is also a symbol of unity among believers that all baptized believers can identify with, no matter who they are or where they come from (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27-29, Ephesians 4:5). Given this, it is important that believers who identify with Christ undergo baptism in his name.

The testimony of John to surrounding Jesus’ baptism, John’s baptism of repentance, and water baptism in general were all given to point people towards belief in Jesus. The common rite is given new meaning under Jesus such that it unifies us around Jesus and testifies to what he did for us. When we think about our own lives, do we consider our lives a worthy testimony that would point people to Christ or turn them away? Is there blatant sin that needs confessing and repentance that needs to be administered? In any case, we need constant washing and renewal that only comes from Jesus whose grace is sufficient!

Lord, help me have a testimony that points people to you!

John 1:1-18: The Word

Read: John 1:1-18

Often times, this passage is called the “prologue” to the book of John, and in many ways it is. This passage is poetic and communicates some basic theology about who Jesus is in relationship to man, the world, and this witness of John the Baptist.

  • The Word present at the beginning (John 1:1)
  • The Word was present with God (John 1:1-2)
  • The Word was God (John 1:1)
  • The Word was present at Creation (John 1:3)
  • All that was created was created through the Word (John 1:3, John 1:9)
    • By implication, man…
  • Life was in him and life is light to man (John 1:4)
    • John the Baptist was a witness to this light. (John 1:6-9)
  • The Light and Word came into the World (John 1:9-11, John 1:14)
  • The Word and Light are the Son of God who is Jesus, full of grace and truth (John 1:14-18)
  • Those that believe become children of God (John 1:12-13)

The word translated “word” in the original Greek is “λογος”. This word in is a rather ambiguous term as it encompasses many things: a literal word, a thought, wisdom, a decree, an axiom, or a doctrine among many other things. In Greek thought Logos was thought of as being pure reason – the ideal or the essence of that which is. In Hebrew thought, the analog to “Logos” communicated the “Word of God” in the acts of creation (Genesis 1:3, Psalm 33:6) and as a manifestation of the mind of God.

What is clear, however, is that John is establishing that the Word is God and the Word is Jesus. He establishes that the Word was God by asserting this directly in attributing things to the Word that only God can do namely create all that was created (Genesis 1:1) and bring life to men (Genesis 2:7). John establishes that the Word was Jesus saying that the Word became flesh, the word was the Son of God – a title attributed to Jesus, and attributing the grace and truth to both the Son of God and Jesus. There can be no doubt here that Jesus is God as it is firmly established here and elsewhere in Scripture. (John 10:30-38, John 20:26-28, Romans 9:5, Philippians 2:6-8, Titus 2:13,  1 John 5:20)

John the Baptist came before Jesus as a witness to Jesus, and John knew this. John the Apostle wrote that John himself was not the light, but came as a witness to the Light so that those who here his message might believe and become sons and daughters of God. John was among the first witnesses to Jesus and saw a number of people repent. Matthew 3:3 establishes John as the witness from Isaiah 40:3 as the one calling out in the wilderness to make a way for the Lord. John did just this.

This prologue sets the stage for the rest of the gospel that picks up with John the Baptist. The Apostles John’s purpose in writing is to so the reader might believe and receive eternal life from Jesus. John testified to the truth about Jesus and the command to Christians today is no different. Jesus before leaving the earth told his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8) the question is this: Do you know God such that you can bare witness to him and lead others to eternal life?

Lord, help be to know who you are so I can tell others about you!