Category Archives: Devotions

Lesson I – John’s Call


After finishing my project for class, I went in a different direction than the lesson I posted last week.  Here is Lesson I in the study on John the Baptist: The Model Ministry. It’s a little longer than the normal posts, but I think the ministry of John’s is invaluable for us to study.  Thanks for reading!

Intro

John the Baptist’s service for the Lord was documented nearly 800 hundred years before his birth as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi.  John’s ministry provides a model for all those who are called children of God because of the acknowledgment of his calling from God, his wholehearted desire to answer that call, the boldness with which he preached, his lifetime of obedience, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life.  Through this study, we’ll examine the various aspects of his ministry and learn how following his example can lead to a life of obedient service to the Lord.  Before beginning our in-depth study of the Model Ministry as demonstrated by John the Baptist, we must first establish some basic truths about God and His purpose for us in our lives.  In doing so, we’ll be able to understand how God called John into His service to perform the most important role of any person ever: preparing the way for the Messiah.

LESSON I – John’s Call

As we alluded to in the introduction, John’s ministry was a fulfillment of prophecy by Isaiah and Malachi.  Before we progress any further in understanding how he was called, let’s review the Old Testament prophecies to see exactly what God had in mind for His messenger.  In Isaiah we read, “3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; 5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 What an amazing passage!  What do you think of when you hear the word voice?  Well we know it must belong to someone and it must stand or represent something.  This voice literally belonged to God and through a man named John, He would proclaim to the world to make preparation for the coming of His Son.  Additionally in Malachi 3:1 we read, “‘1 Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.  And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.  Behold, He is coming,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”  Again in Malachi we read of the prophet forecasting the arrival of an “Elijah-like” figure who will come onto the scene to prepare the path of the Messiah.  “5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.  6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”  Malachi 4:5-6 In order for us to fully realize the impact of these prophesies we need to look forward to the New Testament passages where they were fulfilled by John’s ministry.

We’ll discuss these passages in greater detail later on, but for now let’s use them as evidence for fulfillment of the prophecies described above.  In Luke 3:4-6 John is declaring throughout the region that he is the one spoken of by Isaiah and in doing so he quotes parts of the passage detailed above, “4As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

How can we reconcile within ourselves that John the Baptist was called by the Lord, as we see in the above passages, to be the forerunner of Christ some 800 years before his birth?  Just how did the pieces of the puzzle come into place?  Well, in order to understand this, we first must discuss what this word “call” means and how we are using in reference to John.  Being called by God is not like answering the phone and it’s not a calling like we think of referring to an occupation, instead it’s an effectual call by God that is irresistible to the human spirit.  This call is a choice that God makes and as we read in Ephesians 1:4, “4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

In support of this, we need to recognize that John’s calling goes beyond the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi.  This prophecy wasn’t something that God gave only to those two prophets several hundred years before John’s birth.  Just like the plan for Jesus to come and save the world from her sins, John’s mission wasn’t an afterthought.  We have to understand that both the role of John the Baptist as forerunner for the Messiah and the incarnation of Jesus and His ministry were always part of God’s plan.  It’s critical that we understand that point.  If you can’t quite grasp the infiniteness of that (and it does stretch your mind some) then I would ask that you stop and pray about it.  Turn to John 1 and read how the Apostle describes Jesus, as the Word, that He has always been.  Once we grasp that, it’s easy to see how John the Baptist wasn’t an addendum either.  He was chosen, as we alluded to earlier, to prepare the path; called to perform his ministry; elected for a position second only to Jesus Christ.  He was part of God’s predetermined, predestined plan of salvation for the world.

John wasn’t called by any ability he possessed or skilled preaching that he might have had.  God didn’t look out into the future and decide that John seemed like a good fit for the one to pave the path for His Son.  No, clearly John was chosen for this mission and if we understand the sovereignty of God’s plan, then we know it has always existed.  We can then begin to see that John’s purpose for being, to fulfill God’s plan, was predestined by God.  Romans 8:28-31 says, 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  This passage from the Apostle Paul applies perfectly to John the Baptist because we’ve learned that God’s plan for his life was predestined and that John was called by God to be the forerunner of Christ.  We will also learn that God’s grace not only allowed John to be born of faithful parents, but it justified him before God.  And finally, as we’ll see in the subsequent lessons John’s calling leads to glorification.

