Tag Archives: John

MARK’S GOSPEL – GOD IS HERE!

GOD IS HERE!

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples Mark 1:12-1

How could Jesus be so sure of His message, “God is here?” He had seen it, felt it, heard it, tasted it, experienced it in the worst possible environment. He has been cushioned and cocooned in the Father’s presence for forty days; heat, cold, hunger, thirst, rocks, cliffs, scorpions, snakes, spiders, prowling wild beasts – any one of these could have taken Him out – and He had to trust, lean on, hold on to the Father until He was perfectly at peace in the midst of all this. He had to move from enduring to embracing and enjoying His wilderness experience because it meant total reliance on the Father.

This was Jesus’ first “Gethsemane” experience and it prepared Him to run the gauntlet of life out there in the jungle of humanity. He had to learn to recognise and rebuff every alien voice until only the Father’s voice was clearly recognisable. “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered…” (Hebrews 5:8).

Jesus was not proclaiming a theory: He was declaring a personal, powerful, practical reality. “God is here!” He was offering to His people the renewal of the experience as a “here and now” God. For 400 years they thought He had left them. Jesus wasn’t saying, “God is back.” He was saying, “God is here.” He was rekindling the awareness in them that God was always there, with them; but they had lost that awareness.

How can I offer that same awareness to people out there? And more so, to God’s people who struggle in their own “wilderness” experiences? First – I have to know it for myself, not just an intellectual assent to what is written in the Word, but a knowing that comes from leaning and listening to the one who is closer than my breath, the one who envelops me, surrounds me, saturates me and undergirds me until I am more sure and more secure in Him that in my own environment. I need my own wilderness. 6

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE- IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

“‘What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.

God’s Law and the Prophets climaxed in John; now it’s all kingdom of God – the glad news and compelling invitation to every man and woman.'” Luke 16:16.

What an important truth Jesus highlighted in this one statement, something that many of us believers do not seem to have grasped! Firstly, the Old Testament, with its dealings with Israel, is the indispensable foundation for understanding the entire message of the Bible. Many Christians believe that they can do away with it and read only the New Testament, but that’s foolish. It’s like reading a mystery story from the middle of the book.

Secondly, the Old Testament, important as it is, is not the whole story. God had a certain way of dealing with His people because they were His chosen vehicle through whom Messiah would come. His Law was the expression of His perfect nature. It was never intended to refashion His people into His image. It was intended to show them what He required and how impossible it was to live up to His standard by purely human effort.

Thirdly, God was developing a culture which would lay the foundation for understanding His entire recovery plan. All the rituals surrounding the sacrificial system, for example, were to prepare them to understand the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of His Son. The laws regarding clean and unclean would teach them the seriousness of sin, its contagious nature and the need for cleansing through a blood sacrifice.

The cultural practices surrounding courtship and marriage taught them how God was wooing them as His bride and preparing them for an eternal ‘marriage’ relationship of intimacy and oneness with them/ These and many more laws and practices laid the foundation for receiving and understanding the person and work of Jesus when He came.

Imagine for a moment if God had sent Jesus, unprepared for and unannounced, into a country like India with its myriad gods, or into a Muslim country with its rigid system of Sharia law. How would the people have received Him?

What Jesus was emphasizing was that His coming changed everything. All of the types and shadows of the Old Testament system were fulfilled in Him. He is the substance of which these things were the picture. John the Baptist was the cut-off point, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, because he was not gazing at Messiah from a distance but actually introducing Him to the world. Short as his ministry was, it brought into sharp focus everything the preceding prophets had foretold.

This is where many of God’s people have gone wrong. There is a blurring of the difference between the Old and New Covenants and hence, unbiblical ideas and practices are perpetuated through misunderstanding. Let me highlight just two.

Firstly, in our understanding of prayer. A movement has grown up around the world which functions mainly on Old Testament ideas. People are taught to do ‘prayer walks’ and ‘Jericho marches’, to ‘take authority’ over principalities and powers, to identify and pull down ‘altars’ and to ‘bind’ the devil and his demons wherever the ‘spirit of’ this or that is identified. The favourite one, of course, is the ‘Jezebel’ spirit.

A thorough search of the Book of Acts does not reveal any of these practices. Instead, there is a confidence in the power of the cross through which Jesus defeated the devil, publicly exposed and disgraced him, stripped him of his weapons and set people free from his deception. The simple proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and as Lord, and the command  to repent and turn to Him as the truth, set people free to begin a new life under a new Master in the kingdom of God.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is a case in point. Ephesus was the centre of the powerful idolatrous cult of Diana-worship. Paul’s preaching lost the silversmiths business, caused a riot and eventually transformed the city. The new believers brought their witchcraft paraphernalia and made a bonfire of it in the middle of the city. No prayer walking, no pulling down of altars, no taking authority over demons – just the simple proclamation of the Word transformed lives and destroyed the power of Diana.

