Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:2-7

“You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (17:4 CSB).

Our text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. In the previous article, we looked at God’s command. Now, let’s examine the other three.

God gave Elijah a promise (17:4). What can we learn about our God who makes such promises? First, let’s focus on his sovereignty. The living God has power and authority to command the birds, and other creatures. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Ps 135:6 ESV; cf. Jonah 2:10). He also directed Elijah to the place he was to hide. Elijah was to go to the wadi (or brook) Kerith, and there he would be fed. Then, consider the manner in which Elijah was fed. The Lord used “The Raven Catering Company.” He fed Elijah by ravens, not by people or angels, although God used both means to feed Elijah later. All creatures, high and low, are at God’s command. In using ravens, God restrained their natural tendency to seek food for themselves and instead to feed a prophet. He put Elijah’s location into their “GPS”.

Wonder at the Lord’s wisdom. If people or dogs had brought the food to Elijah, perhaps his hiding place would have been discovered. But who cares where birds are flying? God taught Elijah humble dependence. Ravens, unclean birds under the law covenant, brought him his food little by little.

Second is our response. So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook (17:5-6 NIV). Elijah acted according to God’s word. He found God’s will for his life in God’s word of promise. And he did it. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22 NIV). God is not impressed by how much we know; he is concerned with how well we obey. If Elijah believed that God will provide for him at Kerith, then he would quickly go to Kerith. The same is true today for you and me. True faith produces obedience to God’s commands.

God was true to his word. He provided his prophet’s daily necessities: bread and meat. I agree that it’s nice to have filet mignon, but it’s not necessary. The Lord did not give it all at once, but little by little as Elijah needed it. Twice daily he was taught God’s faithfulness.

Third, the test came. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (17:7 NLT).      The brook dried up. Why? This was the answer to Elijah’s prayer! Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land (James 5:17 CSB). Be careful what you pray for; God might give it to you! If you pray, make me like Christ, consider what that means (cf. Hebrews 5:8). Or we might pray, give me patience! Then we could find ourselves in the hope sequence (Romans 5:3-5). Are we ready for the changes that God’s answers to our prayers might make in our lives? All this tested Elijah’s trust. Was his trust in God or in God’s gifts? Had the Lord suddenly lost control of the situation?

Do you have a drying brook today? Perhaps it is the drying brook of fading popularity, of failing health, of diminishing business, of decreasing friendships, or of a feuding family. Has your hope been in such a brook that is now drying up, or is it in the living God? Let each one of us exercise a vigorous faith in the living God! And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part One)

1 Kings 17:2-7

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan” (17:2-3 CSB).

God had set the stage for a dramatic encounter. Elijah the prophet had announced a terrible judgment. There would be no rain or dew on the land until he said so. What great works would God have him do next to testify to the reality of the living God? You and I would probably have had Elijah do a number of awesome miracles, or at least set out upon a preaching tour in order to warn Israel to turn back to the Lord. But that was not the Lord’s method. He wanted his prophet in another place, a place that shows that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). But in the strange place to which God sent him, Elijah was able to learn to depend upon the Lord . May we learn that same lesson in the places we are.

The text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. We will think about the first of these in this article.

God gave Elijah a command (17:2-3). The timing of this command was unusual. We can think that we ought to be busy for the Lord when he wants us to rest, think, and pray. And the reverse can be true also! Remember that the Lord took Philip from a great revival in Samaria to find one man from Africa.

The command came when he was active for God. We usually discover God’s will when we are busy doing his will. Abraham’s servant discovered that God was leading him when he was already doing what he was told (Genesis 24:27). If you are young, as you think about what you should do with your life, begin by obeying what the Lord has already told you to do. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 Timothy 2:19-22.

Service for God involves consistent obedience to God. He did the first step properly; would he do the second? Saul was inconsistent in obedience. He attacked the Amalekites as ordered, but did not destroy them (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

God included two purposes in this command.

The Lord taught his prophet. This would try Elijah’s humility and submission to God’s will. Many men are tempted to pride and self-will when they are filled with success. Elijah had to remember that God was the “boss” and that he was the servant. It would also perfect his reliance upon God. How does God teach his people to live by faith? He does not teach it as much in the lecture hall as in the laboratory of life. Elijah was put in a lonely place where he could learn:

  • That God was able to supply his needs. Elijah was not commanded to plant a garden but to wait for ravens beside a brook. The Lord was teaching him total dependence on God alone.
  • That God was able to be his friendly companion. Elijah was probably alone with God for at least one year. Elijah had much time to meditate and pray. Think of John Bunyan in prison. He was there for twelve years, while his family suffered terribly! Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But God did great things through Bunyan because of those years in prison.

As we meditate on this text, we ought to be disturbed. (It’s good when God’s word disturbs you.) The Spirit of the Lord can speak through this text like this, “My child, what if that was you by the brook Kerith? Are you so living for me that you could live by faith beside that brook alone with me? Am I enough for you?” Are you willing to ask yourself those questions?

