Water & Fire

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How does your life encourage people to turn away from sinning?

Some years later (42), when Herod Antipas was ruler of Galilee (in northern Israel), and when Annas & Caiaphas were the Jewish high priests in Jerusalem, the word of God came to John the Baptizer, son of Zechariah & Elizabeth, while he was serving God in the desert.  John then went up & down the Jordan River preaching: “Turn away from your sins & be baptized, and God will forgive your sins!”

This work of John the Baptizer had been foreseen by Isaiah, 700 years earlier, when he said: “Someone is shouting in the desert: ‘Get the road ready for God!  Make a straight path for him to travel! Every valley must be filled up, and every hill & mountain leveled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth. Then all people will be able to see God’s salvation!'”

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When John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him to be baptized, he said to them, “Why do you hypocrites think you can escape the punishment that God will surely send? Do things that show you have turned from your sins. Don’t think you will escape punishment, just because you’re descendants of Abraham.  God can make descendants of Abraham out of these rocks!

“Listen, God’s ax is ready to cut down trees to their roots.  Any tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire!”

Then the people began asking him, “What are we supposed to do?” John answered, “If you have two shirts, give one to a person who has none.  If you have food, share it with people in need.”

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Some tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what are we to do?” “Stop collecting more taxes than you’re legally permitted to collect!” he told them.

Some soldiers also asked him, “What about us? What are we to do?” He said to them, “Don’t use your position of authority to take money from people by force! Be content with your pay.”

When people began to wonder if John the Baptizer was the long-awaited Messiah, he said: “When I baptize you with water, it shows that you have turned away from sinning.  But the one coming after me will baptize you with fire, filling you with his Holy Spirit!

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“He is much greater than I am; I’m not even good enough to carry his sandals. He will sort out all the grain, separating the wheat kernels from the husks. He will gather the wheat kernels into his barn, but he will burn the husks in a fire that never goes out!”

In many different ways John the Baptizer preached the good news about God to the people.  He urged them to stop resisting God.

John also reprimanded Herod Antipas, because he had married Herodias, his brother’s wife, in outright rebellion against God’s plan for marriage. Herod had also done many other evil things, and eventually he did another: he locked up John in prison.

LORD, please help us to love Your gift of repentance.

How does your life encourage people to turn away from sinning?

(42) Luke 3:1-20, Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8

Submission

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How do you help people you love accept your submission to God?

Every year, Joseph & Mary went from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival (41).

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When Jesus was twelve years old, the family went on this trip as usual. When the festival was over, the parents started back home to Nazareth, believng that Jesus was traveling safely with relatives or friends in their caravan.  But when they started looking for Jesus they didn’t find him, so they went back to Jerusalem to look for him there.

After three days, they finally found their son — in the temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening carefully to them, and asking them leading questions about God.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his wisdom.

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Joseph & Mary were both relieved & astonished when they found Jesus.  His mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you.”

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Jesus answered them, “Why did you look for me in other places? Didn’t you realize that I must be here, in my father’s house?” Although Mary & Joseph didn’t really comprehend the full meaning of his answer, Mary didn’t dismiss it either.  Instead, she kept in her heart the things she didn’t understand about Jesus & prayed about them often.

Then Jesus went back home with his parents to Nazareth, where he lived in willing  submission to them. Jesus continued to grow, both in body & in wisdom, gaining favor with God & the admiration of many people.

LORD, please help us to love submitting to You.

How do you help people you love accept your submission to God?

(41) Luke 2:41-52

The Long Way Round

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When have you looked back & seen that God was guiding all along?

After the wise men had left (39), God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod intends to kill your baby. You must get up, take Mary & Jesus, escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”  Obediently, Joseph got up, took his wife & child, and left during the night for Egypt — where the family stayed until Herod the Great had died.

