Flashback Episode — A Light to the Gentiles: Matthew 4:12-17

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On returning from being tempted, Matthew’s gospel references a gap and transition before describing Jesus beginning His ministry, and I find what Matthew tells us fascinating, especially in light of the prophecy Matthew references, and the starting topic for Jesus’ preaching.

This passage is found immediately after the passage we looked at in our last episode, which was found in Matthew chapter 4. For this episode, we will read from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 12, Matthew tells us that:

12 John had been put in prison. When Jesus heard about this, he returned to Galilee. 13 Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in the city of Capernaum. It was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 In that way, what the prophet Isaiah had said came true. He had said,

15 “Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
    Galilee, where Gentiles live!
    Land along the Mediterranean Sea! Territory east of the Jordan River!
16 The people who are now living in darkness
    have seen a great light.
They are now living in a very dark land.
    But a light has shined on them.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach. “Turn away from your sins!” he said. “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

In this short passage, I am fascinated by a number of things.

First, I am curious about how much time passed between Jesus being tempted and John the Baptist being arrested. I would imagine it was no more than a few weeks. From the way Matthew frames this transition in his gospel, we could conclude that John was arrested while Jesus was being tempted, but this isn’t likely because John’s gospel, which doesn’t include Jesus’ baptism or temptation, has Jesus passing John while John is preaching, and in my mind, this likely was on Jesus’ return from the desert being tempted.

However, around that time was when John spoke out against Herod, and this message John shared led to his arrest.

But Matthew pays little attention to John. The only reason he includes this detail is to use it as a transition for Jesus returning to Galilee and ultimately Capernaum. Matthew includes this detail because he sees this decision as being a direct fulfillment of prophecy.

Before looking at the prophecy, I want to point out an interesting, and somewhat ironic, thought related to Matthew as a person, as a disciple, and as the author of this gospel. Matthew was previously a tax collector. Tax collectors were among the most hated and looked down on people in that society. Tax collectors were likely also the most secular.

It is interesting in my mind to think of Matthew, the tax collector, writing in his gospel narrative about all the ways Jesus fulfilled prophecies. Matthew and John are the disciples who focus in on the prophecies more than the other gospels, and I believe Matthew’s gospel draws our attention onto more prophecies than John.

The ironic part of this thought in my mind is that through his gospel, Matthew, the former hated and despised tax collector is teaching and challenging the Jews regarding who Jesus is, using the prophecies that they all may have known better than he should have known. However knowing and understanding are two different things, and Matthew rightly interprets the correct understanding of the prophecies even if he had been an outsider because of his occupation.

In the prophecy Matthew quotes here, we find an interesting focus. In this prophecy, we see allusion to God turning His attention onto the part of the country that was perhaps the least Jewish. Verses 15 and 16 tell us this prophecy:

 “Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
    Galilee, where Gentiles live!
    Land along the Mediterranean Sea! Territory east of the Jordan River!
The people who are now living in darkness
    have seen a great light.
They are now living in a very dark land.
    But a light has shined on them.”
(v. 15-16)

I don’t know whether the Jewish leaders knew, understood, ignored, or simply rejected this prophecy from Isaiah’s writings, but this short prophecy gave Jesus direction for where He would live at the beginning of His ministry. In an interesting way, Jesus starts His ministry focusing on the exact opposite people than we might expect Him to focus on.

While the Jews would have had all the right knowledge regarding the Messiah, Jesus likely knows that they are blinded by their tradition and their closed-minded, single-track understanding of the Old Testament prophecies. Perhaps for this reason, or maybe simply because God likes to work in ways that we might not expect, Jesus begins His ministry among the least Jewish and most looked down on people in the country. One could say that Jesus started at the bottom of society’s ladder of status, and He kept a solid focus on the bottom rung of this ladder throughout His entire ministry.

