Bad Preacher, Good Preacher: Luke 3:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 3:1-18 (NLT)

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then 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. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 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. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

Read Luke 3:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Before Jesus stepped onto the scene, a man named John the Baptist began a ministry to help prepare people for the coming Messiah. John’s ministry was so effective, powerful, and challenging that some people even wondered if John was actually the Messiah himself.

However, when John learns of this rumor, he answered it by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (v. 16-17)

Interestingly enough, John wraps up another challenge in his answer that he is not the Messiah. In John’s challenge we see an interesting idea: Jesus is going to come and separate people. If John’s ministry was challenging and it divided people, Jesus’ ministry would only amplify the division.

I wonder if in some ways, John’s ministry was easier to latch onto. John gave clear requirements and clear expectations, and it seemed like John challenged people before he accepted them. When Jesus came, He took an opposite approach. Instead of challenging people first, Jesus seemed to love, heal, and accept them first, before then challenging them.

Jesus’ ministry was even more dividing because it showed the people who believed in hierarchy and social status that Jesus was stepping over the line. Jesus came as a representative from God, but it seemed like He was more interested in spending time with those “at the bottom of the social ladder” than with those at the top.

While we have plenty of examples of Jesus interacting with people of all social statuses, the most dividing thing He did was accept those at the bottom in an unconditional way. John the Baptist’s ministry was very conditional: Repent, be baptized, and change the focus of your life. If you do this, then you will escape the coming judgment.

John was the New Testament’s “Fire and Brimstone” preacher. Jesus came as a loving teacher. In an odd sort of “good cop, bad cop” illustration, John takes the role of “bad preacher”, while Jesus takes the role of “good preacher”. Both ministries were effective, and perhaps John chose His role to help people gravitate more towards Jesus when Jesus ultimately steps into the ministry scene.

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Flashback Episode — Forever Fruitful: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26


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One of the more perplexing things Jesus ever did or said can be found during the week of His crucifixion. During this week, as Jesus was staying with friends in the town of Bethany and traveling into Jerusalem during the day, we read in two of the gospels about a time when Jesus passes by a fig tree and curses it for not having figs.

While this seems like an ungodly thing to do, the only reason for Jesus to have done this would be because He wanted to teach us something. Let’s read what happens from Mark’s gospel, chapter 11, using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 12, Mark tells us that:

12 The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. 14 So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.

In my mind, it would be one thing for Jesus to curse the fig tree if it should have had figs on it, but Mark clearly tells us that this was not the season for figs. This would mean that no fig tree in the area would have had fruit on it. In my mind, Jesus’ statement was in many ways unrealistic because the fig tree was simply doing what God had designed it to do, and that meant that there would be some times in the year that it did not have figs – including the time when Jesus spoke these words.

However, with the way that Mark describes Jesus’ sudden hunger, I wonder if this was something that was Holy Spirit inspired, because there was no other reason for hunger. Jesus and the disciples probably had recently finished eating their breakfast before starting their journey to Jerusalem that day.

But regardless of the cause of Jesus’ hunger and regardless of the fact that this was not the season for figs, Jesus seems to do something in these verses that conflict with a loving God. Most people would agree that a loving God would not sentence a tree to death for no reason.

Mark continues in the verses that follow describing what Jesus and the disciples did while in Jerusalem. It is as though this strange event that morning gets swept under the rug. It is like Jesus minimizes this outburst against the tree.

However, what Jesus appears to minimize, the disciples are paying attention to. Mark tells us later in the chapter what happened the following morning. Skipping down to verse 20, we learn that:

20 The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. 21 Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!”

22 Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. 24 So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. 25 When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. [ 26 But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.]”

What the disciples may have been confused about the day before becomes an object lesson for them from that point forward. In these verses, we get one of the most powerful promises related to prayer that is found in the entire Bible. This promise seems to imply that if we truly believe with no doubt that God will do something for us when we prayerfully ask it, He will do it – regardless of what the request is.

A number of Christian groups have rallied around this idea by saying that we can “Ask God for something”, “Believe that He will give it to us”, then “Claim this promise” in order to ultimately receive it. I will say that there is tremendous power in this promise and this belief, but in some ways, by framing God in this way, we cheapen His existence into being just a genie in a bottle – or in other words, Someone who is simply standing by to give us whatever we want to ask on a whim.

The verses that surround this promise are powerful in that they give context to Jesus’ words. Immediately prior to Jesus beginning this promise, we get the context of seeing an answered prayer, and the first foundational element of this promise is having faith in God. Faith in God is another way of saying trusting in God, and the only way we can really trust God is if we are actively moving towards Him.

