Jesus is not ashamed of Us

He purifies people from their sins, and both he and those who are made pure all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family. [Hebrews 2:11 HCSB]

I have found the purification from sin to be an ongoing process. We have been purified. We are being purified. And we will be purified. It is a process of transforming maturation. Each time we follow the Holy Spirit's lead He purifies us a bit more. With each step of faith we become more like Jesus.

Disobedience brings shame. We sin and feel the shame of how our actions impact those around us. Shame is a powerful dynamic in life. Yet when God looks at us he sees past our shame. Past our sin. He sees us as saints purified from shameful deeds. Jesus sees us as spiritual brothers and sisters.

In like manner it is our obligation to see ourselves and those in our spiritual family with the eyes of Christ. We must resist the urge to identify our spiritual brothers and sisters as 'sinners'. They are, like us, in a process of purification. We must not be ashamed of these saints of God.

Forgive me Lord for all of the times that I cast shame on your children.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Entered into our Suffering

He is wearing a crown of glory and honor because he suffered and died. [Hebrews 2:9 NCV]

In every sense Jesus entered into the suffering of all of humanity when he was born of the virgin. He suffered things like bruises. Disappointments. Sadness. Grief. Everything that we suffer he suffered in some form. On top of that he suffered by exchanging an eternal existence for a temporal one.

The incarnation is something that no one can understand because the experience uniquely belongs to Jesus. Yet it is safe to speculate that Jesus must have felt confined by a space and time that he created. Some think that it would be like one of us deciding to live and die as an ant.

Both the incarnation and the crucifixion gives us examples of what it means to enter into the suffering of another. These provide us with a spiritual road-map. Will we, like Jesus, choose to enter into the suffering of others or will we choose to keep a 'safe distance' from those who need us the most?

I am selfish Lord. I only think of myself. Help me to deny myself. To really love.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

distributed according to His will

God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [Hebrews 2:2,4 NET]

The subject of miracles and spiritual gifts is one that has been debated for many years. Some believe that such things ceased when the canon of scripture was completed. Others see miracles in the ordinary events of life like the birth of a baby. Most of us pray for them when we are in impossible times.

My views on these things have changed over the years. I still believe in miracles but think they are rare. In contrast I do not think that spiritual gifts are all that rare. Especially if we are open to to seeing such gifts with new eyes. I have often sensed the Holy Spirit working in the oddest ways.

I have felt the presence of God. That oneness with Him has changed me. It has given me eyes of compassion and words of encouragement. I have felt my heart break for a friend in marital troubles or one with a cancer diagnosis. These transformative things seem to be a part of his will for me.

Forgive me Lord for wanting what you give more than what you are. Fill me afresh.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

an Antidote for Spiritual Drifting

We must give our full attention to what we were told, so that we won’t drift away. [Hebrews 2:1 CEV]

The spiritual walk is an intentional effort. It requires our full attention and engagement. No one has ever drifted to their workplace or arrived by accident to their desired destination. The spiritual life is a disciplined journey. Consider what the apostle Paul writes to Timothy:
"discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things ... for the present life and also for the life to come."
Spiritual disciple does to our heart what physical training does to the body. By taking in good things we nourish our heart. By doing good things we exercise our heart. As in the physical these things take time and effort. No one grows or gets strong over night. It is why need to be spiritually disciplined.

Help us Lord to develop disciplines that grow and strengthen our inner being.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the Prostrating posture of Worship

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” [Hebrews 1:6 NIV]

Worship is a fascinating concept. In modern times the concept has become one of song, jubilation and praising with our voices. In this verse the Greek word proskynéō is rendered 'worship' by most translators. It can also be translated: "to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior".

Mostly, I think that we have lost the concept of prostrating ourselves before God. My sense is that the word conveys meanings like submission and humility. There is a reverential posture that is communicated when we read about someone prostrating before God. There is also a sense of prayer in it.

That said, I think that the word may communicate too much of a physical perspective. Many who prostrate the body have not done so with their heart. In truth worship is always always always a matter of the heart. Prostrating our heart to His. Bowing our will to His. Worship is so much more than music.

Lord. We come. We bow. Let your kingdom come in us. Let your will be done.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

a Creator of creators

In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth [Hebrews 1:10 NIV]

What comes to your mind when you hear the word foundation? I think of a house being built. Everything rests on the foundation. Jesus speaks of this idea when he compares building our lives on either the rock of his words or on the shifting sands of own ways. The foundation is the most important part of a structure.

Yet the foundation is not the whole thing. Isn't it interesting that God lays a foundation and we build on it? This speaks to me of a divine imagination. Surely God could have done more than lay the building blocks of creation. Yet he chose to involve us in the creation of offspring and other parts of his earth.

That said, this may not resonate with some who imagine God to be doing more than building foundations. Some imagine God to be in control of every part of the building process. These do not see the wonder of creation that I do. I mean really, is it not wonderful to see God as a Creator of creators.

I want to build on divine foundations Lord. Inspire me to create new things.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Do angels serve because they love?

In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? [Hebrews 1:7,14 NIV]

What goes through your mind when you hear the word angel? Perhaps you think of images from a movie or from the bible? Have you ever considered that angels can take on different forms? The word angel can also be translated messenger. It seems logical that such messengers could appear in human form.

Is it not interesting that angels are referred to as servants? Not surprising to me that these spiritual beings serve God. Yet the idea that they serve believers is quite wonderful. All things seem to be created to serve. In some sense service is a thread that runs through all of creation. Serving is love in action.

A thought comes to me that I have never had before. I wonder if the angels serve because they love? Are there angels who do what they do because they love us? Is their ministry to us simply an expression of their love? In serving are they not providing us with a heavenly example of what it means to love? I think so.

Teach us Lord to connect the dots between loving and serving.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

You are my Son

For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus:
     “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”  [Hebrews 1:5 NLT]

I love what theologian John Gill says about this verse: "Christ is the Son of God, not by Creation, nor by adoption, nor by office, but by nature". Unlike the angels, Jesus existed before anything was created. He laid aside such an existence when he was born. Even in that he showed us the humble nature of God.

The gospel accounts testify of this nature. With each step he took. With every word he spoke. Jesus testified of the true nature of his Father. When tested by religious experts he showed a heavenly wisdom. He taught us the nature of love as he embraced the leper and healed the sick. He was God incarnate.

And with his last breaths he revealed the true nature of God. He forgave. He encouraged. And he endured. He never gave up. He revealed to us what it is like to be God's child. So with this in mind, I invite you to live fully into your inheritance. To live in such a way that God's nature is revealed to others.