Secondly, the way we understand ‘deliverance’ is faulty. Satan works through deception. His stance is that he has the power to control people, which is a lie. Neither God nor Satan have the power to control the will of man. We give power through whatever we believe. If we believe Satan’s lies, we open ourselves to his influence.

Satan’s source of power was exposed at the cross. Jesus showed the world that He did not have to respond to the worst that human beings could do to an innocent man by reacting in a sinful way. “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” 1 Peter 2:23, 24 (NIV).  

The way of ‘deliverance’ is the way of truth – expose Satan’s lies and replace them with truth. The need for deliverance implies that we are victims, needing to be rescued rather than people who need to take responsibility for what we think and believe. Confronting the devil is far less effective than helping the victim to accept responsibility for what he thinks, and to receive and believe the truth which renders the devil’s lies powerless and sends his demons packing. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8,9a (NIV).

So what was Jesus saying? The Old Testament era closed with the ministry of John. Jesus ushered in the new era of the kingdom of God. Everything changed when Messiah came. The power of the kingdom of God lies in the truth, embodied by Jesus and empowered by His Spirit and His Word. Now repent – change your mind and believe the good news that Jesus is in charge, no longer the devil!

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – PROPHET-KILLER

PROPHET-KILLER

“Herod, the ruler, heard of these goings on and didn’t know what to think. There were people saying John had come back from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, still others that some prophet of long ago had shown up. Herod said, ‘But I killed John – took off his head. So who is this that I keep hearing about?’ Curious, he looked for a chance to see Him in action.” Luke 9:7-9.

Who was this “ruler”, this Herod who admitted to being the murderer of the prophet John whom Jesus stated to be the greatest of all the prophets?

He was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, the one who both rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and was so afraid of a rival that he had all the baby boys in Bethlehem less than two years old put to death after Jesus was born. Herod Antipas was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and was prominent in the lives of both John and Jesus.

He divorced his Nabatean wife to marry the ex-wife of his brother Philip, and came under the scathing condemnation of John the Baptist for transgressing the marriage law of Leviticus 20:21. “If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity. They will be childless.”

At the instigation of his wife, Herodias, Herod imprisoned John and later had him beheaded after a drunken promise to Herodias’ daughter who had danced at his birthday party. No doubt his conscience bothered him when that he thought that Jesus was John returned from the dead. At the same time he knew this could not be true because he had been responsible for John’s death and had been handed John’s head on a platter.

Herod had an insatiable curiosity to see Jesus in action. It was not because he had any desire to follow him but because he was intrigued by the whole idea of a “miracle worker”. Probably, like many ancient rulers, he needed some form of entertainment to keep him amused – like the kings of mediaeval times who had minstrels and jesters to entertain them.

Herod was a thoroughly secular man. He appeared to have no interest in anything to do with his inner life. He was an opportunist – marrying only for political gain and divorcing when it suited him to make a better match. He was also spineless and very much under the thumb of Herodias, choosing to kill John to satisfy her thirst for revenge because of John’s accusation rather than doing the right thing.

During Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Pilate heard that Herod was in Jerusalem and sent Jesus to him rather than condemn Him himself, since Jesus was a Galilean and under Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod was not interested in Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He wanted Him to entertain him with miracles and, when Jesus refused, he abused Him and treated Him with contempt.

Jesus stated that He had come to bring division, even splitting families right down the middle. No one could be left indifferent to Him. It all depended on what was in their hearts. Those who thirsted to know God would recognise His true identity while others would be offended by His claims and His yoke.

It’s still the same today. God has promised: “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV), but there is a condition. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NIV).

Herod has no desire to know who Jesus was except to satisfy his curiosity and to his dying day he would never know. To the sincere seeker, Jesus is the Son of God, the one to whom had been given the highest name and the highest position in the universe. He is Lord, and to Him every knee shall bow!

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – HE UNDERSTOOD

HE UNDERSTOOD

“After John’s messengers left to make their report, Jesus said more about John to the crowd of people. ’What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pyjamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A messenger from God? That’s right, a messenger! Probably the greatest messenger you’ll ever hear. He is the messenger Malachi announced when he wrote, “I’m sending my messenger on ahead to make the road smooth for you.”‘ Luke 7:24-27.

Why this vehement defense of John the Baptist?

John had just publicly revealed his vulnerability in his extreme circumstances. It was Jesus’ turn to set the record straight, not only to defend John but also to save his ministry.

John was God’s appointed forerunner of the Messiah, the one foretold by Malachi four hundred years before. He had come, as predicted, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to announce and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People had flocked to hear him in the wilderness. They had received his message that the Messiah was on the brink of being revealed to them. Perhaps some had even been present when Jesus was baptised and had heard the Father’s affirmation of His Son.