After the part of Jesus’ words that most people focus on we read a challenge regarding anger, and the challenge is that if we realize during prayer that we are angry with someone, we should stop the prayer and forgive that individual. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be done in person, and in some cases, forgiving someone to their face is not possible.

Instead, forgiveness is releasing someone from a debt that you feel they owe. It might not be a payable debt, but it is something that you are holding them accountable for. Jesus tells us that we must forgive others in order to be forgiven ourselves, and this should be at the heart of our prayers because this is at the heart of Jesus’ promise.

While God can answer any prayer He wants to, it appears when we look at this event in context, the focus points towards our forgiving nature mixed with our belief in God and lack of doubt that together unlock the true power of this promise. The implication, at least with how I read these verses, is that someone who doesn’t trust in God, and someone who may trust in Him but who is not forgiving others will have limited their prayer lives and will have stopped short of where God wanted them to be.

Jesus has challenged us to trust God with everything, He has challenged us to live a life without doubt, and He has challenged us to forgive everyone, regardless of the circumstances. While these are not easy challenges, accepting each of these challenges, and living a life that aligns with these characteristics will transform our prayer lives and allow us to claim Jesus’ promise for ourselves.

When we live a life that is continually growing towards God, trusting Him with everything, and forgiving others without condition, we are being fruitful at the highest level possible, because these characteristics reflect God’s attitude towards us.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Continue to seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him and His promises. If you ever find yourself in a place where you feel someone else owes you something, choose to forgive that person so you can claim Jesus’ promise that God has forgiven you. Jesus says that God’s forgiveness towards us is based on how forgiving we are towards others, and while I don’t know about you, I want God to be overwhelmingly generous when it comes to forgiving me – and according to Jesus, this can only happen when I am overwhelmingly generous when forgiving others.

Also, continue studying the Bible for yourself, to learn more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and to grow closer to each of them. When we are living lives within His will, and reflecting His character, we will be able to claim His promises related to prayer and ask for powerful things to happen.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 37: Cam discusses Jesus cursing a fig tree, and what we can learn from this strange event during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Gathering Fruit for Eternal Life: John 4:1-45

Focus Passage: John 4:1-45 (HCSB)

When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.

“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.

“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”

11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”

13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”

16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”

17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.

“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”

27 Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They left the town and made their way to Him.

31 In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”

33 The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”

34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. 35 “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what He said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”

43 After two days He left there for Galilee. 44 Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 When they entered Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him because they had seen everything He did in Jerusalem during the festival. For they also had gone to the festival.

Read John 4:1-45 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During a brief transition within John’s gospel, we can find a perplexing concept and a profound idea that Jesus shares with His disciples. While the disciples are in a Samaritan town buying food, Jesus strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. But even though Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman is interesting itself, what I find perplexing and profound in Jesus’ words happens during a brief conversation after the woman leaves and before she returns with those from the town.

It is in this transition where we find the disciples urging Jesus to eat something. They were probably really hungry when they went into the town, and I can only imagine how hungry they felt Jesus would have been since they probably had eaten and snacked all the way back to the well.

But Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” (v. 32)

This confuses the disciples. Did Jesus find food while they were gone? Did someone else come by the well and offer Him something to eat?

Sensing their confusion, Jesus responds to the questions they are asking amongst themselves. Jesus tells them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (v. 34)

It is in this statement that we see Jesus pointing us towards a pretty important concept. What we focus our attention on grows. If we focus on our hunger, we will only become hungrier. But if we focus on our mission, then only that will matter. It will not matter if we are tired, hungry, or stressed out. Those things are minimized in our minds as long as our focus stays on the mission.

And Jesus continues by pointing us to a truth about the only mission with eternal significance: “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.” (v. 35-38)

The big truth I see in Jesus’ message is that when our eyes are open to what God is doing in the world, we will see opportunities everywhere to help others and to bring people to Him. God has been working in people’s lives long before we were invited to be involved, and we are able to benefit from what they started.

When we partner with Jesus, we are able to gather fruit destined for eternal life. That’s the only mission with results that will last forever!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Second Trial: Luke 22:66-71


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When describing all that happened following Jesus’ arrest and leading up to the cross, all four gospels describe the details differently. Each gospel writer has the details in a unique, but similar order, and some events that may have been the same event are placed in different places in each gospel’s “order of events”.

While these discrepancies might be reasons for a skeptic to doubt, all this uniqueness in my own mind speaks to four independent investigators asking witnesses questions of a single event. It’s possible that the order of the details is different, and that makes piecing the timeline of the event together a little more difficult.