When Jesus began speaking, preaching, and teaching, I am fascinated to learn Jesus’ beginning message. Verse 17 tells us that Jesus’ first preaching message was for people to “Turn away from your sins!” because “The kingdom of heaven has come near.

This message is exactly where John the Baptist’s message and ministry ended. John’s whole message was focused on getting people to repent, which is another way of saying to turn away from their sins, because the kingdom of heaven is coming.

In a subtle, but not that subtle, way, Jesus starts where John leaves off signaling that He is picking up the torch that John began with His ministry. When John was arrested, Jesus continues the message that John began. However, unlike John, Jesus could take the message of God’s kingdom further than John could because Jesus was the Messiah John was preparing the people for, and because Jesus had arrived, the kingdom of heaven had come near.

Overall, in this passage leading up to Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel, we see Jesus intentionally choosing to focus first on the most secular, least Jewish, and most looked down on people in society. In this way, we get a picture of God who loves and desires a relationship with anyone and everyone, not just those who are spiritual and close to Him.

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

As always, be sure to intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to let Him show you what you should focus on and pay attention to. God has called us to be His representatives and part of this calling is focusing on loving those He has brought into our lives.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with God strong. While Jesus came to those who were the least connected to God, He didn’t want them to stay disconnected. Jesus kept His connection with God strong and He wanted to help those who God loves – which is everyone at every place of society – to have a strong connection with God like He did.

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 walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 5: When Jesus returns from being tempted, Matthew includes an interesting transition, prophecy, and message about where Jesus started His ministry, how Jesus began His ministry, and why Jesus started that way.

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Chosen By God: Luke 2:21-38

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As we continue moving through Jesus’ birth story in Luke’s gospel, we arrive at a significant event in the story, but one that doesn’t fit very well if we try to condense and combine Matthew’s gospel with Luke’s gospel describing Jesus’ birth. While I believe both gospels are accurate, where things can get confusing is when we try to squish the details together and make two events into one.

Because of the event our passage includes for this episode, it is best to view Matthew and Luke’s gospels separately, and let Luke describe the events close to the night Jesus was born, and let Matthew fill us in on events that likely happened a few weeks after Jesus had entered this world as a baby.

Actually, it is fascinating to look at the event we are about to read while realizing that Herod was ruling Jerusalem and Judea, and that Herod was in Jerusalem directing the wise men towards Bethlehem not too long after this event happened.

Our passage for this episode is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, and we will read from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 21, Luke tells us that

21 A week later [this would be a week after Jesus was born], when the time came for the baby to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name which the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22 The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord.

25 At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him 26 and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. 27 Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, 28 Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God:

29 “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise,
    and you may let your servant go in peace.
30 With my own eyes I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
32 A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles
    and bring glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at the things Simeon said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against 35 and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.”

36-37 There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only seven years and was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple; day and night she worshiped God, fasting and praying. 38 That very same hour she arrived and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.

In this passage, Jesus’ parents take Jesus to dedicate Him at the temple. It is amazing in my mind to think that Jesus would have been present in the temple, right under the noses of the religious leaders, Herod, and all the people, and most people simply didn’t pay that close attention.

According to this passage, only two people really take notice: Simeon, who the Bible simply describes as a man who had the Holy Spirit and who God had promised to reveal the Messiah to; and Anna, a widow who had dedicated herself to worshiping God in the temple. For a long time, I had assumed that Simeon was the priest on duty that day, but nothing in this passage implies this to be the case.

Nothing is really mentioned about the priest on duty, about Jesus parents actually giving the sacrifice, or about the response of those that Simeon and Anna told about Jesus.

However, in Simeon’s message to Mary, we can see three huge ideas that are incredibly powerful when we stop and look at what he told her. At the beginning of Simeon’s message to Mary in verse 34, God prophesies about Jesus’ life saying “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel.

It would be very easy to latch on to the positive side of this message, but this message contains both positive and negative. Jesus came not only to save people living in Israel, but also for destruction.