Teach us Lord to walk in such a way that your nature is manifested in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

Elevated above the Angels

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is
elevated above theirs. [Hebrews 1:4 VOICE]

The One who the angels proclaimed is greater than the angels. This is the central focus of the remainder of this chapter. In the following verses the writer alludes to the idea that the Son is God himself. It is in this context that the Son is greater. In a sense only the Creator can ever be greater than the created.

In truth there are but two distinctions: Creator and created. Yet humans tend to rank our existence based on lineage or rank. It seems to be important to some to feel superior to others. This is temporal thinking. It does not recognize the common fate of all things. Death levels the playing field. It comes to each being.

So the question is this. Will we, the created, accept the rule of the Creator or will we rebuff his reign? Will we acknowledge His holy name or will we proclaim our names above his? It is a simple concept but one that is difficult to live out. We often forget who we are. We forget that the Creator has created us to love.

Remind us again Lord that we are wonderfully made to love and serve you and your creation.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

He Sat Down

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [Hebrews 1:3 ESV]

The Mosaic Law contained a set of rules that dealt with the types of animal sacrifices that were required to deal with sins. These sacrifices were done on a continual basis in Jerusalem even in the days of Christ. Sacrifices were a large focus of Judaism and every Jew was compelled to participate.

In a sense sin, and the need for purification, was always before a believer. In contrast these verses speak to a different type of cleansing. When we read "he sat down" we understand that another sacrifice is not needed. On the cross Jesus eliminated the need for sacrifice because sin was dealt with in full.

Yet even today there is a sin consciousness that is prevalent amongst Christians. These identify more as ones sinning than ones forgiven. At every turn they seem to be reminded of their failings and shortcomings. These have never discovered the truth that Jesus has purified us from our sins.

We give thanks to you Lord for the finished work of your son on the cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

the exact representation of His nature

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. [Hebrews 1:1-3 NASB]

I think that a book written to Hebrews by a Christian writer would first have to speak of things contained in the Old Testament. Such a text would need to address how, in light of messianic revelation, one should read the Hebrew scriptures. And whether a Hebrew is obligated to obey Mosaic Law?

In these first few verses the writer seems to make a contrast between things written by men moved by God and things expressed by the exact representation of God. He seems to indicate that things "spoken to us in His Son" carry a greater weight than things spoken by the prophets. I find this helpful.

The "Red Letter Christian" phenomenon is a reflection of such thinking. That approach helps me to discern spiritual truth when I read the Old Testament. As I read I filter the text through the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. This method has helped me to process and understand many things written there.

Teach us Lord to process everything that we read, hear and see through Jesus.

... this devotion is part of a series about the book of Hebrews.

She bent over to look into the tomb ...

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb ... Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. -John 20:11,15-17 NRSV

I so love this exchange between Mary and Jesus. The transition from tears to joy speaks so deeply to me about the transformative power of the resurrection. Isn't it so interesting how Mary did not pay too much attention to this guy? It was unimaginable that this "gardener" could be the one she followed for many years.

Then he spoke her name and everything changed. Gardner became Teacher! Death became Life. Sorrow became Joy! I can see her rushing to him with a holy embrace. Such is the impact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believing that Jesus is alive gives us a holy hope that we will live with him forever.

Dear Lord Jesus. Because you live we live too. Because of the resurrection our fear of death is gone.

... this devotion is part of an ongoing series on the Gospel of John.

The Weekend that Changed My Life

April is an awesome time of the year for me - it is the time that I remember that Easter weekend in 1976 when I gave my heart to Jesus. My journey to that weekend started in April 1972 when my new bride (we were married the previous June) Ellen came home from a visit to an ophthalmologist with bad news – he told her that the retinas in both eyes were hemorrhaging and she would be blind within a month. The next 3 years were painful years ... visits to eye hospitals ... failed laser surgeries ... losing hope about life as I watched as my beautiful perky wife retreated into painful despair. Several years later hope was returning ... Ellen was seeing in shades of gray ... she could somewhat function with a powerful magnifying glass. Then hope was crushed on a Sunday in November 1974 when Ellen awoke with dark spots in her eyes ... before the day was out everything was black again ... I was devastated!

The days were dark again ... sadness and despair ruled the day ... I medicated with beer and bourbon. Then something changed – I transferred to Houston Texas from Newark New Jersey in February 1975 ... Ellen and I moved in March. Within a week of moving to our new house Marvale, a neighbor, knocked on the door ... Ellen answered the door and Marvale knew instantly why they had move to Houston ... you see she and her husband Jerry (with their 2 children) were packing their moving van in Oklahoma that same Sunday that Ellen’s eyes were hemorrhaging ... they had no clue why they were being transferred to Houston ... but God knew and when she met Ellen Marvale also knew. A friendship began to grow with our new neighbors ... Jerry tried to talk to me about Jesus but I would have nothing to do with religion or God ... my wounds went deep.

On a Sunday in August 1975 Ellen capitulated to Marvale’s invitation to come to church ... after all I had to work that day and couldn't go ... and went to church with her and her family. The pastor did something different that morning ... before he gave his sermon he asked if anyone would like to invite Jesus into their heart ...Ellen’s hand shot up ... she was the only one and the pastor decided to speak to her after the service. He proceeded to give his sermon and asked people to turn to a bible passage ... as Marvale opened her bible Ellen looked down and pointed to the scrpture ... she saw the words of the scripture ... and could read the very small print ... she could not believe what had happened ... she could now see out of her left eye ... simply miraculous!

That evening I returned home from work to this wild and thoroughly unbelievable story and ... being a very wounded and skeptical man ... I shrugged it off as a part of the weirdness of our lives. A week later the reality of the miracle hit me in the face ... I came home to the news that Ellen had ... for the first time in over 3 years ... got her drivers license ... I was shocked and could no longer stay in denial of what had happened to her ... she had passed the eye exam. At her insistence we started going to the church where she accepted Jesus ... what a weird place ... people smiled and seemed to enjoy church ... there were no hymnals ... they didn’t kneel ... it made me feel quite uncomfortable. I quickly took control and announced that we would begin attending an Episcopal Church ... the denomination that I grew up in. Ellen acquiesced and we began a journey that encompassed several churches and many Full Gospel Businessmen’s meetings. I was beginning to see that faith was more than a religion ... I started to be lovingly ... and sometimes not so lovingly confronted ... with the scriptures.

