Tag Archives: John the Baptist

God’s People, part 195: Salome

Read Mark 14:1-12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The LORD is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”  (Numbers 14:18, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Salome_Baptist-HeadPart 195: Salome. In the Old Testament, there was a passage that I could never fully understand. In Exodus 20:5, in reference to idols God states, “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”  (Exodus 20:5, NLT)

What does God mean when he says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me”? That makes God sound like a harsh and cruel God. It seems to counter the “Jesus Loves Me” personality of God that I was taught in Sunday School and in church growing up. How can the unconditionally loving, all-good, God do that to people? I mean, I can understand why one would suffer consequences for THEIR sins, but why their children or their children’s children? That hardly seems fair.

These questions are valid questions; however, people such as Salome provide cases of what God means in Exodus 20:5. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod II, and she was the step-daughter of her uncle Herod Antipas. As was covered in the last devotion, Herodias divorced Herod II and married his brother Antipas.

The last couple of devotions also highlighted the corruption, power-grabbing, greedy and murderous family that Herod the Great raised up. No one or thing was sacred or safe within it. This was the environment that Herod II, Antipas, and Herodias grew up in and, sadly, this is also the environment that Salome grew up in. As such, Herod the Great’s children followed suit with him and their children did the same as well.

Again, Herodias was power-hungry and divorced her first husband to marry his more powerful younger half-brother, Antipas. Likewise, her daughter Salome was also power-hungry and wanted to eliminate any threat to the legitimacy of her mother’s marriage to Antipas. Though they were rulers over God’s people, the Herodians lacked humility and did not place God above themselves.

Sure, Herodias knew it was against God’s law willy-nilly divorce Herod II to marry his half-brother, but she did it anyway. Sure, Herod Antipas knew it was wrong too. What’s more, he knew that God would not approve lusting after his step-daughter, but he did that anyway. Salome knew that seducing her step-father was not in line with God’s will for her, but she did it anyway. Certainly she knew that murdering one of God’s prophets was not something God willed, but she demanded that Antipas murder John the Baptist.

The challenge here is to NOT view the Herodians as being different than us. They are no different. They were human beings who had dreams, hopes, ambitions, lusts, envy, and longed for control. So are we. We may not find ourselves on the same scale, but we struggle with those things too. All human beings do.

The challenge for us is to not be like Herod, Antipas, Herodias or Salome and to overlook God’s will for our life so that we can have what WE want; rather, we should be challenged to heed God’s will for us, as outlined in Scripture, and purge ourselves of the things that take us away from God. In other words, let’s humble ourselves and purge deceit, corruption, evil desires, jealousy, contempt for God’s way, lust, ambition, and the need for control from our lives. By God’s grace, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, this can and will be done if you so choose.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl

PRAYER
Lord, guide me through the space between stimulus and response and lead me to respond to you instead of my desires. Help me to ONLY desire you and your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 147: The Baptist

Read Luke 3:1-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.”  (Mark 6:27-28, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

john-baptistPart 147: The Baptist. Virtually everyone, at least in the Western World, has heard the name of John the Baptist. They may not know much about him or his theological significance; however, they have at least heard about him and probably have visions of a wild, hairy crazy man shouting at people while standing in the middle of a muddy looking river. Even so, that image is not too far from the truth and it was certainly how Herod and some of the Jewish religious leaders thought of him.

No doubt, in first-century Judaea, John was a little too fiery for his own safety. His sharp words and accusations against sinners in general, but specifically against the political and religious authorities, were dangerous because of the constant threat of revolt. The last thing Herod or the High Priest at the Temple needed was someone to come along and stir up a revolt. Such a revolt could cost all of them their positions and their lives under Roman rule.

John’s message was clear and consistently recorded in all four of the Gospels. Mark wrote: “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” (Mark 1:4, NLT). Matthew wrote: “‘In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’” (Matthew 3:1-2, NLT).

Luke wrote: “Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Luke 3:3, NLT). Finally, John’s Gospel does not reveal John’s actual message; rather, it echoes the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospels’ account of John’s prophetic purpose: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’” (John 1:23, NLT).

But that is not the message that got John in trouble. What caused him to be so dangerous is that he called out the religious leaders for being a brood (or family) of snakes. He told them that they would not escape God’s wrath or fiery judgment. He also called out Herod Antipas for having an affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and “Many other things.” Because of his persistence in challenging people to repent of their sins and follow God, John the Baptist was arrested and eventually beheaded.