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Meanwhile, when Herod realized that the visitors from the East had fled, he was enraged. In a furious effort to kill Jesus, and based on what he had learned from the wise men, Herod gave orders to kill all baby boys in the area of Bethlehem who were younger than 2 years old.  (Sadly, this fulfilled what the prophet Jeremiah had said long before: “A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping; Rachel is crying & refuses to be comforted, because her children are dead.”)

After Herod the Great had died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take Jesus & Mary, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead.” (This would fulfill the word given by God about Jesus to one of the prophets long before: “I called my son out of Egypt.”)

So Joseph got up, took his wife & child, and went back to Israel. But, when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go into southern Israel. After receiving more direction in another dream, Joseph went instead back to the province of Galilee, in northern Israel, and made his home in the town of Nazareth. (And so, what another prophet had said of Jesus also came true: “He will be called a Nazarene.”)

To summarize what happened after the birth of Jesus (40): When Joseph and Mary had finished doing all that was required by the law of God, the Holy Spirit eventually returned them to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. Their child, Jesus, grew & became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God’s blessings were upon him.

LORD, please help us to love being guided by You, wherever You may lead.

When have you looked back & seen that God was guiding all along?

(39) Matthew 2:13-23

(40) Luke 2:39-40

Wise Men

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What helps  all your wisdom bow down to worship Jesus?

Soon after Jesus was born (37), wise men from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby who has been born to become the king of the Jews?  We saw his bright star when it came up in the East, and we have come to worship him.”

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When King Herod heard about this, he was concerned, and so were many people in Jerusalem.  Herod assembled the chief priests & teachers of the law, and he asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?” They said the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, just as a Jewish prophet had written: “Bethlehem, though you are a small town, you are very important to God.  From you will come a leader who will guide my people, Israel.”

Herod then met secretly with the visitors from the East and learned the exact time the star had appeared. Then Herod sent them on to Bethlehem saying: “Search for the child; when you find him, let me know, so that I may also go & worship him.”

So the wise men left Jerusalem and continued to follow the bright star that they had first seen in the East. They were very happy that the star was still leading them.  When the star stopped over the place where the child was, they went inside to see him.

Wise Men

Coming to the child, in the arms of his mother Mary, they bowed down & worshiped Jesus. They brought out gifts of gold, frankincense & myrrh, and offered them to him (38).

Afterwards, they returned to their country in the East.  But they went back a different way, because God had warned them in a dream not to return to King Herod in Jerusalem.

LORD, please help us to love bowing down to worship Jesus.

What helps  all your wisdom bow down to worship Jesus?

(37) Matthew 2:1-12

(38) PLEASE NOTE: The gifts, brought to Jesus by the wise men, have frequently been interpreted in this way:

  • Gold, for Jesus as king, who rules over every part of our lives;
  • Frankincense, for Jesus as priest, who keeps us connected to God; and
  • Myrrh, for Jesus as savior, who dies to take away our sins.

Dedicated To God

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How has your heart been pierced by Jesus?

About 40 days after the birth of Jesus, it was time for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as prescribed in the Law of Moses (35).  So they took their baby to the temple in Jerusalem — to present him to God & to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God — because God’s law says: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to God.”

At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man who was waiting for the promised salvation of Israel. The Holy Spirit of God had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the promised Messiah. Led by the Spirit, Simeon had also come into the temple on that day.

When Joseph & Mary brought Jesus into the temple, Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God:

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Lord, you have kept your promise, and now let your servant depart this earthly life in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people — a light, to reveal your will to the Gentiles (36) & to bring glory to your people, Israel.

Joseph & Mary were amazed at the things Simeon was saying about Jesus.  Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, “This child has been sent by God to the people of Israel — for the salvation of some & the destruction of others. Many people will reject him, breaking your heart as if pierced by a sword.”

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A prophet named Anna, a daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher, was also there in the temple that day. She had been married for only seven years before her husband had died; now she was a widow past 80 years of age.  Anna was in the temple daily, worshiping God, fasting & praying.  On this day, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for God to set the people of Jerusalem free.