On a weeknight in the fall of 1975 Ellen interrupted my TV time with a few questions ... ones that would impact me for the rest of my life. She started with “Do you believe in the bible?” I replied sarcastically “Of course I do ... Episcopalians believe in the bible.” ... I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me ... my religion was just as good as hers. She asked another question: “Do you believe in evolution?” I said “Of course I do ... it is science.” Then she said something that rocked me – “Then you don’t believe in the bible”. Of course being a New Yorker I had to say something, so I retorted “I don’t know about all that but whatever the Episcopalians believe is what I believe.” I had no clue what the bible said because I had never read it and for some reason this bothered me.

As the months passed I watched Ellen become stronger ... we would argue ... I would win but didn’t really feel that I had won. She was being transformed into something beautiful. Then Good Friday 1976 came ... by now we were watching the 700 Club almost every night ... I was often moved by testimonies of healings and miracles. That Friday night Pat Robertson invited us to take communion with him ... we used a hamburger bun and apple juice ... it was so moving ... my heart was touched and broken. The next night we attended a Full Gospel Businessmen’s convention with Jerry and Marvale ... a medical doctor spoke ... the message was endearing ... then came an altar call for healing ... Ellen still struggled with diabetes and went forward for prayer. As I watched her go forward my heart broke once again and I closed my eyes and prayed my first real prayer. I began to pray by saying “God if you will heal my wife I will stop drinking” ... as I spoke a presence came over me ... I became aware that I was a sinner ... I felt dirty on the inside ... I changed my prayer and told the Lord I would give up the booze because it was what he wanted me to do ... I didn't really know it but I was surrendering my heart to Him. A minute later I opened my eyes and there was Jerry standing in front of me – he told me that the speaker was praying for people and asked me to go down with him. I went down and the man put his hand on my head and blessed me ... that was it ... I thought that nothing had happened ... that is until the next day.

The next day was Easter and we went to church in the evening with our neighbors ... no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart the night before ... I didn’t plan to tell anyone. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston ... I was caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then ... shock of all shocks ... I came to the realization that I was no longer singing in English … I was totally freaked out ... I tried to rationalize but I couldn’t – God had met me, given me a spiritual gift and assured me that I was His ... powerful transformation was beginning ... it was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life ... a ride with my friend Jesus

It has been fun remembering and writing about that season of my life some 30 years ago ... a sweet memory that I will celebrate this week as I remember Jesus’ week of passion ... a week that started with praises ... continued with betrayal, denials and death ... and ended with miraculous resurrection. What a difference between Good Friday and Easter ... back then and back in April 1976.

... first posted on April 7, 2006

He saw the Joy

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. [Hebrews 12:2 GW]

The spikes ripped through his hands and his feet. The pain was excruciating. The shame unbearable. Every part of his body shook with agony. Thoughts of despair captured his mind. He was fully human and experienced torture as one of us. Yet he saw the joy beyond the cross. He saw resurrection.

Unlike the thieves who flanked him on each side, Jesus transcended pain. And shame. And agony. And despair. These things could not lay hold of him. As he hung on the cross he forgave. He blessed. He gave us an example to follow in difficult times. His inner eyes were fixed on a resurrection from death.

Jesus turned evil inside out that first Good Friday. He had an inner vision of joy that caused him to endure death. Overcome shame. Perhaps this vision of joy could do the same for us in hard times? Maybe life is all about embracing joy? And in the end, seeing joy is all about seeing our resurrection.

Dear Jesus. Help us to embrace the joy that is ahead of us when we endure hard times.

... this devotion is part of a series on the book of Hebrews.

Unbearable Sorrow

I want to share a bit on a topic that has been on my mind since I read a post that my friend Jill Hollis wrote about her gut-wrenching battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Here is an excerpt from her post:

"I believe that this life is full of the unbearable. Often unimaginable heartbreaking pain and suffering."

Reminds me of this line from The Impossible Dream, that beautiful anthem from Man of La Mancha:

"To bear with unbearable sorrow. And to run where the brave dare not go"

The words take me back to that Intensive Care Unit where I, along with my two young children, watched my first wife breathe her last breaths. Sometimes our sorrow is so unbearable. Often life presents us with seemingly impossible circumstances. And sometimes it feels like God is not there.

But on that occasion. As Ellen was slipping off to a new life. A nurse walked in and asked if she could sing Amazing Grace. Ellen's favorite song. With tears rolling down our faces we witnessed the passing of our beloved wife and mom. The song made our sorrow a bit more bearable.

I don't really have any answers to the question of intense sorrow other than to say that life is often riddled with pain and suffering. But I think that in the midst of our pain God sometimes reveals Himself in unusual ways. I think of this verse from the book of Hebrews that speaks of angels:

"Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"

The word Greek word translated "angel" is sometimes translated "messenger". Perhaps that nurse with the beautiful voice was one of those messengers? Perhaps one of the purposes of angels, be they heavenly or earthly, is to help us bear the unbearable? Perhaps the admonition to bear one another's burdens or sorrows is a primary reason for our existence? Perhaps sorrow is unbearable without angels?

Thank you Lord for the angels in our lives.

- originally posted in September 2009

A Criminal’s Death

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 NLT]

These words break me and inspire me. When I compare my attitude to that of Jesus I find myself severely lacking. It is impossible for us to comprehend what it was like for Christ to lay aside eternity and enter a finite existence. It has been compared to a human being being born as an ant, living as an ant and giving their life so that other ants might live. Yet even that scenario comes up short.

The phrase "he took the humble position of a slave" teaches us what real humility looks like. It is hard for many of us in America to understand what it is like to be a slave. Yet how many of us have worked in jobs that we hated or have suffered in abusive relationships. These images begin to describe the humility of Christ Jesus as he walked amongst us and was lastly condemned to a cruel death.

Who among us would voluntarily die a torturous death for someone else? A fate reserved for criminals and those despised by "civil" people. I find it ironic that the people who should have known better, both religious and secular leaders, acted like criminals in the ways that they treated Jesus. Such is the path of the proud. Yet, in contrast, the humble road always causes us to pick up our cross. How could it not?

Dear Lord. Teach us to walk as slaves. Help us to deny ourselves and pick up our cross.

... this devotion is part of a series about the writings of Paul..

It is Finished!

He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. [John 19:30 NASB]

The words “It is finished” are translated from one Greek word: “tetelestai”. The word is an accounting term used in Jesus' times to indicate something that was “Paid in Full”. When I consider this aspect of the cross I think of the word redemption. Jesus death redeemed us and paid our debt in full.