Summary

John the Baptist was called by God to be the forerunner for Christ.  It wasn’t part of a backup or secondary plan and he wasn’t a selection made at the last minute by God.  God predetermined that John would go before Jesus and prepare the way.  Just as it had always been God’s plan to send Jesus as a propitiation for our sins, it was always the plan to send John too.  Think about this, this is God we’re talking about.  He didn’t need anyone to prepare the way or to point people towards the “Light”, but He chose to anyway, that we might fully understand His sovereign grace and realize His true glory.  This is certainly not the only Biblical documentation of being predestined for a calling.  We can draw parallel to another important historic figure found in the New Testament that received a similar call, one whom we’ve quoted several times thus far in this study, the Apostle Paul.  We find him speaking about his calling in Galatians 1:15-16 “15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.”  Just as we’ve been learning that John was set apart before his birth, here we have the Apostle Paul telling us that he too was set apart, called by the grace of God.  What a wonderful truth!

 Application

A conclusion such as the one that we’ve made in this lesson is sometimes difficult for our finite and human minds to rationalize.  It may be easy to comprehend how God might call someone as special as John the Baptist or the Apostle Paul, but does He provide any less grace to those that accept Jesus as Savior?  Certainly not!  God is a just and fair God.  He provides the same measure of grace to John and Paul that He does to us.  Therefore, like them, we too were foreknown, predestined to conform to the likeness of Jesus, that we might receive His calling and be justified so that one day we too may be glorified.  What a wonderful feeling to know that by God’s grace we were chosen by Him to fulfill His plans through us if we just have faith in His Son Jesus and trust in Him as Savior.

Sovereign Grace

I want to apologize for my recent lack of posts.  For those of you who regularly follow this blog, I am extremely grateful.  I know some of you have offered encouragement by saying how God is using His words posted here to make changes in your lives and I pray that He continues to do so and that I might in some way be used by God to continue to bring His Word.  Having said that, I’ve been busy recently with several projects, one of which is finishing up my first class in Seminary.  It’s been quite a time management adjustment and because of the amount of reading and writing required there, posts here have been sporadic.  Please pray for me as I’m finishing up the last two weeks there.  The final assignment for this class is a research paper/project.  For mine, I really feel like the Lord was leading me to develop a Bible Study based on the life of John the Baptist.  I don’t know how He plans to use it yet, but I wanted to share the first lesson that I’ve been working on and ask for any comments, recommendations, or criticisms.  This is NOT in final “Bible Study” format, but more so for the project submission, but the main ideas are the same.  Since it’s due this weekend, I’ll try to post each “lesson” as I finish them.  Thanks so much for reading.

John the Baptist: The Model Ministry

Sovereign Grace

John the Baptist’s life was the personification of God’s grace, from his prophesied ministry in Isaiah and Malachi to the very definition of his name, “The Lord is gracious.”  In beginning a study of his life, especially from the perspective of ministry, we must first examine the Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic forerunner to fully understand the impact of God’s sovereign grace on not only John’s life, but on our own as well.  In order for us to fully appreciate this impact, in this lesson we’ll briefly look at God’s grace in several supporting passages to establish this extremely important foundational truth.  Each of these elements of grace are not only applicable to John the Baptist, as we’ll learn in the subsequent lessons, but they are equally relevant to our lives.

Grace Saves

When we talk about God’s grace, we need to understand what grace is and why it is so fundamental to our spiritual lives.  In its true definition, grace is defined as unmerited favor.  But we must ask, where did this unmerited favor come from and just what kind of favor have we been given?  John states in his Gospel, “14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.'”) 16And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:14-17 ESV There’s a lot in this passage to digest that not only answers those questions we posed earlier, but also introduces us to the ministry of John the Baptist.  In verse 14, the Apostle John lets us know when Jesus came from God the Father in heaven to earth in human flesh (incarnation) He came “full of grace and truth.”  Since Christ is filled with grace, we can surmise that He is grace embodied.  Skip ahead to verse 16 and we learn that from “His fullness”, meaning grace, “We have all received grace upon grace.”  Here we have the answer to our question where does grace come from, it comes from Jesus Christ.  It’s in verse 15 that we find reference given to John the Baptist and his recognition of the Jesus the Messiah, but more on that in a later lesson!

So what about our second question?  The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV This passage clearly indicates that unmerited favor, or grace, provides salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers adds his thoughts on our passage from Ephesians, “The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.” If we can summarize both of the answers to our questions posed in this lesson we get, Jesus = Grace and Grace = Salvation, therefore we can surmise that Jesus = Salvation.

Grace Justifies

A second characteristic of grace that we need in order to lay the foundation for beginning our study on John is the justification of grace.  In his study Bible, John MacArthur observes that justification is a legal or forensic term that comes from the Greek word for “righteous” and means “to declare righteous.” Concerning this justification, Romans 3:23-24 ESV says, “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Here the Apostle Paul is affirming to us that although every one of us has sinned we are justified by God’s grace as a gift through Jesus.  This is in accordance with what we learned about grace earlier that it is also a gift of grace from Jesus that saves.  From the legal perspective that John MacArthur was alluding we can look forward to the judgment of Christ that is forthcoming and know that our justification, or declaration of righteousness, saves us from the punishment of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.

