The Baptism Commitment: Mark 1:2-8

Focus Passage: Mark 1:2-8 (NLT)

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. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

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. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

Read Mark 1:2-8 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While all the gospel writers focus their writing on Jesus’ life, each gospel writer helps set the stage for Jesus by first sharing about Jesus’ cousin and forerunner in ministry, John the Baptist. If there was ever a person who had a clear-cut vision for His life, it was John. The prophet Isaiah predicted John’s coming, and in the prophecy, John even knows what the mission for his life will be and where he should center his ministry.

Isaiah talks about John being “a voice shouting in the wilderness” with a mission that prepares “the way for the Lord’s coming!” (v. 3)

To fulfill these prophecies, Mark tells us a brief overview of John the Baptist’s ministry. “This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (v. 4-5)

According to Mark, baptism was an outward sign of repentance — which simply means that these people made a commitment to turn away from sinning. Mark also tells us that baptism was a visible message that these people gave that said they were turning to God and asking for forgiveness from their past sins.

In the sign of baptism, we see a past, present, and future picture of someone’s commitment. Someone being baptized is asking for forgiveness from past sins, they experience a present sign of humility towards God and symbolically taking part in burying their past life, and they make a commitment to live differently in the future.

Perhaps it was because John’s teaching and method was novel, or maybe it was the people of Israel’s longing to see the Messiah arrive, but our passage tells us that John’s ministry was effective, and “All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John.” (v. 5a)

John’s teaching was effective too. When the crowds heard his message, they were convicted of their sins, and “when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (v. 5b)

Baptism is a sign that symbolizes a turning point in life. Baptism is submitting to God and asking for forgiveness from our past sins, and requesting help while making a commitment to live differently in the future.

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The Common Denominator: Matthew 9:27-34


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As Matthew shares more of the healing miracles Jesus helped people with, we come to another two miracles that don’t seem very connected. However, these two miracles give us insight into Jesus’ character and how Jesus worked His miracles of healing.

Our passage picks up right as our passage from the last episode ended, and it can be found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9. For this episode, we’ll be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 27, Matthew tells us that:

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See that no one knows about this!” 31 But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.

32 As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. 33 After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Let’s stop reading here. In these two miracles, almost nothing is the same. In the first miracle, we see a clear example of Jesus attributing the success of the miracle to the faith of those being healed, but in the second miracle, the passage doesn’t indicated the person being healed had any faith. In the case of the first miracle, Jesus tells the men He healed to be quiet about it, even if they choose to share it with everyone, while the second miracle doesn’t have the same warning.

The second miracle prompts the religious leaders to challenge the source of Jesus’ miracle working ability and attribute Jesus as a messenger of Satan, while the first miracle has no such backlash.

But in these two miracles, we see a big picture summary of all the miracles Jesus did to help people. Within these two miracles, we see Jesus healing the blind and healing the mute. We see Jesus healing disabilities that were caused by demon possession and disabilities that were not. We see Jesus healing based upon the faith of those being healed, and we see Jesus healing regardless of the faith of those present. We also see Jesus healing regardless of whether those He healed would obey His instructions afterwards and we see a healing where no follow-up instructions are given.

In these two miracles, almost every detail is different. However, one detail is clearly the same. With all the unique details of these two miracles, we cannot get away from the common denominator of Jesus. The two blind men followed Jesus and the mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Jesus. In both these miracles, Jesus is present, active, and willing to help in the situation.

Will all the miracles in the gospels, and really with all the miracles in the Bible as a whole, we cannot get around the presence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, or the Holy Spirit being present and active in every significant event.

This is a key theme in the Bible, and those writing the various books that have been assembled into our Bible all believed that God was alive and working in the world during their time period in history. In the case of the gospels, the writers of these four books believed Jesus to be God who became one of us, and they risked their lives to share Jesus’ life with others.

However, too often, in our lives today, we are quick to discount God’s active involvement. We are quick to look at science for an answer, quick to look to an expert for an explanation, or quick to look to ourselves for a solution. In our lives, we are less likely to see God moving in the details, that is except for in one way.

The way every one of us can see God moving in our lives if we want to see Him is when we look at our past. When you look at your past and when I look at mine, there are countless ways that our lives could have been different if things went just a little differently. It’s possible that you have come close to seriously injuring yourself, or even killing yourself, but something happened that changed your path or prevented this accident. When I look at my past, I see a whole collection of unrelated events shaping who I am today.

While some people look back and see a series of coincidental events that randomly brought us to this point, other people, myself included, instead see a series of God-directed events where He was leading and directing our lives up to this very moment in history.

When faced with huge challenges in our present or in our future, it can be easy to forget God’s leading and His working in the past, including in our past lives. However, the way we can trust that God is still interested and in control is by remembering all the times in the past where things could have gone worse than they did, but for some reason they didn’t. We can attribute the series of events that brought us to where we are at right now in life to God.

Sometimes the events in our past are bad or negative. It also can be easy to blame God or to doubt His love because we went through some trial or challenge. However, while God might be worthy of blame for causing or not preventing something bad from happening, the only way we can move forward in our own lives is to forgive God and trust that there must have been a reason we don’t understand behind what happened.

