Category Archives: Devotions

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.

The Good Shepherd

 

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Oh what beauty there is in those classic words so true!  How often have we read or heard those words, yet never stopped to fully examine their meaning.  The wonderful words from the psalmist David speaks of the rod and staff of Shepherd, equally providing comfort yet each with a separate job to perform.  The rod of the shepherd provides protection from the wolves, as a young David so familiarly writes of it giving comfort in safety.  The Shepherd acts as a defender from those who would dare steal one of the precious sheep from the flock.  The psalmist himself defended his own flock from the hand of both lions and bears (I Samuel 17:36) how much greater protection does the Good Shepherd provide from far more fierce attackers.

Yet at the same time He’s equipped with a staff, that old well-known crook which He so masterfully uses to guide His flock with when they go astray, serving as an instrument of discipline in a time of need.  Oh to be disciplined by the Shepherd, knowing that He disciplines the ones He loves (Hebrews 12:6).  The sheep of the flock are many, so to know that the Great Shepherd takes time to give special attention to those lambs that are quick to go their own way, is a marvelous expression of love.  But such is the responsibility the Shepherd has in providing abundant life to His sheep.

And what a pity those sheep are that the Shepherd tends to.  So easily losing their way when they lose sight of their Caregiver.  Yet how glorious to know “the sheep hear his voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out when He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:2-5) That familiar voice of the Shepherd calls to all those who would be His; He is the door of the sheep and all those that enter through Him will find everlasting pasture.  But how amazing is the Shepherd that He lay down His life for His sheep, yet unlike those shepherds of old, He takes His life up again, of His own accord and in this there is one flock, one Shepherd and that Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Additional Study: John 10:1-18 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

 

*image credit: National Geographic (edited)