To quantify the negative side of this promise, Simeon continues in the last part of verse 34 and into verse 35 saying, “He [Jesus] will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts.

According to this second statement in Simeon’s message to Mary, Jesus is a sign from God that will polarize people and those who speak out against Jesus will reveal the secrets of their hearts. Those who speak out against Jesus show the universe that they have sided against God. It is powerful to realize that what we tell others about Jesus shows how loyal or disloyal we are to God. As we continue in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ presence clearly separates those who have sided with God vs. those who have decided to set themselves against Jesus.

The last part of Simeon’s message to Mary is directed specifically towards Mary. In the last portion of verse 35, Simeon tells Mary, “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.

Whether we like to think of it or not, this statement predicts Jesus’ death. Before Jesus had fully stepped into history, Simeon, led by the Holy Spirit, forewarns Mary that Jesus’ life as a Messiah would end in death. Jesus would die before she would.

However, this message, while it was challenging, does contain the promise that Jesus’ arrival signified the way God chose to open salvation for many people living in Israel. Actually, Jesus’ arrival signified the way God chose to open salvation for all His people living at any point in the history of our human race. Sin came in to this world through the actions of Adam and Eve, and through the actions and sacrifice of Jesus, God has made a way for us to outlast sin.

As we continue through our year focusing in on Luke’s gospel, expect to see this theme show up regularly. Through Jesus, we have the hope and assurance of a new life with God!

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

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus. Through what Jesus came to accomplish, we have the hope of salvation and a way out of facing the eternal consequences of sin. Jesus’ entrance into the world gives us an escape for a problem that we cannot solve on our own.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow closer to Jesus and to God. Through prayer and study, discover how we can open our hearts, minds, and lives to God and let His Holy Spirit transform us. Through the Holy Spirit, we can discover the truth God wants to teach us and we can discover how important Jesus’ sacrifice is for our future.

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 turn away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 4: Luke’s gospel describes a message Mary received when taking Jesus to be dedicated. Discover in this message a prophecy and a warning that predicts the direction Jesus’ life will head!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Facing Temptation: Matthew 4:1-11

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Continuing into the gospel of Matthew, following Jesus’ baptism, we learn that Jesus heads out to the desert for a very specific purpose. While it would make logical sense for Jesus to start rallying disciples immediately after launching His public ministry, this is not what happened. Instead, Jesus heads to the desert because that is where God’s Spirit led Him.

Let’s read what Matthew tells us about what happened. Our passage is found in Matthew, chapter 4, and we will read it from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us:

Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. Then the Devil came to him and said, “If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread.”

But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’”

Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says,

‘God will give orders to his angels about you;
    they will hold you up with their hands,
    so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”

Jesus answered, “But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”

11 Then the Devil left Jesus; and angels came and helped him.

In our passage, we read about three big temptations Jesus faced while alone in the desert. When we draw our attention onto these temptations, some really big themes begin to surfaces, and while we might not think we are capable of being tempted in the same way as Jesus was, it is very possible we experience these three types of temptations on a daily basis.

The first temptation Jesus faced was turning the stones into bread. At the heart of this temptation is the theme of using our resources for our own benefit. While we aren’t able to turn stones into bread like Jesus could have if He wanted to, I know I constantly face the temptation to use everything I earn for myself, my needs, and my wants. While Jesus needed and wanted bread, and while Jesus had the power to fulfill this need, He intentionally pushes back at this temptation knowing that self-service is not part of God’s character. Self-service is not a characteristic of God and we fall victim to this temptation when we place our own needs ahead of God’s desires for our lives.

The second temptation Jesus faced was jumping from the highest point in the temple. While I don’t know of any prophecies or traditions related to the Messiah appearing in this way, this act would have gotten the chief priests and religious leaders’ attention. The goal of this temptation is a self-focused goal on a social level. This temptation is one where Jesus does something to make the crowds look towards Him in a significant way.

