The Baptism of Jesus

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After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

It must have been a remarkable scene. John had been preaching, teaching and baptizing all day, stopping only briefly to snack on locusts and wild honey. To the others in the crowd, Jesus just looked like another Galilean, waiting for his turn. John recognized that Jesus was the one for whom he was preparing the way. And when Jesus came up from the water and the heavens opened, the crowd knew it too. When Jesus came to earth, he opened up the opportunity for us to become sons and daughters of the most high God (Rom 8:16-17). The words the Father speaks about Jesus, he also speaks about you: “This is my beloved son,” “This is my beloved daughter.” Say those words out loud. Then imagine God looking into your eyes and speaking those words.

Going Deeper

Read John 1:26-34.

John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” a title with many layers of meaning.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is identified with the victorious Lamb who vanquishes evil: They will fight with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful. (Rev 17:14)

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Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover lamb, sacrificed to save Israel: Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover victims. Then take a bunch of hyssop, and dipping it in the blood that is in the basin, apply some of this blood to the lintel and the two doorposts. And none of you shall go outdoors until morning. For when the Lord goes by to strike down the Eguptians, seeing the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and not let the destroyer come into your houses to strike you down. (Ex 12:21-23)

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Isaiah spoke of Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the suffering servant: Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth… By making his life as a reparation offering, he shall see his offspring, shall lengthen his days, and the Lord’s will shall be accomplished through him. (Isaiah 53:7,10)

Although much of the context has been lost or at least diluted over the ages, at the time, identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God was enough to cause two of John’s disciples to leave his side and follow Jesus.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.

The next time you pray or hear these prayers at church, think about Jesus, the Passover lamb who saves his people, the suffering servant who is like a lamb led to slaughter, and the victorious apocalyptic Lamb.

 

Today marks the end of the Christmas season. Thank you for giving me the privilege of joining you on your journey through Advent and Christmas this year. I hope you have been blessed by what you’ve seen and heard.

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Christmas Reflection: John the Baptist calls us to repentance–and to action.

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The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

Luke 3:2b,3,10

Make the words of the people your prayer today: “What then should I do?” Watch and listen for God to answer your question.

Going Deeper

Read Luke 3:2-18.

John the Baptist called all people to repentance, to ask forgiveness and turn away from sin. But John didn’t just want people to say they were sorry and then go back to life as usual. John called them—and calls us—to orient our lives toward God. We are challenged to make changes—sometimes radical ones—to our lifestyle to get our priorities in line with God’s. John had specific instructions to the people who came to him:

John challenged those with two tunics to share with those who have none. Do you have more than you need? Maybe it’s clothes, space in your home, food, time, or money. How is God calling you to share your abundance?

John directed tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed. Have you ever been pressured at work to fudge things a little for the benefit of the company? Do you believe that God meant it when he commanded us not to lie? What will you do the next time someone encourages you exaggerate or tell a little white lie?

To the soldiers, John said, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages”  (Luke 3:14). Hopefully you haven’t been doing a lot of outright extortion this week. But maybe you’ve been toying with lesser forms of extortion. Do you know how to push the buttons of the people around you—and use that knowledge to get what you want?

That last directive is a good reminder to us all—how many of us haven’t, at one time or another, complained about our paychecks?

Imagine you are traveling across the desert to see the prophet, John, whom you’ve heard so much about.

  • With whom are you traveling? Maybe your kids and your spouse? Other moms, dads, or grandparents? People you work with? People in your small group at church?
  • When it is finally your turn to see John the Baptist, what will he say to the group of people you came with?
  • Ask the prophet, “What then should I do?” How will he answer you?

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Christmas Reflection: Going Against the Grain

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When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”

Luke 1:59-60.

Think of a time when you chose to do the unexpected. What were the results?

Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:39-45, 56-60.

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John was the only son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Everyone in their community assumed they would follow tradition and name their first-born son after his father. Their neighbors couldn’t imagine why Zechariah and Elizabeth would choose the name John, a name that wasn’t even in the family. Despite their neighbors’ objections, the new parents were determined to follow the angel’s instructions and named their son John.

The name John means “Yahweh has shown favor.” John’s name was selected not to show the world to which earthly family he belonged, but rather to point to his role in salvation history.

There are many examples of people going against cultural norms, often with very positive results. A fun example can be found in the Joe Diffie song, “John Deere Green.” In it, Billy Bob paints his message of love on the local water tower using the color ‘John Deere green.’ The song explains: “The whole town said the fool should have used red, but it looked good to Charlene in John Deere green.” I’m guessing things probably turned out pretty good for Billy Bob.