The idea of being redeemed speaks of a debt that was owed and is now forgiven, or paid in full. It reminds me of a phrase in the Lord's prayer that is often translated "forgive us our debts". It begs the question: "What was the human debt that was forgiven on the cross?" I think that this debt is the one we have to love both our creator and his creation. We are created to love and we trespass when we do not love.

Some see this word, “tetelestai”, from an accountant's transnational perspective. I think that we miss the message when we reduce it to those terms. Jesus' death was the ultimate act of love. As his divine blood flowed down from the cross he was showing us how to love. He was showing us what love really looks like. When he died his mission of love was finished. Our debt of love was paid in full by his redeeming love.

Lord help me to love as I remember the price love paid for my redemption.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Has there ever been a more surreal death in all of history? Lean into this with me if you can. For hours, in the middle of the day, darkness reigned over the earth. The atmosphere was tenuous and people were certainly on edge. Then from the cross a scream penetrated the darkness. It was God's own son crying out with words of being forsaken. Oh my! Small wonder that some thought he was calling out for Elijah. Who would have ever thought the Messiah, the son of God, would feel forsaken and say such a thing.

This short statement so encourages me. Many times I have felt forsaken by God. When my first wife died at 43 my soul cried out with words too painful to say out loud. In hospital rooms and rehab facilities I have felt so alone and forsaken. To know that Jesus experienced like feelings of being forsaken gives me courage to hope again. To know that my Lord knows what it is like to feel forsaken gives me renewed energy to pray. The son of God could have kept silent but broke the silence so that we would know that he understands us at the deepest of levels of our pain and despair. Who is like this Messiah? Who is like Jesus?

My God. My God. Thank you for suffering the pain of feeling forsaken.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

I Thirst

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

These words are the first that Jesus speaks to us that reminds us that he was fully human. So far he has spoken divine words of forgiveness, assurance and care to those around him. John, the gospel writer, seems to indicate that Jesus said “I thirst” to simply fulfill this Messianic prophecy from Psalm 69:
“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
His statement caused wine vinegar to be given to him thereby fulfilling the prophecy. Yet, I think that the message from these words is much deeper than a mechanical fulfillment of prophecy. In these words we see into his sufferings and get a glimpse into the normalcy of his death. Like so many others who have died Jesus body suffers dehydration and he becomes thirsty as his body enters it's final stages.

These final words remind us also that Jesus is the giver of living water and his blood is representative of what we remember when we drink of the cup at communion. His words also remind us that he calls all who thirst spiritually to follow after him. He is the only one who can satisfy us and quench our soul. He is the only one who has suffered and died to do so.

My soul thirsts and aches after you Lord. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Behold, your son! ... Behold, your mother!

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in all of the hoopla that is surrounding Jesus as he suffers on the cross and forget that one is watching him with a broken heart. What would it have been like to have been Mary? Can you even imagine watching your son being treated in such a vile fashion? What a nightmarish experience this must have been for Mary as she watched her beloved son, who has done absolutely nothing wrong, be nailed to the cross. Words escape me as I try to come to grips with her feelings.

Yet another is also watching with a broken heart. John, the writer of the gospel, who describes himself as "the disciple whom he loved", is standing next to Jesus' mom. He too cannot believe what he is seeing. His soul has been pierced and hope seems so far. To these two hurting souls Jesus speaks sweet words calling them into a family relationship. With these words Christ is speaking to us about finding comfort in each other when life seems out of control. In a sense we are God's familial gifts to each other.

Lord, give me an open heart for your family. Help us to share our pain with each other.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Today you will be with me in Paradise

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Two condemned men are watching Jesus. These two are also nailed to crosses. Both have joined in with the crowd in their mocking of Christ. Both have heard Jesus pray and offer forgiveness to those who mock. To those who drove the nails. To those who gamble for his robe. One hears him forgive and continues to mock him - perhaps he saw forgiveness as a sign of weakness? Yet the other responds differently and rebukes the other thief. Two thieves. Two men dying. Two different reactions.

What follows is truly amazing. Nailed to a cross a thief cries out for the forgiveness that Jesus offered. The mocker has been transformed by Christ's words of forgiveness and now defends him to the other thief. And all the while Jesus is listening. Not only to what the man says but to the faith that comes from his heart. Then, in an amazing mix of boldness and desperation, the thief cries out to Jesus. And, oh my, Jesus' response to him is so unexpected. So amazing. So divine. As he is dying he offers hope to everyone.

I am in awe of your forgiveness Lord. Help me to forgive as I am forgiven.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

Father, forgive them, for they know not

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

The circus has begun and the folly of humanity is on trial.

While three men suffer in excruciating pain, the vilest acts in humanity come forth.
People stand by gawking.
Men gamble for the clothes of the suffering.
Religious leaders sneer and laugh with devilish glee.
Soldiers join in and pretend to offer to quench the thirst of the suffering.
The image painted here is one of utter darkness.

There does not seem to be any hope for the people watching these men die.

Then, from one of the crosses, a man speaks and light enters the darkness.

In a few words Jesus turns the circus into something beautiful.

Yes, the darkness is still there but something has changed.

The condemned Messiah has taken control of the atmosphere.

With one sentence he proclaims that FORGIVENESS REIGNS!!

I can hardly take it in. Mockers are forgiven. Gamblers forgiven. Thieves forgiven. Murderers forgiven.

Hallelujah! In utter pain and desolation God the Son reigns from the cross.

The extent of your forgiveness amazes me Lord. Help me to always forgive.

... this devotion is on the last words of Christ.

the Violent take it by Force

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,
and the violent take it by force. [Matthew 11:12 ESV]

Things changed when John appeared preaching. His ministry was unconventional and not commissioned or sanctioned by the religious leaders. He did not look or act like one of those leaders. He preached outside of town instead of in a synagogue. Yet the heavenly kingdom began to advance. With passion.

The Greek word biastés, translated here as "the violent", can also be rendered "one who is eager in pursuit". That captures for me the essence of what Jesus is saying in this verse. People were being transformed by John's ministry. Instead of observers they were becoming people in eager pursuit of God.

Lord, we ask today for a divine eagerness that would compel us in our service to you and your world.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Thy Face. Thy Way.

For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [Matthew 11:10 KJV]

The Greek translation of "thy face" is "the face of you" and "thy way" is actually "the way of you". I want you to stop for a moment and think about those two phrases. Is it possible for one to really know the way of God if one is not familiar with the face of God? Consider what King David writes in Psalm 27 verse 8.
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek.
To seek the face of God is to seek the heart of God. To know the way of God we must first know his heart. Knowing the way or will of God is a somewhat natural result of knowing the heart of God. In that sense, the Baptist's mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, the incarnate face and heart of God.