The truth is that NOBODY likes to be called out or challenged. For instance, some people have told me that they didn’t like my Advent sermon series, including my Christmas Eve service, because it used Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hitler as an illustration as to why this dark world needs Christ and why it is important we “pledge our allegiance” to Christ and make room for him…and him ALONE…at our inn! But my job is not to make people feel comfortable; rather, my job, like the Baptist’s, is to prepare the way of the Lord, and to clear the road for him.”

The question to be asked here is this: how do you react to being challenged? Do you reflect and change, if there is need to do so? Or do you have a knee-jerk reaction and lash out in defense of yourself? I, to be completely honest, have found myself on both sides of that question. The challenge for us is to heed the warnings of the prophets in our lives. Let us NOT be a people seeking warm and fuzzy comfort, but a people who seek to prepare the way of the Lord and clear the road for him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing.” – Maajid Nawaz

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be receptive to the ways you are challenging me. Lead me from who I am to who you created me to be. Amen!

God’s People, part 141: Baby John

Read Luke 1:57-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”  (Luke 9:23, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JohnTheBaptistPart 141: Baby John. One may be scratching their heads and asking why on earth would someone be writing about baby John? After all, there really isn’t anything in the Bible about baby John, is there? John isn’t really talked about until he’s a full grown, hairy, sweaty, locust-eating adult, right?

Well, that is mostly correct. John isn’t directly spoken about in the Nativity story with brief reference to him leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. In fact, it is only in Luke where we hear anything at all about the John’s family or his birth. In Mark, the Gospel starts with John baptizing folks and in Matthew, we first hear of John when Jesus shows up at the river’s edge. In the Gospel of John, we again first see John at the Jordan river baptizing people.

It is only in Luke, where there is any back story on John’s birth, on his family, and on his connections to Jesus. In fact, we find out in Luke that John is the cousin of Jesus, as both of their mothers are cousins. This fact is never even hinted at, let alone mentioned in the other three Gospels. Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, John is not just the forerunner crying out for people to repent and heralding the coming Messiah and his Kingdom, rather, he is also a blood-relative of Jesus’ and is a part of the extended Holy Family.

What’s also important to note is that, because of the miraculous nature of his conception and birth, John is seemingly dedicated by his mother to be a Nazarite. While the word Nazarite is not to be found in any of the accounts on John the Baptist, there is evidence in the Scriptures to back this up.

First, a Nazarite was someone who was dedicated to the service of God. They were not to cut their hair, or drink intoxicating liquors of any sort. Nor were they to handle or consume anything made from grapes. They were also to avoid becoming ritually impure. The Nazarite was someone who was considered holy unto God, and thus filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 1:13-15, Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.”

Thus, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to raise his son as a Nazarite from birth. At the end of chapter one, the author confirms that John’s family raised him according to God’s wishes as expressed through Gabriel: “John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel” (vs. 80, NLT).

What if  Zechariah and Elizabeth decided not to follow through on that? What if they thought it unfair and even wrong of God to demand that their child be forced to follow the strict Nazarite code? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you have listened to Gabriel and forced the Nazarite vow upon your child?

Would you never give him grapes, never let him attend funerals of family members, never let from getting married (sex ritually defiles a person due to the contact with bodily fluids), etc.? Would you send him off to the wilderness to live so that he has no temptations to live like the other kids in his neighborhood?

The challenge for us is to recognize the kind of commitment God is looking for from each of us. That’s not to say God is calling all of us to be Nazarites, but that God is calling all of us to be committed to Christ. Are you willing to forego all things for the sake of the Gospel? Are you willing to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow the Lord of all Creation, even if it costs you your very life? Reflect on these questions honestly, and draw yourself closer to the Christ, who denied himself, picked up his cross and died so that we might have abundant life in service to God’s Kingdom.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
How willing are we to follow Jesus Christ and how much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom?

PRAYER
Lord, I am far from being as committed as I should be. Work within me so that those parts of my heart that are hardened to you and your call, may be softened bent toward your will for me. Amen.

God’s People, part 140: Zechariah

Read Luke 1:5-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Zechariah 1Part 140: Zechariah. In the Gospel of Luke, we receive a unique Nativity account to the one that is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It is important to realize some facts about the Nativity before talking about Zechariah and his story. First, out of the four canonical Gospels, only two included the Nativity story. Mark does not, nor does John.