While I don’t have all the answers to life’s tough questions, I do know that this world has anger, hostility, pain, sin, and struggle associated with it. If God were to remove all the bad in the world today, we would have no need of Him and no reason for a new life in a perfect recreated world. Instead, God wants to eliminate sin from the universe forever, and part of keeping sin from resurfacing is letting sin reveal its true colors. Sometimes bad things happen simply to remind us that our eternity is not in a sinful world.

Sometimes when bad things happen, God is reminding us to look forward to a new life with Him in heaven.

In the two miracles we looked at in Matthew’s gospel, there weren’t many similarities. However, both miracles had Jesus, and when we face trials in our lives, Jesus is the best place for us to look to and the best Person for us to lean on!

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

Always intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to trust Him and lean on Him when trials, challenges, and problems come into your life. Blaming God doesn’t solve anything, but trusting God helps us move through whatever trial comes our way and out the other side. Sometimes, when bad things happen, we are reminded that God is preparing a better place for us without all the sin and negatives in our current world. In other times, bad things happen to give us a connection point for others who may be facing what we have faced. Only God has all the answers, and we should look to Him when we question what is happening around us.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Grow your personal relationship with God so that you will have the faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus to withstand all the storms that Satan wants to throw our way. Our world is getting crazier each day, and only by staying connected to God can we remain grounded in Him.

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 leave where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 18: In two very different miracles, Jesus subtly teaches us about His character and how God works through the craziness of our lives.

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Excluded from Heaven: Matthew 7:21-29

Focus Passage: Matthew 7:21-29 (GW)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ 23 Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. 25 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock.

26 “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. 27 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.”

28 When Jesus finished this speech, the crowds were amazed at his teachings. 29 Unlike their experts in Moses’ Teachings, he taught them with authority.

Read Matthew 7:21-29 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Out of all the challenging things Jesus told the crowds while He preached during His life on earth, I cannot think of a passage that is more sobering in how it depicts the final judgment. At the beginning of this passage, which is Jesus’ closing words in His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, He shares a very sad truth.

Jesus starts out by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants.” (v. 21)

We might think Jesus will then tell us what God the Father really wants – but He doesn’t. Instead, Jesus tells us some things that these people will claim to be things that God wants: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’” (v. 22)

While prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles are all positive things, Jesus is telling us in this verse that these are not at the heart of what God the Father wants from us. Instead, in His farewell to this group of people who don’t get access to the kingdom, Jesus hints at what God really wants: “Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’” (v. 23)

The two things that define this group is that they are evil, and that Jesus doesn’t know them. While everyone alive has sinned, by calling a group of people evil, Jesus is drawing our attention onto their actions and the focus of their lives. These people are moving in a direction that is counter to God’s will. They might think they are moving towards God, but the god they have chosen is not God the Father – or even His Son Jesus.

By saying that He has never known them, Jesus draws our attention to the absence of a personal relationship. If these people joined a religion that claims the name of Jesus or Christ, they would have joined a religion for only social reasons – and perhaps “fire insurance”. But they stop their faith at simply showing up to church on occasion; they think that attendance equals a relationship.

Having a relationship with Jesus is so much more than a two hour event one day a week. Jesus wants to be so much closer to us than just some guy who is also at a place that we are at occasionally (i.e. church). Jesus wants to walk with us through all seven days of our week; He wants to help us with the challenges we face each day; and He wants to lead us into being more like Him – and more like the person God originally created us to be. When we are reflecting Jesus, we truly can say we know Jesus and that He knows us!

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Two Types of Prayers: Matthew 6:5-13

Focus Passage: Matthew 6:5-13 (NCV)

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so people will see them. I tell you the truth, they already have their full reward. When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.

“And when you pray, don’t be like those people who don’t know God. They continue saying things that mean nothing, thinking that God will hear them because of their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. So when you pray, you should pray like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name always be kept holy.
10 May your kingdom come
and what you want be done,
    here on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us the food we need for each day.
12 Forgive us for our sins,
    just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.
13 And do not cause us to be tempted,
but save us from the Evil One.’ [The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.]

Read Matthew 6:5-13 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In all the things Jesus talked about, none was probably more close to His heart than when He talked about prayer. While He left heaven and became human to be closer to us, prayer served as His main connection back to the Father in heaven.

This means that when Jesus turns the focus of His teaching onto the subject of prayer, He wants us to pay extra close attention to a few things. When Jesus was walking the earth in the first century, there were two types of people who prayed, and Jesus makes a clear distinction about what type we should be: “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray so people will see them. I tell you the truth, they already have their full reward. When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.” (v. 5-6)

In Jesus’ teaching, the hypocrites are those who pray for the attention of people rather than the praise of God. Jesus all but says that God ignores these prayers. Jesus tells us that whatever praise they receive from those who witness their prayer will be their only reward.

However, Jesus contrasts these hypocrites with what we might simply call the “secret-prayers” – those people who keep their prayers to God between them and God. While I doubt these people would never pray in public, they would only do so if asked or if the situation called them to do so. The number of public prayers would be minimal when compared to the number of private prayers in the lives of these individuals.

It is this second type of person who God wants us to be. This type of person intentionally places focus on their personal relationship with God when no one is watching and builds the foundation of their life on that relationship with God. What we do when no one is watching determines what we will ultimately be when the spotlight shines on us.

God tells us that those who do things for human approval only receive human approval as their reward. Instead, God rewards what we do for Him in secret. When we focus on Him over what others think, we will be rewarded by the only One who can give us the “reward” of a lifetime – i.e. the reward of eternal life!

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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