Stop again. Consider what you just read. Jesus is the full expression of the face and heart of God. If you desire to know what God is like, the you must study the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus. John the Baptist pointed to him. The gospel writers testify of him. To know Jesus is to know the heart of God.

Our desire dear Lord is to know your face. Your heart. Your way. Your messiah.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

More than a Prophet

Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. [Matthew 11:9 NLT]

What do you think Jesus meant when he called John "more than a prophet"? In the following verse he identifies John as the prophesied messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. So is that what made John something more than a prophet? What makes someone more than their gift or calling?

It is difficult to know for sure that John was "more" because he was the messianic forerunner. Could Jesus have thought that John was more than his ministry? More than his gift? Could it be that Jesus thought of John first as his friend? Could it be that Jesus was referring to who John was rather than what he did?

I can relate to identifying with a spiritual gift or professional role. Sometimes words like pastor or prophet cause us to walk in strange ways. Religious titles can cause us to be proud modern day Pharisees. Not so with John. He was more than a prophet because he was more than his job description.

Help us Lord to identify more with being your friend and your child than being your minister.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

What did you go out into the wilderness to see?

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? ... A man dressed in fine clothes? ... A prophet?" [Matthew 11:7-9 NIV]

Sometimes the questions that Jesus asks are more revealing than his answers. In these question he hits on three expectations than we all have of our religious leaders. We want them to be relevant, adapting to the times. We want them to look good. And most of all we desire them to be a man or woman of God.

Expectations often blind us to understanding God's will. The Baptist was not swayed by religious tradition. He looked more like a wild man than a preacher. Yet, to those who came hungry for God, he was a prophet. Those who heard his preaching were moved by the Holy Spirit. Others rejected him and God's will.

This last group reminds me of me in my younger years. I held a fairly rigid view of what it meant to be a leader. I did want a relevant and externally presentable man of God. Yet the thing that ensnared me the most was what it meant to be a man of God. Years later my eyes opened to what that phrase meant.

Lord, give us discernment regarding the leaders that we choose to follow and listen to.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Answers for a Man in Prison

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” [Matthew 11:3-6 NIV]

At first glance Jesus' answer to John the Baptist is a bit confusing and a tad harsh. On the surface John seems to be asking Jesus if he is really the Messiah. It is a reasonable question for a man in prison to ask. After all, was it not prophesied by Isaiah that the Messiah would set those in prison free?

Jesus' answer is twofold. He first answers the external question. I am doing things commensurate with Messianic ministry. Jesus then goes deeper. He focuses on the heart of John's question. He tells John that he is not going to rescue him. Then proceeds to counsel him saying that he is in danger of stumbling.

Jesus advice is so appropriate for people who are suffering. It is so easy to stumble spiritually when our prayers are not answered. And sadly, the stumble often leads to a rejection of God. Yet there is a blessing for those who persevere in faith in hard times. These are the ones who emerge with a refined faith.

Help us Lord to not stumble over unanswered prayers.
Teach us to allow suffering to refine, and not destroy, our faith.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Questions from Prison

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing.
So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting,
or should we keep looking for someone else?” [Matthew 11:2-3 NLT]

This passage is a heart breaking one. Yet it so reflects the reality that so many experience in dark times. Bad things happen. Sincere followers of Christ find themselves in places they thought they would never be. John was in such a place. Obeying God landed John in Herod's prison. Where was God in this?

In a sense this is the question that John was asking. How can it be that John found himself in prison? His question to Jesus had everything to do about the messianic promise to set the captives free. Why, oh why, was John languishing in jail? Why did Messiah Jesus not come to set him free from his shackles?

Many of us feel John's pain. Many of us have asked similar questions from our own prisons. In dark times we struggle as to why God is not answering our prayers. We wonder whether his promises are true. In times like these it is helpful to remember that divine deliverance is mainly spiritual in nature.

Thank you for your presence with us in our darkest moments Lord.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
       Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 NLT]

Many religious images arise when one hears the phrase "Lamb of God". Old Testament sacrifices used lambs as sin offerings. Some see Jesus in that light. I am not one of those people. I think it a bit more accurate to see Jesus as the lamb used at Passover to deliver the Jews from death.

Jesus seemed to allude to this when he shared a last supper with his disciples. During that meal he compared his body and blood with the Passover lamb as he spoke about eating his body and drinking his blood. The imagery speaks deeply of how sin is defeated and taken away as we are united to Jesus.

Thank you Lord that you have delivered, are delivering and will deliver me from sin.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Unending Life

The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life,
but God’s wrath remains on him. [John 3:36 NET]

aiónios. As in this verse, this Greek word often translated 'eternal'. I like that rendering. Yet I think that 'unending' captures the meaning of the word a bit better. Only God is eternal. He has no beginning or end. We step into the life of God when we are spiritually born. In that sense our life becomes unending.

In contrast, the one who rejects Jesus does not have life unending because they have nothing in them that survives death. These go the way of all earthly creation. These return to the earth. Yet those who believe have something unending in them. Their bodies return to the earth but their spirits ascend to heaven.

Yet there are those who embrace the concept of the innate immortality of the human soul. These feel that all humans have unending life. Some of them think that all go to heaven while some see others surviving death to live unendingly in hell. I disagree with both. Unending life comes from believing in the Son. We are not born with unending or immortal life. Our lives become immortal when we are spiritually born.

Be Thou my vision Lord. May your beauty continue to captivate my heart from this life to the next.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Everything is in His Hands

The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. [John 3:35 NLT]

What do you think it means for everything to be in the hands of the Son? Some think it describes a Messiah that is in control of everything. Others see it more as a reference to the redemptive force of the Messiah. I tend to see it more as the latter. The ministry of redemption is a major messianic theme.

I love that God is able to take our sins and mistakes and turn them into something beautiful. His hands are those of a divine potter. Molding us. Shaping us. Adding holy water to our hard clay. Bringing beauty from lumps of clay. It is a beautiful image of what is means to be in the strong hands of the Son.

Help us to sense your hands of love Lord. Cause us to rest as you mold us into beautiful people.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

the Spirit without Measure

    For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God;
    for He gives the Spirit without measure. [John 3:34 NASB]

I have often heard it taught that only Jesus had the Spirit without measure. The idea comes from this verse by folks who believe that the second "He" is referring to the Father. Yet how would we read that verse if we believed the second "He" referred to Jesus. It would mean something very different.

