john-the-baptist

Luke 7

Here’s a link where you can read Luke 7 to stay on schedule to read the New Testament this year.

Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John--in prison--heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27). After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what people thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.

But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “...yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived, according to Jesus. Why is this true?

The answer is that John--great as he was--was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are not sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.

The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner. That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed--credited--Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it. On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.

This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done. Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.

Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you the credit of Christ’s perfection. So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.

Matthew 14

Today we’re reading Matthew 14.

John the Baptist died as he lived--outspoken about right and wrong. He lived in a society where freedom of speech was not protected by law. Though most people could speak their mind without fear of punishment, there was no guarantee--legal or otherwise--that a person would not be prosecuted or persecuted for what he or she said. The safe thing to do in a society like John’s was to keep your mouth shut about the behavior of anyone who had the power to hurt you. If you did speak about someone’s behavior or morals, it was safest to do it in private with people you could trust.

John, however, disregarded all these safeguards. Herod Archelaus (Matthew calls him “Herod the tetrarch” in verse 1) had an affair with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. She divorced Philip to be with Herod Archelaus. Her divorce was not legally valid nor was it morally acceptable, so her marriage to Herod Archelaus was both illegal and sinful. Since Herod was in charge of Judea, however, there was nobody but Caesar, way off in Rome, who could hold him accountable. Caesar didn’t care, so Herod was able to get away with his sin. He also could harm anyone who spoke out about his sin, so there was no pressure on him at all to do the right thing.

John the Baptist did not allow Herod’s protected status or his power to keep him from speaking the truth about Herod’s sham marriage. Verse 4 told us that John confronted Herod directly (“John had been saying to him”) about his sin and called for repentance. It was costly to John personally to do this because Herod put him into prison (v. 3) and then reluctantly put him to death (vv. 6-12).

We live in a society that legally protects speech. While there are definitely those in our society who want to punish speech they dislike, for now we have legal protection to say almost anything we want to say. I don’t know about you, but I will admit that I am reluctant to say anything directly about the sins of our culture. I am not afraid to call sin what it is, but my approach has been to speak to people within our church family or those who attend our worship services about sin but not to society at large. John’s example has me re-thinking this. He was willing to speak out about a sin that everyone in his society knew about but nobody else had the courage to confront. His bravery cost him his freedom and eventually his life, but God highly approved of his message and his method.

If we are going to reach people for Jesus, we need to stand for righteousness. That requires speaking out against evil. We need to emulate the boldness of John. It is important, however, to remember that the purpose of speaking out is to turn hearts toward the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus. It is also important to remember to speak in a way that shows gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15c). Many Christians can be downright obnoxious when speaking out against sin. That neither glorifies God nor wins a hearing for his word. So, let’s be bold but also wise about the way in which we speak.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this post by Douglas Wilson got me thinking about this application of John’s message. There are things I like about Wilson and his ministry and some things I strongly dislike about his theology. So, don’t take this as a blanket endorsement but it might be helpful for you to read his post that inspired my devotional on this text.