Grace Trains

Our third and final quality of grace recaps each of the previous two while establishing an additional truth all its own, that of the instruction that grace provides.  The Apostle Paul once again provides an example of grace as he writes in his letter to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-15 ESV In keeping with our other two descriptions of grace, this third example is no different in that it yet again points toward Jesus Christ.  In verse 11 we see that the “grace of God”, which is Jesus, has appeared bringing salvation just as we learned in the previous example.  Our particular focus in this passage draws us to verse 12, where we find that grace trains us by teaching us to avoid all things unholy such as worldly pleasures by living self-controlled and holy before God.

Summary

As we learned at the beginning of this lesson, John the Baptist’s life reflected the sovereign grace of God from before he was even born to the very name that God gave him.  Though salvation as we know it, including belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had not yet occurred, John was in fact saved from eternal death and separation from God by His grace.  It’s grace that set him apart.  In being called and set apart, he was justified or declared righteous.  In fact, as we’ll learn later he was even declared “great” by Jesus, which would have been an impossible declaration if he had been neither saved by grace, nor justified by grace.  Finally through God’s grace John was trained for his ministry.  In order to preach repentance he must be above reproach himself, lest he be deemed hypocritical, not merely before men, but before God.  Therefore, it was critical we establish the foundational truths of God’s grace because as we progress through the life of John and examine his model for ministry it will become exceedingly clear that the grace of God is the preeminent attribute necessary for a successful, God glorifying ministry.

Application

Are you able to recognize the presence of God’s grace in your life?  If not, perhaps you have yet to make that life changing decision to receive Christ as Savior.  Hebrews 4:16 ESV instructs, “16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Draw near to Christ and He will draw near to you.  Repent of your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior so that He may shower you with His Grace.

For those that are saved, as Christians we use the term grace frequently, but do we really understand the magnitude of it?  Grace not only saves, not only justifies, and not only trains us to live holy, but Grace is Jesus.  It is by Grace we have been saved and never have more truer words been spoken than that old familiar hymn, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

Come Broken

 

Mark 10:46-52 46And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.

There are some wonderful hidden truths in the passage above, clearly overshadowed by the amazing miracle that Jesus performs in restoring the sight of the blind beggar Bartimaeus.  These truths are so powerful, they actually describe how we are called to approach the cross.  In verse 47, Bartimaeus gets word that Jesus is heading his way.  Now since he was blind and as a result, unable to work, he had no choice but to sit on the main road to Jericho and beg.  But at this instant Jesus is heading his way and at the moment he hears of Him, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!”  It’s impossible for written word to describe the desperation, the brokenness that he has in his voice as he yells out.  Even as those around him, no doubt a large crowd by now, try to quiet him down, Bartimaeus again yells out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  On a side note, this is a pretty ironic statement by the blind man; we know he is able to recognize the Messiah, through his declaration of “Son of David” while at the same time many of his Jewish counterparts are so blind spiritually they cannot make this recognition.  But it’s his desperation that stands out; his need for Jesus is so great that he’s no longer begging for money or food, but instead he begs for mercy from the only person that can grant it, Jesus Christ.  This is the same posture we are to take when we come to Jesus.  We must come broken, begging for mercy, recognizing the Messiah as our Lord and Savior, the only one who can give us the mercy we so desperately need.

Jesus’ response is so powerful, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I think it’s here we can draw parallel to Matthew 7:7-11

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus has presented him with the ultimate question and all Bartimaeus has to do is ask.  Understandably, given his condition, he asks for his sight to which Jesus’ reply reveals the truths of Matthew 7 as He says, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”  The literal translation for this from the Greek text means “Go, thy faith hath saved thee.”  As the passage concludes the scripture gives us one more piece of insight, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.”  If we look at this same story in the Gospel of Luke 18:43 we read, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”  In both accounts, Bartimaeus doesn’t simply receive his sight then head off in another direction; instead, he follows Jesus on his way.  But in Luke’s account we read that not only does Bartimaeus glorify God, but all who saw gave praise to God.  Through a blind beggar, others were able to see the work of Jesus and give praise to God.

There are so many truths in this important passage that we can apply to our own lives.  The desperation and brokenness of Bartimaeus as he begs for mercy to Jesus, signifies the posture we should take as we approach the cross of Jesus, broken from our sins, crying out for mercy.  Through our faith in Jesus we are made well, literally saved from our sins.  As our Savior, He grants us mercy and gives us the grace we need to continue our journey, but instead of going our own way, we follow Him, now as Lord of our life.  And through the amazing gift of salvation, we not only glorify God, but others are able to see the work of Jesus in our lives, and they too give praise and glory to God.