Second, Matthew’s account is quite different than Luke’s account. In Matthew, we have Mary, Joseph, King Herod, and the Wise Men as the predominant characters. There are no choirs of angels, shepherds, Wise Men, and certainly no manger in Matthew’s version. In fact, there’s not even a mention of Nazareth or any journey to Bethlehem. Rather, it reads as if Joseph and Mary were from Bethlehem and only ended up in Nazareth because they fled to Egypt from soldiers carrying out Herod’s villainous orders, later returning and settling in Nazareth.

In Luke, on the other hand, we have Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, August Caesar, Quirinius, Shepherds, Choir of Angels, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. It is Luke’s account that is most familiar to us as the Nativity story, but our typical picture also includes pieces of Matthew’s account blended into the story.

Zechariah, according to Luke’s account, was the husband of Mary of Nazareth’s cousin Elizabeth. He was a priest and a person who had status, power and authority in terms of the religious life of Judah. In fact, he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel spoke to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child and name that child John.

Unlike Elizabeth, Zechariah had a powerful voice in society. He was someone of prominence and religious leader in the community. If someone wanted spiritual advice, they would go to Zechariah or other priests, not his wife. He was someone who was supposed to be in tune with God and someone leading the people of Israel in the act of repentance, sacrifice and worship. Yet, Zechariah did not believe what God was telling him was going to happen.

To be fair, who would believe that two older people, past the age where childbearing is a possibility, could bear a child? But Zechariah, steeped in the Jewish religious tradition must surely have known better, right? He knew the account of Sarah, of Rebecca, and other women who God blessed with children. Yet, he vocally refused to believe what he heard from the angel Gabriel that day.

As a result, God took away his ability to speak. I guess one could say God gave Zechariah a time out. In fact, Zechariah would not get his speech back until after his son, John, was born. We must keep in mind that Zechariah had no way of communicating to his wife, or anyone, what he heard that day in the Temple. As such, we can deduce that Elizabeth probably had no idea that she was going to get pregnant.

This is important to note because, when she did conceive a child, she went into seclusion (probably to protect herself from the community who would be marveling at such a miracle) and spoke the following words: “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children” (Luke 1:25, NLT). Did you catch that, Zechariah’s pride rendered him speechless, yet Elizabeth, in her humility, found her voice. What’s more, she instantly recognized, believed and gave credit to God for her miraculous pregnancy. Her reaction to the news, as it were, was on the complete opposite spectrum from her husbands.

The challenge for us is to reflect on our own faith in God. Do we have faith? Do we believe God is God? Do we believe, for instance, Christ’s words when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father”  (John 14:12, NLT). The challenge for us is to reflect on our own belief and to grow in our willingness to TRULY believe that God’s power is not only at work within us, but THROUGH us as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 139: Elizabeth

Read Luke 1:5-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed…when I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.”  (Luke 1:42, 44 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

elizabeth-and-johnPart 139: Elizabeth. Here, in the New Testament, we come across a familiar tune as we saw with women such as Sarah in the Old Testament. Elizabeth, who is Mary’s cousin according to Luke, is an older woman who is married to a priest named Zechariah. Luke says that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in God’s sight; yet, he also records that Elizabeth was unable to conceive a child and, thus, her and Zechariah never had a child. On top of that, Elizabeth and Zechariah were both very old.

We don’t know very much about Elizabeth other than that she is the much older cousin of Mary of Nazareth. I think, for that reason, it is important to pause and add some perspective to this story. In the end, the perspective will help us to look inward at ourselves and so that we might find areas in which we, as God’s people, can grow.

First, it must be noted that there is a trend in the Bible to paint the women as being the ones who are barren. It must not be passed over that the Bible was written mostly (if not entirely) by men, and the society in which it was written was very much a patriarchal society. What does that mean? Patriarchy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Thus, the focus is centered much more on Zechariah than it is on Elizabeth.

With that said, Luke is somewhat aware of that in his Gospel, for he tells how Zechariah ends up as the one who is silenced and Elizabeth becomes the one who has the voice. In fact, one cannot fully appreciate that until they realize that the society in which this Gospel was written was patriarchal. With that said, the Bible is filled with accounts of barren women, but there are no accounts of infertile men.

This was not necessarily intentional, but it does reflect the way that their society looked at men versus women. If a couple could not have a child, it was the woman paid the social price. She was considered “barren” and not able to have a child. If you stop and think about it, it is quite possible that Elizabeth was fertile and it was Zechariah who was infertile. Luke records that Elizabeth was barren, but how did they really know it was her and not her husband who was unable to reproduce.

