Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"And so it begins ..."

Day #258

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 3 - 4 …

The world had been waiting for this moment, not only since Jesus had been born, but from the moment Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.  As you read these two chapters in Matthew's Gospel record you discover a huge gap between the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3.  Chapter 2 ends with Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to Nazareth, where He grew up and became a man. Chapter 3 begins with Jesus about 30 years old.  What happened in between and why isn't it recorded for us?

The only glimpse we have into Jesus' childhood and youth is what we find in Luke 2:40-52.  Every year Jesus traveled with His parents to Jerusalem and even at the age of twelve He amazed the teachers at the temple with His wisdom.  He grew up as a carpenter in Nazareth.  No more is known about the first thirty years of His life.  No more needs to be known.  As a true man, Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52), but it was all preparation for this moment in Matthew 3, when He began His ministry, leading to the cross, and ultimately to His resurrection and ascension.

Jesus' life on the earth was no ordinary life.  Perhaps you have read the poem, "One Solitary Life."  It attempts to describe the impact that this one life has had on the history of mankind for the past 2,000 years.  But there's more to it than that!  Jesus came to fulfill God's promise to send a Savior.  As John prepared the way by pointing out mankind's sin and the need to repent, so Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (4:17).  It was not a popular message then, and it is not a popular message now. 

To “repent” means to “turn around,” to stop doing what you’re doing, to change your thinking, your attitude and your behavior.  Repentance is hard because the old nature is determined to follow the course of least resistance, to do whatever it wants to do.  Our old nature of sin refuses to acknowledge God’s reign and His authority.  Jesus came to bring spiritual life to those in whom His Spirit would work, producing true repentance and true faith.

Having rebelled against God, Satan wants to lead people to do the same.  Because Satan is not God he does not know everything and is not in control of anything, unless God allows him to exercise his evil will in order to accomplish God’s good and perfect purposes.  It is no surprise that Satan tried to distract Jesus from His mission to deal with the consequences of sin.  Jesus knew already what lay ahead.  Everything needed to be fulfilled, just as the Father had planned.  God's own testimony concerning His Son and the descending of the Holy Spirit confirmed that this was the promised One who would redeem God's people and deliver them from the guilt and power of sin that enslaved them.

The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the Jews, did not like John the Baptist because he was getting attention that they wanted for themselves.  And further, John was talking about one who would come after him who would pour out the Spirit of God upon His people:  “I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:11).  Because the religious leaders taught that people had to earn their salvation, they believed they themselves were pleasing to God and not in need of repentance ... and many today make the same mistake.

From the beginning of His ministry the kingdom of God clashed with the kingdom of Satan.  It was darkness versus light!  It was good versus evil.  It was Jesus versus Satan.  Did Satan really believe he could tempt Jesus to sin against God and so be unable to offer the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross?  Apparently, he was convinced that Jesus would do what the “first Adam,” had done ... He would give into temptation.  But THIS man was different than the rest of mankind.  Jesus was a true man, yet at the same time God!  He had no sin and knew no sin. 

Temptation is part of life in this world and Jesus endured temptation beyond what any human being before and since has ever endured.  Here in the desert, and later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was tempted.  The writer of Hebrews explains the benefit you and I receive from knowing that Jesus faced temptation:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

THIS Jesus is OUR Savior!!  Jesus began to display His power over the consequences of sin as He preached and healed and cast out demons.  Truly, this world would never be the same again - EVER!  Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah:  "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (4:16).  And "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (4:23).

Light exposes the darkness and Jesus came to offer hope to a world in despair.  He does the same today through the preaching of the Gospel and the power of His Spirit in the lives of those who believe in Him!  Jesus' "story" continues and by faith you and I become part of it as He calls US to leave the world and to follow Him.  Are you a disciple of Jesus?  Have you experienced His healing?  Have you become a "fisher of men?"  Jesus is still calling people to follow Him today and through His Church He is still preaching the good news of the kingdom all over the world.

What a privilege to know Him and to serve Him!  Be excited!  Get involved in the ministry of Jesus Christ as He works in you and through you by His Word and Spirit.  Then YOUR life will never be the same again - EVER!

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior and our Lord.  As Jesus defeated the temptation of the evil one, so help me to repent, to turn aside from the things of the world, so that I may give my life in the service of Jesus and be found proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven to all around me.  In Jesus' name, I pray.  Amen"

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