Now John was wavering and who can blame him? The all-powerful Messiah had not lifted a finger to rescue him in his predicament. Perhaps John did not realise that his work was done, short though it had been, and it was time for him to step aside and allow Jesus to stand in the limelight for a season until He, too, stepped aside when His work was complete.

Jesus did not want the crowd to think that John was undoing all he had said and done by wavering in his conviction that He was the Messiah. Turning to the Scriptures, He demonstrated to John’s followers that He fulfilled everything the Scriptures had said about Him to that point. His own circumstances aside, John had to believe that Jesus was all that John had reported Him to be.

But Jesus was not only protecting John’s ministry, He was also protecting John himself. This temporary lapse in John’s conviction, this wobble in his faith, was not who John was. In his weak moment, Jesus was there for him and quick to point out that he was no fly-by-night, self-appointed prophet. God had foretold his coming through His messenger centuries before just as surely as He had prophesied the coming of His Messiah.

In glowing terms Jesus began to correct any misgivings people the crowd might have had about John. John was no holiday maker or member of the idle rich, on public display for their entertainment. He was a messenger sent from God, whose arrival was foretold in the Scriptures as surely as that of the Messiah. The implication was that the people had better heed what John had preached. It was serious business and, even though John was shaky in his faith right then, his doubts did not cancel out who he was and what he had done before his incarceration.

Don’t you love Jesus for this little interlude? It reveals His heart once again. A lesser person might have criticised John for vacillating in his circumstances, but not Jesus. No matter how weak he was right then, his work remained and Jesus acknowledged that.

This should give us the courage to know that God is tender towards us in our struggles. He does not judge the process through which we have to go to reach our conclusions. How many times we have been where John was, only to emerge stronger and more secure in our confidence in God because God sees the whole picture and accompanies us to a place of greater strength.

So don’t give up. Jesus will never stab you in the back. He will walk with you through the valley until you reach the other side.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – THUNDER IN THE DESERT!

CHAPTER THREE

THUNDER IN THE DESERT!

“In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius – it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis; Lysania, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went through all the country around Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“Thunder in the desert!                                                                                                                      ‘Prepare God’s arrival!                                                                                                                            Make the road smooth and straight!                                                                                                Every ditch will be filled in,                                                                                                                  Every bump smoothed out,                                                                                                              The detours straightened out,                                                                                                              All the ruts paved over,                                                                                                                        Everyone will be there to see                                                                                                              The parade of God’s salvation.'” Luke 3:1-6.

It was now some thirty years later. Luke was careful to pinpoint the exact time in history, all verifiable facts if one has the historical records to go by. After all, he did assure Theophilus that he had carefully researched his material before presenting it to him.

What was John doing during the formative years of his childhood and youth? We have only a few clues to help us. In his prophetic outburst, Zachariah revealed that he had fully embraced his son’s destiny – prophet of the Highest. He no doubt schooled his little son in the Word and ways of God until John was old enough to attend the Beth Saphar, elementary school where he was taught the Torah – the Teachings of the Lord contained in the Books of Moses.

By the age of twelve, the time of his initiation into manhood, he could recite and knew the meaning of all the words of the Torah. Having passed that phase, he would have spent time debating with the rabbis in an informal kind of discipleship school. There he would have been instructed by an authoritative rabbi, probably Hillel who was also Paul’s teacher. Who knows but that John and Paul might have been in class together!

Tertiary education covered the entire Old Testament which John could recite by the age of thirty. He was now qualified to be a rabbi – a teacher – and one who was authorised to have his own band of disciples because his authority had been recognised and confirmed. We know that because only a rabbi with authority was permitted to have his own followers and John was making and baptising men who were his disciples (John 4:1). He was also addressed as “rabbi” by his followers (John 3:26).

It seems that, after he completed his education and before he began to prophesy, he spent time alone in the wilderness. So did Jesus! What was he doing? I think he was thinking deeply about everything he had learned at rabbi school. He needed to know where he fitted in to the scheme of things. He had heard from his dad often enough the story of his conception and what the angel had told his father about him. Where did he go from there?

Is there a lesson in that for us? How often a young person hears the call of the Lord to “full-time service” (as if being a follower of Jesus isn’t a full-time occupation!), and follows the prescribed ritual; Bible School, then apply to a missionary society; wait to be accepted; deputation work to announce yourself and garner financial support; oh! and prayer, and then off you go to the foreign field to teach the heathen about Jesus.

What did John do? Apparently something quite similar, really; rabbi school, no “missionary society”, only time alone with God. Wait, listen, follow and obey. John’s entire ministry of six months! was encapsulated in these four little words, “Thunder in the desert”. A huge flash of light and then he was gone. Was that what he expected? Probably not but it was God’s purpose for him to light the way for Messiah and he did it!

He earned from Jesus the title, ‘The greatest of all the prophets!” Six months? Yes!