This brings us to our passage for this episode. Two weeks ago, we read Mark’s gospel, which described a trial Jesus faced at night. This trial had numerous false witnesses contradicting each other, and when it looked like the trial was about to fall apart, in almost desperation, the high priest challenges Jesus on His claim of being God’s Son.

However, in Luke’s gospel, the first trial we see take place is after Peter’s denial and it happens when morning came. Luke doesn’t describe any false witnesses, but he does draw our attention onto the direct challenge of the religious leaders that they use to condemn Jesus.

In my mind, as I piece the gospel record together, there were two trials. The one during the night was a practice trial to get information that these leaders could then challenge Jesus on during the official trial in the morning.

Let’s read about the morning trial that Luke describes. This event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 22, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 66, Luke tells us:

66 In the morning the council of the people’s leaders, the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings, gathered together. They brought Jesus in front of their highest court and asked him, 67 “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”

Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68 And if I ask you, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.”

70 Then all of them said, “So you’re the Son of God?”

Jesus answered them, “You’re right to say that I am.”

71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We’ve heard him say it ourselves.”

Let’s stop reading here because this marks the end of this trial. Following this, the religious leaders take Jesus to Pilate.

However, what I find interesting in Luke’s trial that makes me think this was a different trial than what Mark describes is that the religious leaders open with a direct question and Jesus responds with a similar, but distinctly different answer.

The religious leaders are working against the clock because they have the Passover to get ready for, and they want Jesus condemned to death as quickly as possible, since this is likely the only chance they feel they will get.

After fishing for information and for a charge to bring against Jesus during the time they had Him at night, the religious leaders settle on Jesus’ claim of divinity and His role as God’s Messiah. They take this information to the official trial that is first thing that morning.

In Luke’s official trial, I am amazed at Jesus’ response, especially after a passage we read earlier this year. In this response Jesus gives, I believe He directly references the question He asked the religious leaders that they could not answer.

Earlier that week, Jesus had presented a divine picture of the Messiah when He quoted David saying in the Psalms: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Take the honored position—the one next to me [God the Father] on the heavenly throne until I put your enemies under your control.’(This event can be found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 41-44.)

Now with that in mind, let’s read Jesus’ response again during Luke’s trial. Verses 67-69 tell us that Jesus responded by saying, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you, you won’t answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.

Do you see the similarities in these two verses?

Reading these two passages together gives me a picture of what Jesus is doing right now. Following Jesus’ return to Heaven, God the Father gives Him the honored position next to Him and Jesus is reigning in Heaven as the “Defeater of Sin and Death”. These two passages together describe the time we are currently living in, which is a time where Jesus is victorious but sin hasn’t yet been destroyed.

In this passage, we discover that Jesus not only responded strategically here, but He responded in the exact way that the religious leaders needed Him to respond to condemn Him to death.

Also, with this response, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Not only do they reject that Jesus is God’s Son, but they also reject Jesus as God’s Messiah, and they reject God Himself because they don’t believe Jesus fits their picture of God.

By rejecting both God the Father and Jesus as the Son and the Messiah, their judgment displays their allegiance to the powers of this world and not to the religion they claimed to follow. These religious leaders had taken their tradition and formed it into their religion in place of the religion God had given to Moses for the people.

It is no wonder the religious leaders rejected Jesus. Jesus came with an accurate picture of God that said every human being is a sinner who needs a Savior. While the religious leaders intellectually believed this, otherwise they would not have judged Jesus as a sinner, they disliked this truth being shared openly by an outsider.

It is the same way with us today. While it is not pleasant to see ourselves as sinners, that is who we are. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are victorious sinners who have had our sins washed away, but until Jesus returns to rid the world of sin, sin will always be something our lives are challenged with, and sin is always something that is included in our past.

This is the way God designed it to be, because if there was no sin in our past, not only would we be deceiving ourselves, but we also would be rejecting the need of a Savior to wash us clean. Jesus came to save sinners, and those who don’t see themselves as sinners needing a Savior won’t accept the gift that Jesus freely offers to those who place their faith in Him.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to recognize that you are a sinner who needs a Savior and that your past needs Jesus’ sacrifice to cover it. Choose today to live a victorious life that doesn’t look like your sinful past, and choose to live each day moving forward for Jesus.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to Jesus each and every day. Through prayer and Bible study, you grow your personal relationship with God and through the personal relationship with God, you are able to discover and learn the truth that God wants to teach you. While others can give you ideas to think about, filter everything you learn through the truth of God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 37: In the gospel of Luke, we read about a different trial Jesus faced that morning, and with the question the religious leaders ask Jesus during this trial, we see an amazing picture of who Jesus claimed to be, and what He is doing in Heaven right now!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.