LORD, please help us to love the Son You sent to free us from ourselves.

How has your heart been pierced by Jesus?

(35) Luke 2:22-38

(36) The Jews often thought of all people in two categories: Jews & Gentiles.  Gentiles were simply non-Jews.

Shepherds

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How have you shared Jesus with people who are poor & lonely?

On the night Jesus was born, some shepherds were taking care of their flocks of sheep in the fields near Bethlehem (34).

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Suddenly, an angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God was shining all around them! They were terrified, but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all people. Today, in David’s town, your Savior was born — Jesus the Christ! You will know this is true when you find the baby wrapped snugly & lying in a feeding trough.”

Then a great army of angels appeared in the night sky, singing praises to God! “Glory to God in heaven, and peace to his people on earth!”

Shepherds

When the angels had gone, the shepherds said to one another, “We have to go to Bethlehem & see this!” So they hurried to Bethlehem, and they found Mary & Joseph, and they saw the baby lying in the feeding trough.

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The shepherds told Joseph & Mary what the angel had said about the child.  Mary didn’t understand it all, but she didn’t dismiss it either.  Instead, she kept these things in her heart & thought of them often.

The shepherds went back to their flocks, praising God for all they had heard & seen.  Everything had happened just as the angel had told them it would.

As the news spread, people were amazed at the shepherds’ claim that Jesus was the Messiah, whom God had promised in the inspired Jewish scriptures!

A week later, when the time came for the baby to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the very name which the angel had given for him, before Mary became pregnant.

LORD, please help us to love sharing Jesus with all people.

How have you shared Jesus with people who are poor & lonely?

(34) Luke 2:8-21

Birth Of Jesus

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When has God guided you in your dreams?  Were you obedient like Joseph?

While Mary & Joseph were still engaged to be married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, as the angel had told her (31).

Joseph didn’t want to disgrace Mary publicly, so he decided to break their engagement privately. But an angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has become pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus – which means that he will save his people from their sins.”

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(This happened according to what God had said about Jesus through Isaiah, one of his prophets, 700 years earlier: “A virgin will become pregnant and have a son, and he will be called Emmanuel” — which means “God is with us”.)

When Joseph awoke, he obeyed God’s angel. But he & Mary didn’t have sexual relations while she was carrying her son inside her body, the son whom Joseph would name Jesus (32).

Before Jesus was born, the Emperor Augustus had ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire (33). At that time, Quirinius was the governor of Syria, which was the Roman name for the province that included the areas of Galilee & Judea. Every resident had to register with the census-takers in his own hometown.  So Joseph had to walk from the town of Nazareth in Galilee over 70 miles to the little town of Bethlehem in Judea.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David; Joseph went there because he was descended from David.  Joseph took Mary with him, since they were engaged to be married.

While they were in Bethlehem to register for the census, Mary gave birth to her son.  Because there was no room for the couple to stay in the inn, Jesus was born in the stable out back.

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Mary wrapped her baby snugly & placed him in a cradle — improvised from a trough used for feeding the animals.

LORD, please help us to love obeying Your every command.

When has God guided you in your dreams?  Were you obedient like Joseph?

(31) Matthew 1:18-25

(32) Four people wrote accounts of the life & ministry of Jesus; they were Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.  Matthew includes a list of ancestors of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, going back to Abraham.   Luke also includes a list of ancestors of Jesus, going back to Adam; some people think this list is largely comprised of ancestors of Mary.

(33) Luke 2:1-7

Birth Of John The Baptizer

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How have you experienced the power of God in the midst of praising God?

About the time Mary returned to Nazareth, Elizabeth gave birth to her son (29). Her neighbors & relatives heard how God had been good to her, and they all rejoiced with her.

When the baby was a week old, they came to dedicate him to God.  Some family members & friends wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “But you don’t have any relatives with that name!”

