The Focus Of Faith

About a week later, Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up a small mountain so they could pray alone (119).

As the three witnesses looked on, a change came over Jesus; his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white!

Then Peter, James & John saw Jesus talking with Moses & Elijah — both of whom had died hundreds of years earlier! They were discussing what Jesus would soon accomplish at Jerusalem.

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Not fully understanding, Peter exclaimed, “Master, it’s great for us to be here! Shall we make three tents — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?”

But while he was talking, a shining cloud came over them all, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dear son, with whom I am very pleased.  Listen to him!”

When Jesus’ witnesses heard the voice, they were so terrified that they fell face down on the ground.  Jesus came to them and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid!” So they looked up & saw no one there but Jesus!

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As they came down the mountain, Jesus told them, “Don’t tell anyone about what you saw until after I’ve risen from death.” They obeyed, although they didn’t really grasp what “rising from death” meant.

Then they asked Jesus, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah has to come before the Messiah?” “Elijah is indeed coming first,” said Jesus, “to get everything ready. In fact, Elijah has already come and people didn’t recognize him; instead, they mistreated him, even to the point of killing him.  They will mistreat me in the same way.”

Again Jesus’ witnesses didn’t fully understand him, but they did realize he was referring to John the Baptizer as Elijah.

God, please help me to love hearing You in Jesus.

(119) Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36

The Birth Of Faith

As they went on to the territory near the town of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his chosen witnesses, “Who do people say I am?” “Some say John the Baptizer,” they answered. “Others say Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.” (117)

“What about you?” Jesus asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of God!”

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“God has truly blessed you with this faith, Peter” answered Jesus. “On this foundation I will build my church, my family of believers.  Not even Satan & the kingdom of hell will ever be able to overcome you!

“In this faith, you will speak with the authority of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  You will forbid here what is forbidden there; you will permit here what is permitted there.”

Then Jesus told his students not to tell other people that he was the Messiah.  But, from then on, Jesus began to be more open with his students about his plan. “I must go to Jerusalem, where I will suffer much at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders; they will even have me executed.  But three days later I will rise to life!”

Peter got stuck on the execution part of the plan & exclaimed, “May God forbid this, Master!  May God never let this happen to you!”

But Jesus rebuked Peter: “When you think that way, you’re actually working against me, just like Satan.  You’re looking at things from a human perspective instead of from God’s perspective.”

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Father, please help me to love being Your child.

(117) Matthew 16:13-23, Mark 8:27-33, Luke 9:18-22

Life Means Following The Spirit

Some people brought to Jesus a man who was blind & couldn’t talk because of an evil spirit (104). Jesus expelled the evil spirit, so that the man was suddenly able to see & talk!

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The crowds were all amazed at what Jesus had done. “Could he be the Messiah?” they asked.

When the Pharisees heard this, they began repeating their earlier slander: “Jesus expels evil spirits from people only because Satan lets him.”

In reply, Jesus repeated his earlier assertion that he was expelling evil spirits from people only because God let him.  “If a country divides itself into opposing forces which fight each other, then that country will fall apart. If a family divides itself into opposing forces which fight each other, that family will fall apart. It is the same with Satan; if his forces are divided & fight each other, his power will not last.

“It is God’s Spirit, who gives me the power to expel evil spirits, which proves that God’s kingdom is already here. In order for anyone to expel evil spirits which have been sent from Satan, it is first necessary to overcome Satan.”

Suddenly Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, saying: “Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who doesn’t help me gather people into God’s kingdom is really keeping people out of God’s kingdom. People can be forgiven all the evil things they may do or say. But whoever consistently refuses to be led by the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven & will be condemned by God!”

Jesus then explained to the crowds an essential way to tell if people are being led by the Holy Spirit.  “To have good fruit you must have a healthy tree; if you have a sick tree, you will have bad fruit. A tree is known by the kind of fruit it bears.

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“With people it works the same way; our mouths speak what our hearts are full of.  A good person speaks good things out of the treasure of good things in his heart.  A bad person speaks bad things out of the treasure of bad things in his heart.

“On the day of judgment, everyone will have to give account for every useless word he has ever spoken!  Your own words will be used to judge you — either innocent or guilty.”

God, please help me to love following & being filled by Your Holy Spirit.

(104) Matthew 12:22-37

Harvest Time!

When Jesus had confronted her with her sin, the Samaritan woman asked: “Are you a prophet?”(52).  Jesus didn’t answer immediately, so she went right on, “Then why do Samaritans worship God on this mountain, while you Jews worship God in Jerusalem?”

Jesus said to her, “Believe me, the time has passed for worshiping God on this mountain or in Jerusalem. Samaritans don’t really know God; Jews know something about God, who has promised their salvation.

“But now it’s time for all people to worship God truly, by the power of God’s Spirit. God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people truly worship him.”

Then the woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain all these things to us.” Jesus surprised her by answering, “I am the promised Messiah!”