I think that the Baptist may have understood that Jesus is the Giver and we are the receivers. It makes sense. God gives without limit. His measure, like his love, has no boundary. There is nothing we need that He will not give. He has given the Spirit to each of us without measure. Praise the Lord.

Teach me Lord to walk in a way that displays your Spirit without measure in my life.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Messianic Testimony

Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. [John 3:33 NLT]

I wonder what the Baptist meant when he said "his testimony"? The Greek word μαρτυρία can be translated as witness, evidence, testimony or reputation. Later on in his gospel John quotes Jesus saying:
“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 NLT]
The religious leaders rejected his testimony at every turn. In reality Jesus often testified about himself claiming to be one with God. His life and ministry were a witness to the nature and character of God.

Yet even today many reject the witness of the Messiah. They find no evidence that Jesus was who he said he was. They discount his reputation. These, like the religious leaders of old, refuse to accept the testimony of Christ and those who have been changed by his testimony. In doing so they reject God.

We accept your testimony dear Lord. We affirm that you are true.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

He testifies about what he has seen and heard ...

He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! [John 3:32 NLT]

I often say that I am a Red Letter Christian. I think the words that Jesus spoke (i.e. the red letters) carry more weight than others in the bible. As the Baptist speaks here, Jesus has a greater knowledge than religious scholars and theologians because his testimony comes from his heavenly life before this life.

Misunderstanding this idea, many put the words of Paul, James or Peter on the same level as the words of Christ. Some do the same with Old Testament writings. It is why so many did not see Jesus as the Messiah. How so few believed what Christ told them. Yet some did believe his testimony and were transformed.

The challenge remains for us today. Will we read the scriptures through the testimony of Jesus or will we see his words through the filter of what others say about Jesus. When we read the bible, will we consider the life, teachings and ministry of the One who has seen and heard things in heaven? Or something else?

Open our ears to hear your testimony in our hearts Lord. And our inner eyes to see heavenly things.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

He has come from Above

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. “He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. [John 3:30-31 NLT]

I think that John the Baptist heard the incarnational story all of his life. From his mom and from his second cousin Mary. The tale of how the angel visited Mary and told her of a son that would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. And how John leapt in his mom's womb when a pregnant Mary visited their home.

From early on John knew who Jesus was. He knew that cousin was a hybrid. Part earthly. Part heavenly. John believed the story and accepted his role in it. It is why he lived simply. Why he preached repentance. Why he baptized. He humbly became less so that the One from above would become more.

With John I agree Lord. You must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

the Bridegroom’s friend

It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:29-30 NLT]

John's description of his ministry as an usher or a best man at a good friend's wedding paints a beautiful picture. The wedding is never about the groom's, or the bride's, attendants. In a sense these roles only exist to serve the betrothed couple in their union. So it was with John and his forerunning ministry.

The picture painted, in these verses and many others, is what it means to be a minister of the gospel. In fact the image can be used to represent any sincere follower of Christ. The picture is one of love and humility. Of becoming less. Of serving a divine Friend. Of wanting His will, and His happiness, more than our own.

Teach us Lord what it means to decrease as you increase in our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

I am filled with joy at his success.

John’s disciples came to him and said ... the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us. ... John replied ... no one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven ... I am filled with joy at his success. [John 3:26-29 NLT]

I wonder what it was like for the Baptist and his disciples to see John's ministry wane after Jesus's baptism? These short verses give us a peek into how differently John and his disciples are processing the rise of Jesus' ministry. The disciples seem to be experiencing a sense of loss. Yet John is filled with Joy.

I seem to remember an adage that speaks of how one experiences loss says more about their character then how they experience gain. It is sometimes difficult to watch another succeed. In times like these our own insecurities are often brought to the surface. And sadness, instead of joy, takes hold of us.

I think that the secret to finding joy in such times involves seeing another's success as something given from heaven. In that light, a competitive spirit is quelled. And success, in ministry anyways, is seen as an opportunity for rejoicing. Even so, having this perspective is a matter of grace and humility.

Thank you Lord for the many opportunities that we have to rejoice with our friends in their successes.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.

The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” [Luke 3:10-11 NLT]

John speaks on several occasions of offering fruit of repentance. It bears noting that John's instruction is not a high minded call to attend worship services or to offer sacrifices at the temple. The evidence the Baptist wants is so practical in nature. Be generous with your clothing and your food. So elegantly simple.

In the ensuing verses he tells tax collectors to not illegally line their pockets with extra taxes. He tells others: “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.” The outcome that John wants is not the overthrowing of Roman occupation but of the sin that has held men captive.

Generally speaking, sinning and repenting are never private matters. Our sin affects our neighbors. Yet our repentance can affect them on an even greater scale. When we repent, our neighbors are clothed and fed by the generosity of repentance. And our communities are made better because of our repentance.

Teach us Lord to offer fruit of repentance that helps our neighbors and shows your love for them.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

He Existed Long Before Me

He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ [John 1:30 NLT]

John the Baptist was actually older than Jesus. Yet in this verse he speaks of the Messiah as one who existed before him. It is hard to know what was going through John's mind but it does seem that he embraced the idea that the Christ would be one who existed in some form before coming to earth.

Later in this gospel the apostle John records Jesus saying something similar when he spoke of existing before Abraham. There seemed to be an understanding that the Messiah was greater than a human being. There are other verses that teach this preexistence. It is hard to understand it with our brains.

Even so, it reminds of why so many follow Jesus Christ. He is more than a great teacher. Or insightful prophet. Or suffering savior. We follow Jesus because he alone can show us the Father. He alone knew the Father before his birth. In him we see what God is like because he existed long before us.

Open our eyes Father that we might see you in the life of the One existed long before us.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 NLT]

I wonder what the Jews thought when they heard the Baptist say these words? I think that the imagery is devastating. The Old Testament teaches us about the fate of spotless lambs. These innocent animals are killed on an altar to atone for sins. In that sense, the sacrifice of an innocent makes clean the guilty.

Our inclination is to associate the Lamb of God with the cross that Jesus died on. While that is certainly a good interpretation, I suggest to you that the entire life of Christ was a beautiful example of a living sacrifice. A life that cleansed the ones who heard his teaching and experienced his compassion.

The Apostle Paul admonished us to live such a life when he wrote to the Romans teaching them to offer their bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. The message lingers today. Our lives can have a cleansing effect on those who are broken and without hope. In that sense we are lambs that God can use to cleanse.

I offer myself anew to you today Lord. Use me to help people who are broken and hopeless.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

What right do you have to baptize?

Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” [John 1:24-25 NLT]

I go to a church where one needs to be ordained by the denomination to baptize. Many denominations have such sacramental requirements. These, like the Pharisees, often see baptism, and other religious rites, as ones that need to be done by people who are submitted to their authority.

While I understand the reasons that such groups think this way I simply disagree with their view. John was called by God to baptize. Neither he, Jesus nor any of the early disciples needed earthly permission to baptize. In like manner believers today, when called upon by God, should obey God rather than men.

In balance, I suggest to you that the authority of religious groups is not something to be taken lightly. Neither should the ministries of the Baptist or Jesus be used to excuse rebellious behaviors. Anything we do in the name of God should be done with much humility. Any authority we have is a gift from God.

Help us to be open to the opportunities before us Lord. Grant us the boldness and humility to obey you.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

I am not the Messiah.

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.” [John 1:19-20 NLT]

Luke tells us that "Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah." What was it about the Baptist that seemed messianic to so many? Surely he had a prophetic message and appearance. He preached a strong message of repentance and forgiveness. He stood up to both religious and civil leaders. He simply seemed messianic.

John seemed to fit the expectation. Yet he himself understood that he was the forerunner, not the Messiah. John knew who he was and who he was not. I love this about John. As one who has succumbed to visions of grandeur, I can testify of the humility required to defeat such delusions. And in his case, John showed tremendous humility as he watched his ministry decrease and the ministry of the Messiah increase.

I am prideful Lord. Teach me to defeat pride and walk humbly with you.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Children of Abraham

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. [Luke 3:8 NLT]

Later on in the scriptures Paul writes to the Galatians telling them that "the real children of Abraham are those who put their faith in God." Being a spiritually born person has never been about bloodlines. Never been about Christian denominations. Being a child of Abraham has always been about faith.

If history teaches us anything it instructs us that bad things are sometimes done by religious people. So it was back then with the religious leaders. Seeing these come for baptism John wants evidence that these folks have turned to God. In doing so he is teaching that baptism is an issue of faith not heritage.

Teach us Lord how to live as true children of Abraham. Teach us to walk by faith.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

a Voice from Heaven

One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” [Luke 3:21-22 NLT]

Can you imagine the look on the Baptist's face when he saw Jesus walking towards him? Matthew's gospel tells us that John was unwilling to baptize him. John's baptismal message did not seem to apply to Jesus. He had no sin to repent of. Yet in this moment Jesus was teaching us a deeper meaning of baptism.

As he arose from the waters Jesus heard the voice of the Father and experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. In this sense baptism is much more than an evidence of repentance or the receiving of forgiveness. As we open ourselves to the baptismal waters we also open ourselves to the heart of God.

In vulnerable moments such as this, God can come to us. Speak to us. Empower us. The deeper meaning of baptism is not about sin. Or repentance. Or water. The substance of baptism is that Christlike humility draws us closer to God. To a place where we identify as dearly loved children of God.

Lord help me to humble myself as you humbled yourself in baptism.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

greater than I am

John announced: Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. [Mark 1:7 NLT]

I think that the first step towards recognizing the Messiah is always a sense that there is One who is greater than you are. It is a simple but complex matter. Simple because it is a somewhat binary acknowledgement. Complex because one must often reject every messianic image that they ever had.

The Jews, John included, recognized that the Messiah would be a great leader. What they had difficulty doing is understanding the type of leader that he would be. Consequently many did not see Jesus as the Messiah. These who expected a warrior king could not accept a compassionate servant leader.

Help us Lord to see past what our eyes can see. Open up our inner eyes that we might see you.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

the Coming Wrath

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? [Luke 3:7 NLT]

The idea of a "coming wrath" seems to be one that persists to this day. Teachings about apocalyptic judgment on the earth are still fodder for books and movies. So why does John speak of the coming wrath. And why does he feel this message is necessary to prepare the way for the Messiah?

My first thought is that wrath is probably one of the most misunderstood words in religious circles. Images of a lightning bolt tossing Zeus comes to mind as people image a deity who is angry with humanity. This image seems far removed from the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) that the Baptist is announcing in the gospels.

The people of the Baptist's day, John included, were expecting a very different sort of Messiah. Many folks could not see Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting a warrior-like messiah. One who would execute the coming wrath on all who opposed God. These saw God more like Zeus than Jesus.

Help us Lord to understand that your message is love and not wrath.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

People should be Baptized

John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. [Luke 3:3 NLT]

Baptism. Is there a more controversial word in religious circles? Immersion. Pouring. Sprinkling. Sacrament. All polarizing words that are sometimes connected to the word and idea of baptism. Interesting that the focus in this verse is not on how people should be baptised but why they should be baptised.

I sometimes think of this way. The outer baptism should be the result of an inner baptism. Not the opposite. Yet in reality people are sometimes baptised externally who have had no inner baptism. The issue is spiritual. Not physical. People should be baptized as an evidence of an internal transformation.

When this verse speaks of baptism as a way "to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven", it is speaking of the inner transformation that caused these to turn to God in repentance. These who came to John had already been forgiven. Baptism was an evidence of it.

Dear Lord. Help me to remember my baptism. Show me ways that I can testify to the inner baptism.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

a Message from God

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. ... At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. [Luke 3:1,3 NLT]

Ever wonder why people responded so greatly to John's message? What was it about this message from God that attracted so many to it? I think that it might be related to the idea of simplicity. In a sense John was not telling people what they did not really know. Most people understand that they are sinful.

The message that John offered was a simple one. Repentance. Baptism. Forgiveness. There was no preaching or teaching about Mosaic Law. Just a simple call to turn to God. This call was not like the one that demanded that followers obey religious rules. It required only a desire to follow the Lord.

This simple message holds true even today. People understand that they are sinful and need forgiveness. It is so simple. Yet so difficult. Simple because God is willing. Difficult because we are unwilling. We are hesitant to let go of control. Reluctant to walk into the water. Afraid of what it means to follow God

Help us Lord to repent. To let go of control. To trust you, with all of our heart, with our lives.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Accepting Godly Wisdom

He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly. [Luke 1:17 NLT]

The prophetic word uttered by Malachi included turning "the hearts of children to their fathers." Perhaps the angelic word spoken by Gabriel omitted that part because of the natural reaction that kids have to parents who love them? It reminds me that that the kindness of God leads each of us to repentance.

In some sense, repentance is an act that follows the acceptance of godly wisdom. Sometimes we see this in reverse when the phrase "the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom" is used in the scriptures. To fear, or be in awe of, God is wisdom in and of itself. And this wisdom is not an end unto itself.

