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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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!

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He Hears Our Prayers: Luke 1:5-25

Focus Passage: Luke 1:5-25 (NIV)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Read Luke 1:5-25 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

After Luke begins his gospel with a formal greeting, instead of sharing Jesus’ back story and His birth story, Luke goes even further and chooses to focus on the birth of Jesus’ forerunner in ministry, John the Baptist. While John’s birth is not as miraculous as Jesus’ birth, it was a birth that God did have His hand in.

While reading this event, a phrase jumped out at me that has important implications for everyone who has chosen to include prayer as part of their lives.  When Zechariah entered the temple to burn incense, he realized he was not the only one in that inner room of the temple – an angel appeared to him standing beside the alter. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” (v. 12-13)

While we are quick to move through this story and get to the promise of the angel, and Zechariah’s doubt, too often we miss a key phrase at the beginning of the angel’s message. After calming Zechariah’s nerves as much as possible by saying, “Do not be afraid,” the very first part of the angel’s message is, “Your prayer has been heard.” (v. 13)

This is important, because all too often, when we pray, we may wonder or doubt if God really hears us. If God chooses not to answer us, or if He determines that the time isn’t right for us to receive a response, we may wonder if God really has heard us. It is in this first part of the angel’s message to Zechariah that each of us can see that God really does hear our prayers. It was years, and maybe even decades that this elderly couple had prayed for a child, and perhaps they had long since given up now that they were old.

But whether our prayer was spoken 5 minutes ago or even 5 years ago, God has heard it, and He has been working (and perhaps waiting for the right time) to give us the best possible answer for us. God hears our prayers, and He answers them at the perfect time and in the perfect way from His kingdom perspective – the perspective that results in the greatest number of people being saved for eternity.

Zechariah’s prayers didn’t fall on deaf ears. Instead, God was waiting for the perfect time to give him an answer.

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