But then we have a question: how is this temptation of getting people to pay attention to Jesus different from Jesus performing miracles and turning heads that way?

In the case of the miracles Jesus did, every miracle was aimed at helping someone else and providing an opportunity to praise God. If Jesus would have jumped from the temple, He probably would have had the protection Satan promised in the scriptures, but the act of jumping would have been a self-serving act because it wouldn’t have been a blessing to anyone else. Drawing the focus onto Himself is not part of God’s character, and when we do things to be looked at highly by others, we fall victim to this temptation.

The third temptation Jesus faced was worshiping Satan for a moment in order to avoid the ministry, mission, and ultimate destiny of Jesus’ life. The essence of this temptation is spiritual. This temptation offered Jesus an empty shortcut to achieve His goal, except that Jesus’ goal wasn’t dominion over every earthly kingdom at the height of its glory. Instead, Jesus’ goal is the hearts and minds of His people, and this is something only the cross can purchase.

While it appears on the surface like this third temptation is more Satan-serving than self-serving, the only reason to even consider this temptation is because of self-focused motives. Sometimes the road God has called us to walk is hard. Self-focused motives would opt for an easier path. Satan offers Jesus an easier path, but the cost of taking this easier path is too high a price to make it worth it. If Jesus had fallen for this temptation, He would have sinned, which would have made the sacrifice on the cross worthless, and it would have left those He came to save as lost in their sins. Jesus pushed back at the self-service-focused nature of this worship-based temptation. Jesus, like God, isn’t interested in self-service. Instead, Jesus came to serve and to give His life to save all of God’s people!

Tucked within these temptations are doubts Satan wanted to cast onto Jesus’ self-identity and onto the greatness of Jesus’ mission. Satan subtly counters God the Father’s clear claim at Jesus’ baptism that Jesus is God’s Son by challenging Jesus on this very point in the first two temptations. Each of these two temptations are framed using the opening, “If you are God’s Son”. Jesus was well aware of God being His Father, and He wasn’t going to let Satan cast doubt into His mind about this.

The last temptation was a subtle attempt to elevate Satan into the Godhead. If Jesus momentarily worshiped Satan, then that would elevate Satan to the status of God and Jesus would have broken the circle of the Godhead. Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s trap in this temptation, or at any point during His ministry, and everything Jesus did brought glory to God the Father.

In all these temptations, Jesus pushed back at Satan using promises and statements from the scripture. When we face temptation, the best way for us to push Satan away is through challenging Him with God’s promises. God has promised to help us when we need help and when we are living in a way that brings Him glory, nothing will stop us from shining for Jesus!

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

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life. When Satan throws temptations your way, choose to push back with God’s Word and with God’s promises. Choose to lean on God for the strength to fight Satan’s tricks, traps, and temptations.

If you don’t know your Bible like you wish you did, be sure to intentionally, regularly pray and study the Bible for yourself, to learn what the Bible teaches first hand. While it is easy to depend on other people for Bible truth, if we do, we short-change our spiritual growth because we are only growing up to the level of those we are listening to. While this might not be bad, God wants to teach us more and He does this when we open up the Bible in prayer and study it for ourselves.

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

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 4: At the start of His ministry, Jesus is led into the desert to face three powerful temptations Satan has prepared for this moment. Discover how Jesus pushes back and how these temptations are common temptations in our world and our lives today.

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The Birth of a Shepherd-King: Luke 2:1-20

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As we continue in Luke’s gospel, I would love to be able to focus in on every event and detail Luke included surrounding Jesus’ birth, however, there isn’t enough time in our year dedicated to this gospel. Luke is the longest of the four gospels, and because of this, I have the challenge of deciding what doesn’t get included. Unfortunately, this means that it is time to jump into chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel even though there are at least two more podcast worthy passages in Luke chapter 1.