Other examples are profound in their simplicity—like Pope Francis traveling around Washington DC in a small Fiat instead of a fancy limousine.

I chose to ignore cultural norms when I accepted a weekend option position at work. Most people try to do everything they can to avoid working weekends. All the good stuff happens on weekends—if you’re working, you’re going to miss it. And here I was, committing to working Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with only a few weekends off each year. While I did miss some events, and I had to work a little harder to plan time to hang out with friends, the whole experience was an amazing blessing. I was able to spend time with my sister while she was in treatment for breast cancer. I took classes and got my doctorate degree. But perhaps most significant, it felt like my life was in balance (a three-day week and a four-day weekend helped a lot in this regard!).

Think about the things that are part of your routine because our society expects it or our culture demands it. Are you being called to make a change in one of these routines? What would happen if you did?

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Christmas Reflection: John the Baptist’s coming announced

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But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Luke 1:13,16-17

What can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous?

Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:5-25.

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A quick glance through the headlines on CNN.com reveals stories of murder trials, civil wars, a newborn baby left in a cardboard box next to a trash can, pornography, and kidnapping. It seems now, more than ever, we need someone like John to “turn many…to the Lord their God,” “turn the hearts of fathers toward children,” and turn “the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous.”

John the Baptist lived a lifestyle that was counter-cultural. He hung out in the desert, abstained from alcohol, ate bugs, and wore camel’s hair clothing. I’m quite certain that the average dinner party in Jerusalem did not feature a dish of locusts and a glass of water.

John didn’t dress or act like everyone else. He didn’t deliver a comforting “I’m ok, you’re ok” message. In fact, he called those who came to see him a “brood of vipers,” warning that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (from Luke 3:7,9). And yet people flocked to the desert to see him. They recognized the truth that John spoke and their need for repentance. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if we all followed John’s call to repent and turn back to God?

So, does that mean we need to pray for God to send another John the Baptist to transform our world? Maybe. Prayer is our first and best defense against the evils we find in our world. But we also need to take action. It might be that God doesn’t plan to send a new messenger; maybe he plans to use you to spread his message. Jesus did challenge us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a).

How can you, like John, turn people’s hearts toward God? God is probably not calling you to move to the Sahara and replace all of your fresh veggies with wild honey. But he may be calling you to live your life in a way that shows that you value the things of heaven more than the things of this world. Something as simple as refraining from gossip or profanity can serve as a powerful testimony.

I wouldn’t recommend that you adopt “brood of vipers” as your standard greeting for your neighbors. But God may be calling you to share with them the truth about how God is acting in your life. Just as important as sharing where God has brought you, you need to be vulnerable enough to share where you were when God reached down and touched your life.

So, what can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous? There are many answers to this question, including prayer, living counter-culturally, and speaking the truth about your own encounters with God. Pick one thing that you will do this week, in imitation of John the Baptist, to draw other people closer to God.

John the Baptist–our model in preparing for Jesus’ arrival

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Fourth Sunday of Advent 12/21/14

Even before he was born, John the Baptist knew that Jesus was something special. When both women were pregnant, Jesus’ mother Mary visited John’s mother Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:41a)

When you notice Jesus’ presence in your holiday preparations and celebrations, don’t be afraid to leap or sing or dance for joy. It truly is amazing that God came into our world as one of us and continues to make his presence known in our lives. Let’s celebrate!

John later paved the way for Jesus’ ministry, prompting people to repent, preparing them to receive Jesus’ teachings.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert; ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ “

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed. “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.’ “

Mark 1:2-8

What can we learn from John about preparing the way for Jesus? Reflect on the questions below while you listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuUl522_8jQ

-John lived simply. Because he didn’t worry about having a nice house, fancy food or stylish clothing, he was able to keep his whole life focused on Jesus. Is there something you can simplify in your holiday celebrations this year, that will allow you to focus more on Jesus? 

-John was humble. He didn’t see himself as better than others. He didn’t try to lift himself up. Instead he lifted Jesus up. When you bake cookies, host parties, send card and give gifts, what is your real motivation? Are you trying to impress other people; to make yourself look good? Or are you trying to point people to Jesus?

-John brought out the best in the people around him. When you gather with family and friends for Christmas, are you looking for the best in those people? Who are you most dreading spending time with this holiday? Write down five things you appreciate about that person. Share at least one of those things with that person.