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At that moment Jesus’ students returned from town. They were very surprised to find him talking with the woman, but none of them dared to interrupt.

The woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and told the people: “Come and see the man who was able to tell me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the promised Messiah?” So, many people left the town and started toward the well to see Jesus.

In the meantime his students said to Jesus, “Teacher, have something to eat.” But Jesus answered, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” His students wondered if somebody had brought him some food while they had been in town.

Then Jesus explained: “My food is to obey the will of God and to finish the work he gave me to do. You know the saying: ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ But take a good look at the fields; the crops are ripe & ready for harvesting now!

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“Those who gather in the harvest will be rewarded with new life that will continue in heaven forever, even after physical death. People who plant & people who harvest will share new life together! I want you to harvest from a field you didn’t plant; others planted, and now you can finish their work.”

Many of the Samaritans from town were excited to know Jesus because the woman from the well had said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” When the Samaritans came to Jesus at the well, they begged him to stay with them, and he did stay there two more days.

After hearing the teachings of Jesus, some of them told the woman, “Now we believe in Jesus, too, not because of what you said, but because we have heard him speak God’s truth directly to us.

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“Now we know that Jesus really has come to save the world!”

Calling God, please help me to love being called to serve in Your harvest.

(52) John 4:19-42

Friend Of The Bridegroom

Jesus and his students went out to rural Judea, where he baptized people (50). John the Baptizer was ministering in a nearby place with plenty of water, and people also came to him to be baptized. (This was before John had been put in prison.)

Some of John’s students told him, “Teacher, you remember the man who was with you over on the east side of the Jordan River?  Well, he has begun baptizing as part of his ministry, and now everyone is going to him!”

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John answered, “No one can truly minister in God’s name unless God allows it. Remember I told you that I am not Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.'”

“Perhaps you can understand my relationship with Jesus this way. Weddings are all about the bridegroom. The bride belongs to her bridegroom. The best man is there to help the bridegroom, and he’s glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.

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“In the same way, when I hear the voice of Jesus, my happiness is complete. Jesus must become more important and I must become less important.”

John the Baptizer continued teaching his students, echoing the words of Jesus himself: “The one who comes from above (Jesus) is greater than all.  The one who is from the earth (me) belongs to the earth and speaks of earthly things. But the one who comes from heaven is above all.

“Jesus tells us what he has seen & heard in heaven, yet people are unwilling to accept his teaching.  But those who do accept his teaching understand that it is God’s truth. As Jesus speaks God’s truth, God gives to Jesus the fullness of the Spirit of God.

“God the father loves Jesus and has given him authority over everything.

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“Everyone who believes in Jesus can have new life that will continue in heaven forever, even after physical death.  People who don’t believe in Jesus disobey God.  They will be judged by God for their unbelief.”

Loving God, please help me to love being a friend of Jesus.

(50) John 3:22-36

Testimony

John was still baptizing people in Bethany on the east side of the Jordan River (45). The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent some representatives to ask John, “Who are you?”

John said, “I am not the promised Messiah.” “Then who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?”  “No,” replied John. “Then tell us who you are,” they said. “We have to take an answer back to our leaders. What do you have to say for yourself?”

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John answered by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert: ‘Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!'”

The representatives of the Jewish leaders didn’t understand.  “If you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, why are you baptizing people?”

As he had answered all the others, John again said, “When I baptize you with water, it shows that you have turned away from sinning.  But there is someone else coming from God — who is already among you & who is much greater than I am. I’m not even good enough to carry his sandals.”

The next day, when John saw Jesus coming toward him, he told his friends, “There is the lamb of God, who has come to take away the sin of the world!

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“He seems younger than I am, but he’s greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.  I didn’t know exactly who he was, but I’ve been baptizing with water in order to announce him to the people of Israel.

“When I baptized him, I saw the Spirit come down upon him, like a dove.  This was exactly as God had told me: ‘When you see the Spirit come down & stay upon a man, you’ll know: He is the one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit & give you strength to live for God!

So this man Jesus is the son of God!

Lamb of God, please help me to love pointing people to You.

(45) John 1:19-34

Water & Fire

Years later (42), in the fifteenth year of the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (southern Israel), Herod Antipas was ruler of Galilee (northern Israel), and his brother Philip was ruler of the territory of Iturea and Trachonitis (east of modern Israel).  During this same period, Lysanias was ruler of Abilene, and Annas & Caiaphas were the Jewish high priests in Jerusalem.

At this particular time, the word of God came to John the Baptizer, son of Zechariah, while he was serving God in the desert.  Then John 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 previously been prophesied by Isaiah, 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, every hill & mountain leveled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth. Then all people will 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 snakes think you can escape the punishment God is about to 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! 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, then?” 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 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 from the chaff. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn the chaff 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, the ruler of Judea, 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 evil thing: he locked up John in prison.

Holy Spirit, please help me to love being filled with You.

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