However, without getting bogged down focusing on what we must skip over, let’s instead focus on what we can learn as Luke transitions in to chapter 2. When looking at the popular Christmas passages of the Bible, almost every Christmas story begins with the passage we will be looking at, and oftentimes, the passage we will be reading is read in its entirety.

With this said, let’s look at Luke’s famous Christmas passage, and discover some things we can learn about Jesus’ birth now that we are intentionally looking at this event outside of the Christmas season. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, and we will read from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Luke tells us:

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

This passage describes Jesus’ birth, the events leading up to this significant event, and the amazing details surrounding this easily overlooked point in history.

While Matthew’s gospel is the one to describe the wise men bringing gifts, and the young family’s escape to Egypt, Luke doesn’t let Jesus’ birth slip into the unknown pages of history. Luke describes the night Jesus was born starting like any night, except it may have been busier because of the census that was taking place. The night began relatively normally, and the only challenge leading up to this night was directly related to the census, since there was no room in the Bethlehem inn. While tradition holds that Jesus was born in a stable, a barn, a cave, or somewhere under the stars, the only hints of this is because there was no room in the inn, and because Jesus is laid in a manger, which is a trough that livestock eat from.

In my mind, this is a logical conclusion, since I don’t picture a host family bringing in a feeding trough to lay a brand new baby in.

This leads me to the amazing realization that Jesus, the destined King of the Universe, has the least glamorous entrance into this world as could be imagined. The only people likely present for this birth would have been Mary, obviously, Joseph, and perhaps a midwife or two. A cave or small barn would have given this event a little privacy, and because of this, Jesus’ birth gets the reputation and tradition of being in a stable.

The night Jesus was born could have been, and perhaps should have been, easily forgotten, if it were not for one event that God chose to include. While God could have woken the town up in any number of ways to get everyone present to take notice of Jesus’ birth, God decided to send an angelic choir to some people who would have been awake already, or perhaps at least most of them. While the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem would have likely been planning on sleeping in shifts through the night, it was unlikely that this night contained much sleep for them.

Angels appeared to the shepherds, sing them a song, and commission them to find Jesus.

A skeptic might look at this event and doubt the details, not simply for the angel visit, or the choir’s song, but simply because it would be difficult to find one child born in a town full of travelers. However, at night, there likely would have been little noise or light, except for a few fires to keep those without homes or rooms in the inn warm. And it is quite likely that there may have only been one baby crying outside that night. From Matthew’s gospel, we know there were other young children in Bethlehem during that point in time, because after Herod sent his soldiers, all the babies were killed.

So why might God have picked shepherds to be the first to know about Jesus’ birth?

Part of me believes this is because the occupation of shepherd was one of the lowest on the social ladder, and because Jesus came to show God’s love to those society looked down on.

Also, I cannot escape seeing the symbolism in my mind that Jesus was destined to be like a shepherd for God’s people, and what better way to honor Jesus taking the role of Shepherd than to invite shepherds who were nearby and who were awake already.

Jesus coming into this world marked God stepping into our history in a big, personal way, and Jesus coming into this world helps us see just how much God loves us, and what God was willing to do to show us just how much He loves each of us!

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

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to believe in Jesus. If you ever doubt what God thinks of you, simply look at what Jesus came to this world to do for you! Satan would have you believe Jesus came for other people, that Jesus didn’t really come, or that Jesus isn’t what the gospel writers describe, but these temptations are lies from Satan to get you to ignore God.

Instead, choose to believe what the Bible teaches us about Jesus because what we can learn from Jesus is a picture of God and His love for each of us!

Choose to do this by praying and studying the Bible for yourself. While it is easy to drift through life believing the opinions of your friends, your relatives, or culture, don’t do this because God wants more for you than what you might even imagine. Discover what God thinks of you through the pages of His 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, minimize or belittle where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 3: In the most famous Christmas passage in the Bible, discover some interesting details about Jesus’ birth, and why tradition has placed Jesus being born in a stable when the Bible doesn’t clearly say this.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.