As John preached in the wilderness many accepted the wisdom of his words and repented of their rebelliousness towards God. As these traversed the baptismal waters of the Jordan they gained a new wisdom. A wisdom that turned their hearts to God and to each other.

Thank you Lord for the wisdom that you have given me. I confess my need for more wisdom.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

A Man with the Spirit and Power of Elijah

He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. [Luke 1:17 NLT]

What do you think of when you read about the angel Gabriel declaring that John the Baptist would be one with the spirit and power of Elijah? My first reaction is to think of how Elijah did amazing feats like calling down fire on an altar or parting the Jordan River. Yet John the Baptist did nothing like that.

So the issue, for me, is what did the angel mean. If not miraculous power then what kind of power is he referencing? I think he is speaking of prophetic power. The ability to speak God's words in the spirit of a prophet like Elijah. We see this in the ways that John confronted people in the gospel accounts.

John exercised prophetic power when he publicly criticized Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife Herodias. It reminds me of how the prophet Nathan confronted King David over his dealings with Bathsheba and her husband. In similar occasions John showed himself to be a powerful prophet.

Yet perhaps the best example is how John understood that his prophetic mission was primarily to point to the Messiah. At the outset he called Jesus the Lamb of God. He ministered separately but knew that his ministry would decrease as Jesus' ministry increased. In this he modeled powerful humility.

Help me Lord to be a man of the spirit and a man of power.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

He Will Turn Many to God

He will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. [Luke 1:16 NLT]

In these words spoken about John the Baptist, the Angel Gabriel could have said that John would turn many away from their sins. Instead, he phrased it differently. I love that he spoke about turning to God rather than turning from sin. This "turning to" is, to me, is the true and essential meaning of repentance.

Repentance is not the the turning over of a new leaf. It is not making a resolution to do, or not do, something. To repent is to turn to God. To accept, by the grace of God, His invitation to walk with Him. When I did that, when I turned to God in prayer, my life was changed and my world was turned upside down.

My relationship with God changed everything in my life and it still does. He is the spiritual air that I breathe and the hope that I have. My days are filled with conversations with him. I sense his presence in the mundane and in the sublime. I cannot imagine what my life would be without God in my life.

Cause us to turn to you Lord and to be filled with your Spirit as we turn.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

He will be filled with the Holy Spirit

He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. ... At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. [Luke 1:15,41]

There have been two visits to earth by the angel Gabriel. He first visits Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, foretelling the birth of his son John, the Baptist. Gabriel later visits the virgin, Mary, prophesying the birth of her son Jesus, the Messiah. These two visits are woven together as Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth.

What do you think it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Have you ever considered the idea that one can be filled with the Spirit before they are born? One thing that this passage seems to teach us is that this is not a 'normal' occurrence. This spiritual filling 'normally' happens after birth when one is born again.

Yet John's filling was different. The Baptist was filled in his mother's womb. In the presence of the unborn Messiah the "child leaped within her". And as he leapt, the way was being prepared for the coming of the Messiah. And in that sense, we begin our preparation when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit. Fill us that we might prepare your way in this time of Lent.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Great in the Eyes of the Lord

Many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. [Luke 1:14-15 NLT]

These words could have been spoken about Jesus. Yet they were spoken about John the Baptist, by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, to John's father. I wonder what was going through Zechariah's mind when he heard the angel speak these words? What did being "great in the eyes of the Lord" mean to him?

What do you think it means to be "great in the eyes of the Lord"? Jesus put it this way:
"I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." [Luke 7:28 NASB]
I believe that Jesus refers not to others but to himself as the one "who is least in the kingdom of God". He is the least because he is the servant of all. In these few words he describes what it means to be great in the eyes of the Lord. To be great one must be least. Put others first. Be a servant. Walk humbly.

Lord. I am proud. Help me to humble myself. Put others first. And follow your example in serving others.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!

It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
This messenger was John the Baptist. [Mark 1:1-4 NLT]

Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. A season of reflection, introspection and preparation. A good day to begin a series of devotions about John the Baptist. A transitional figure. A bridge between the old and the new. An elder cousin to the coming Messiah. A passionate preacher of change.

In difficult seasons of change it is helpful to know that times of transition are essential to God's plans in our lives. These times present us with opportunities to let go of the old and embrace the new. To clear the road of past obstacles. To prepare the way to find God in a new way in a new season.

Teach me Lord, to prepare the way for your coming. Help me to let go of the old and embrace the new.

... this devotion is part of a series about John the Baptist.

Grace Comes By Prayer

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I love this passage of scripture in the book of Hebrews. It says that we can present our prayers with confidence. What you may ask is what can we be confident of? The answer is simple. When we pray we can be confident that we will receive mercy and find grace to help us. Notice that it did not say that our prayers would always be answered the way we prayed them.. just that mercy and grace would be given.

I think that there is so little in life to be confident about.. people fail us.. our health fails.. and sometimes it feels that God has failed us. But this verse promises that we will receive mercy and grace when we pray - so what does this look like? It is a great question! It reminds me of Job and how different grace might have looked to him.

For some time Job and his friends were sitting around arguing about the calamities that had beset Job.. he lost all of his children.. he lost his health.. people were laughing at him.. and it seemed that grace was nowhere to be found. Then.. and this is an important then.. something happened.. God manifested Himself to Job and let him know that He had been listening in on the conversation with his friends.

God then proceeded to ask Job some very difficult questions.. to which Job confessed that he was ignorant and then proceeded to repent. After this God healed Job as he prayed for his friends. So.. I am wondering.. what did grace look like in this situation and when did mercy come? It reminds me of this passage:
So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:3-4)
I love how this speaks to what grace is all about.. how it says that because of God's mercy we are not judged.. how God is patient with us.. tolerant of our sins.. and kind to us even when we are unkind and judgmental. Perhaps this is the grace that we can be confident in? Perhaps this is the flavor of grace that will eventually help us.. and lead us to repentance

Perhaps.. for Job anyway.. grace came before he was healed and restored to health.. before his riches were replenished. Perhaps grace looked more like God sustaining Job and helping him to endure.. maybe grace came when he first prayed.. maybe Job just didn't understand the purpose of grace?

Very often we are oblivious to the presence of the grace that comes when we pray because we do not understand that a primary reason that grace is given is to help us to endure - we need grace to endure.. and grace comes by way of prayer. I know that in my own life I feel that I am caused to endure because of prayer.. my prayers and the prayers of others.

...originally posted December 2008