I state this not to counter what the Bible says, but to make us aware of how easily we can scapegoat and stereotype people in way that are not so healthy. Regardless of who was infertile or not, God caused a miracle to happen and Elizabeth and Zechariah conceived and gave birth to a child. The challenge for us to reflect on how society informs who we are, both positively and negatively. In what ways do our social norms, rules and regulations form in us biases that are not of God? In what ways do we judge people based off of our social standards as opposed to God’s? Let us reflect and tweak where God is call us to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ is our footing, our foundation, our structure, our walls, our ceiling, stairs, windows, and doors. Make Christ your home, not society.

PRAYER
Lord, immerse me in your presence and help me to make you my home.

Crooked Paths

Read Isaiah 42:12-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Seek [God’s] will in all you do, and [God] will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:6, NLT)

crooked-pathA couple of months back I was watching a televangelist who just happened to be on at the time I turned the TV. I cannot remember which televangelist it was; however, I distinctly remember his message. He was utilizing Proverbs 3:6 and proclaiming that those who submit to God, those who know God and have a relationship with God, those who faithfully acknowledge God will find that God makes their paths straight (NRSV) for them. In other words, bumpy, crooked, twisted, and labyrinth-like roads are OUR doing. The implication is, of course, that if life is hard, if things aren’t going smoothly, if we feel that our path is an obstacle course, then that means we are NOT submitting to, knowing, or faithfully acknowledging God and God’s direction for our lives.

I vehemently reject that notion! Too often I hear people questioning their faith, as well as God’s love for them, because their road is hard and things aren’t going well. Too often the sick are guilted to think they didn’t faith enough or they didn’t pray hard enough when they aren’t healed. Too often the abused think that God is punishing them, or allowing the abuse to happen, because they haven’t been acknowledging God enough in their lives. Too often the oppressed stay in oppressive situations because they feel that God has placed that on them as “their cross”, only to find out that the cross is never, ever removed.

While I do not deny that there is truth to the Proverb, I think that it has been hijacked by those who want to say what it doesn’t. When we look at the Bible, we do simply DO NOT see a God who ALWAYS gives the faithful a straight path. Let’s look at the Exodus. They submitted to God, went out on a limb and followed the seemingly nutty prophet Moses straight out of Egypt with the hopes they would arrive safely, and relatively quickly, to the land of promise. Instead of God taking them the direct route (approx. 372 miles or about a week’s journey, give or take), God led them on a 40 year journey zig-zagging, backtracking, and back again through the wilderness. Yes, the people fell in and out of faith during that journey, but it started off crazy. They cross the depths of a sea instead of going a few miles North to go through shallow water. They go South, through mountainous terrain instead of North, which was the direction of the Promised Land. So, yeah, they were a little frustrated when an entire generation of people died off before they reached what should have been only a week away.

Beyond the Exodus, let’s look at Esther. Was her path straight? How about Jeremiah? How about Daniel? How about Job? Was Job’s path straight? How about Jesus? Look at his life. He invested himself in God and in the people he came to serve. Did that lead to a coronation, to adoration and a straight path to being revered? Nope. His path was anything but straight. It led to being second guessed by his family, misunderstood by his disciples, betrayed by one of his own, rejected by the people he had invested in, arrested by his enemies, and beaten, tortured, and killed by the world he came to save. That doesn’t sound like a straight, “easy peasy lemon squeezy” path to me. Should our theology imply that Moses, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, Job, John the Baptist, and Jesus didn’t submit, faithfully acknowledge or follow God well enough? Should we imply that they failed in their faith? Of course not!

Do not be seduced by such conveniently simple, and extremely dangerous, theologies. God never promised us easy, straight paths. What God did promise is that God would never abandon or forsake us on this bumpy journey. God would never forget us or leave us alone. Even if we aren’t always faithful, God always is!!! If we are faithful, then our faith will make us aware of God’s presence. The aforementioned proverb is pointing to that. If we acknowledge God, then our faith in God will show us the way God is leading us. It will make God’s way clear to us. Let us not be seduced by shortcutting around hard-earned understanding with bad theology, let us rather wrestle with God and grow in our faith. Then the path will be made known to us, whether it is easy or not.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

PRAYER

Lord, I have faith that you are with me and I trust that you are guiding me. Make your way clear to me and I will follow. Amen.