Then they made signs to his father, asking him what name he would like the boy to have.  Zechariah asked for a slate and wrote, “His name is John” — which astonished everyone there! But they were even more astonished when Zechariah — who had been unable to speak for months — suddenly began speaking again & praising God!

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Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke this message from God:

Let us praise God! He has come to help his people & to set us free. He has provided for us a mighty Savior, a descendant of his servant David.

He promised through the prophets long ago that he would save us from all who hate us. He promised our ancestor Abraham that he would show mercy to us & rescue us from our enemies.  

Now, he wants us to serve him without fear; he wants us to be holy & righteous before him all the days of our lives.

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To the baby John, Zechariah said:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of God. You will go ahead of the Messiah (30)– to prepare the way for him, to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.

Our God is merciful and tender. He will cause the light of salvation to dawn upon us, to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.

The news about these things spread throughout the hill country of Judea. Everyone who heard of it wondered, “What sort of life will this child have?” For it was plain that God’s power was upon him.

The child grew & developed in body & spirit. Then he lived in the desert, until the day he appeared publicly to the people of Israel — as John the Baptizer.

LORD, please help us to love praising You.

How have you experienced the power of God in the midst of praising God?

(29) Luke 1:57-80

(30) In the inspired Jewish scriptures, Jesus is usually referred to as the Messiah.  In the inspired Christian scriptures, Jesus is usually referred to as the Christ.  These Hebrew & Greek words simply mean that Jesus has been anointed by God as our Savior — the one who came to save us from our sinful selves.

Mary & Elizabeth

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How has God blessed you?  How have you praised Him?

Soon after being visited by the angel Gabriel, Mary left Galilee & went to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, in Judea (28). When Mary arrived at Zechariah’s home, she greeted Elizabeth.

When he heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby moved inside her! Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed to Mary:

You are the most blessed of all women, and the baby inside you is blessed! As soon as he heard your greeting, my baby jumped inside me!  I thank God that you have come to visit me.

Mary, you are being blessed by God because you believe what the angel promised you. Now, God will keep his promises!

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Then Mary prayed:

My heart praises God, and my soul is glad because God has saved me.  Even though I am only his lowly servant, God remembers me. From now on, all people will call me blessed, because of the great things that God is doing through me.

God’s name is holy.  He always shows mercy to those who honor him. With his mighty arm, he has scattered the proud & all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones.

But God lifts up the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things, even as he sends the rich away empty-handed.

God has kept the promise he made to our ancestors, and he has come to help his chosen people, Israel. He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham & to all his descendants forever.

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Mary stayed about three months with Elizabeth & Zechariah, and then she went back home to Nazareth.

LORD, please help us to love praising You for every blessing You give.

How has God blessed you?  How have you praised Him?

(28) Luke 1:39-56

Mary

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What helps you submit daily to God’s will for your life?

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee (part of modern Israel).

Gabriel had a message for a girl named Mary, who was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph (27).

The angel came to Mary and said, “I come in peace. God loves you and has greatly blessed you.” This message was confusing to Mary; she didn’t understand what blessing the angel was referring to.

So the angel said to her, “Don’t worry, Mary.  God is showering you with his great grace. You will soon become pregnant & give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great, and will be called the son of God. God will make him a king, like your ancestor David was.  Jesus will be the king of the children of Israel forever; his kingdom will never end.”

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“But I am a virgin,” Mary said. “How can this be?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you with the power of God. Your child will be called the son of God.

“Remember your relative, Elizabeth? Everyone thought she couldn’t have children because she was too old, but she’s already six months pregnant. God can do anything!”

“I am God’s servant,” said Mary. “If this is God’s will for me, then this is my will, too.”

Then the angel left Mary.

LORD, please help us to love doing Your will, rather than our own.

What helps you submit daily to God’s will for your life?

(27) Luke 1:26-38