Learning humility and reliance were important lessons for Elijah to learn. Together they helped prepare him for the contest on the mountain. God usually uses the events of life to teach us to live by faith.

At the same time as the Lord taught Elijah, he judged the people of Israel. The judgment of drought was temporal, but the absence of the prophet was spiritual: It was a loss of spiritual rain (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11). The greatest famine that can come on a nation is a famine for the word of God. Look, the days are coming—this is the declaration of the Lord God—when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12 CSB; cf. Psalm 74:1-9; 2 Corinthians 4:1).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man of Courage (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:1

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (NIV).

We have looked at Israel’s horrible spiritual condition, and the way the Lord responded to it by sending a prophet, Elijah, who would point the people back to God. We have seen that Elijah was fully convinced of the Lord’s existence and power to bring about change. That was a crucial starting point. Two other qualities were necessary for an effective ministry in a very troubled time.

Elijah was conscious of being God’s messenger. He knew his position in God’s work. This helped in two ways:

  • It kept him focused on the work at hand. He did not have to bother with building his own little kingdom, but the kingdom of God. The apostle is another example of this kingdom focus. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16 ESV).
  • It directed him to live for the one who would judge his work, and not to be concerned with what people thought. We must see ourselves as God’s servants. To use a common illustration, we serve for “an audience of one.” This must be kept within the boundaries that Scripture sets for our actions. No one has the right to pretend, “I am God’s servant and can do whatever I desire.” Such an attitude reveals a heart in which one’s own desires and God’s written will are in conflict. We speak of boldness to do exactly what God desires.

Elijah knew his authority. He spoke and acted for God, as God’s prophet. He had a mission that the Lord wanted him to do. He was compelled to do it, like Jeremiah was. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jeremiah 20:8-9 ESV). This sense of authority encouraged him to act boldly. He had the courage to personally confront Ahab with his message. He had the courage to announce a great judgment.  Consider how unpopular the doctrine of hell is today, even in supposedly evangelical churches. And not only is the Biblical teaching about hell despised, but also the reality of sin. If you attend a so-called church where sin, condemnation, and God’s wrath are not preached and believed, you are not in a church but a religious social club. Leave it.

Elijah was confident of God’s faithfulness. His confidence was Bible-based. Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lord is giving you (Deuteronomy (11:16-17 CSB). The world cannot understand the godly man or woman because it does not share its view of God’s word as truth. Elijah did, he took God’s word seriously. He knew that God meant what he said. He also was confident that God would judge sin. Elijah’s prayer to withhold rain and dew from the land must be seen in this light. It had its foundation in the “curses of the law covenant” (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

For this reason, Elijah prayed in conformity with God’s revealed word. Making requests in true prayer involves having faith to claim the promises in the word of God, and then asking him to do as he has said. This was the motivation behind his fervent prayer (James 5:17.)

Pink in his writings about Elijah made the following three points:

  • “He prayed because he was assured that the Lord God lived and ruled over all.”
  • “He prayed because he realized that God is almighty and that with Him all things are possible.”
  • “He prayed because he felt his own weakness and insufficiency and therefore turned to One who is clothed with might and is infinitely self-sufficient.”

Do we have the same world view that Elijah had? Do we pray like Elijah did? Say what you want, but Christians no longer gather to pray because God is not in control in their world and life view. May we pray together as the early church and the church in times of revival prayed!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man of Courage (Part One)

1 Kings 17:1

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (NIV).

The situation in Israel was desperate. In little more than a half century, the visible people of God had turned from the living to idols. Ahab had led the way into deeper spiritual darkness. This was a “reverse conversion”, in contrast to what had happened to the Thessalonians: For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). Baal worship was substituted for the worship of the Lord, and it looked like no one was living for the glory of God. Years of isolation strengthened that impression in Elijah’s soul.

How did God respond to this challenge to his authority? Did he destroy those people? He could have, as he put to death an entire generation of their forefathers. Did he turn away from them forever? No, because his relationship wasn’t based on the nations faithfulness to him but on his to his promise and oath. Did he send them into exile? That was a real possibility, but God first sent a prophet to testify to his reality. He sent Elijah to speak for him, and the Lord acted powerfully through him. In a new time of spiritual declension in the western world, we need this account of Elijah to arouse us to live for the Lord our God, and to rekindle our faith in his all-ability.

Elijah was convinced of God’s existence. The Lord was the foundation of his world and life view. He confessed that the Lord is alive and able to act in this world. “God” is not merely an idea for troubled and confused people. Nor is the living God and the story of his glory in Christ intended to be a manipulative metanarrative. (We do not deny that evil people abuse and misuse others with their perverted version of the Bible’s message. But that is not God’s intent.) God is the Almighty, the Creator and Controller of all things. The existence of our Sovereign God has been vigorously denied for generations in western thought. We, his people, need to vigorously assert his sovereignty.

  • Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3 CSB).
  • The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths (Psalm 135:6 NIV).

Elijah confessed that the Lord is the God of Israel. As an Israelite, he called his fellow Israelites to agree to this fact. They may have walked away from the Lord, but he was faithful to the covenant. We can be confident, because the Lord Christ is faithful to his people. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). God was shortly to lead Elijah down a most unusual path teach him contentment and the greatness of his love for his people Israel.

Elijah lived a way of life separate from the viewpoints and practices of others. He was faithful to the Lord, though many others had fallen away. Elijah would come into repeated conflicts with idolatrous Ahab and his followers. This was no easier for Elijah than it is for us. As James wrote, Elijah was as human as we are… (James 5:17a NLT). We too often act on the false assumption that people in the Bible were persons of “super-faith” and suppose that it was rather easy for them to do their exploits. I have called Elijah “a man of courage”, but courage is something that you’re forced into when you lack other alternatives. He will act courageously, because of his obedient faith in the Lord. Elijah remained godly in his lifestyle, in spite of the growing wickedness of the nation. This would lead him on a spiritual adventure.

Grace and peace, David

Ahab: A Man of Wickedness (Part Two)

1 Kings 16:29-34

And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (16:31-33 ESV)

As leader of God’s people, Ahab, king of Israel, was in a position to lead the people away from God. The Holy Spirit in this section explains the evil spiritual situation that Israel fell deeper into. Previously, we observed that Ahab, surpassed all his predecessors in wickedness, and he broke through barriers in his pursuit of sin. What else did Ahab do to wreak spiritual havoc in God’s nation?

Ahab married an evil woman (16:31). We must recall the Lord’s concern for Israel’s purity in the marriage covenant. During the time of the law covenant, God had forbidden intermarriage with any of the Canaanite people (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). He had good reasons for this prohibition. He wanted his people to be separate from the nations, and avoiding close relationships, like marriage, would promote their devotion to the Lord. This same principle is true for the new covenant believer, though the intermarriage forbidden is different under the new covenant (1 Cor 7:39; 9:5; 2 Cor 6:14-16). People in God’s new holy nation are only to marry people who are also part of that group, meaning followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first question to ask before beginning any romantic involvement is this: “Is this person I am interested in a true follower of Jesus Christ?” If not, avoid romantic entanglements.

Jezebel was from Sidon, a Canaanite city (Judges 1:30-32). Therefore, Ahab had no right to marry her. Did Ahab care what God’s said in the Torah? Not at all! He had contempt for God, but his refusal to obey God did not grant him immunity from judgment.

This woman, Jezebel, became notorious for her wickedness. She became so infamous, that her name became a prophetic symbol for wickedness (Revelation 2:20-22). Notice her way of life:

  • Her cruelty. 18:4. We have enough sorrow from the murders committed by those involved in drugs and gangs. How much worse when the government persecutes the righteous?
  • Her idolatry. 18:19; 2 Kings 9:22.
  • Her involvement with witchcraft. 2 Kings 9:22.

With a queen like this at wicked Ahab’s side, Israel was in for trouble.

To make matters much worse, Ahab established the worship of Baal in Israel (16:31b-33). What is meant by Baal? The word itself means “lord” or “master” or “husband”. It was used to refer to a number of false gods in ancient times, for example, Numbers 25:3; Joshua 2:11-13. Here it refers to the Baal of Tyre, Melkarth [Melqart], who “was the kind of god that required the burning of innocent children as oblations upon his altar” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary). He was considered to be sort of the “weather or fertility god” of the land. His worshipers would engage in various debauched practices to induce him to send good weather.

Ahab was devoted to his new god. He began to worship and serve Baal, and soon he was promoting his new faith. To do this he built a temple and an altar for Baal, and made an Asherah pole. Asherah, “the Lady who treads on the sea” was believed to be the mother of Baal and wife of El, the chief of the gods, and the goddess of the sea. In this way he again transgressed the instruction of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 7:5). Here is a recurring theme in pagan thought: the worship of a god and his mother. Does this sound familiar?

Ahab provoked the true and  living God to anger. Even though others before him, like Jeroboam, had sinned grievously, Ahab gave himself over to evil to a greater extent than anyone before him had. Listen to what the Spirit says. Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him (1 Kings 21:25 CSB). What happens next demonstrates that God was not indifferent to Ahab’s sin. He was provoked to anger by it. Consider Romans 1:18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (NASB). But how did God act? The stage is set for the appearance of Elijah. But we close with a couple lessons.

  • When people depart from the worship of the true God, they often get involved in the worship of what has been created (Romans 1:21-23). Humans have sought to fill the vacuum in our souls by polytheism, evolutionism or pantheism. It is amazing to see how modern, technologically advanced humanity has descended to worship the “forces” in nature.
  • God’s wrath is against all those who get involved in such pagan practices. The church must take its stand against the adoption of such things though they are called by different names.
  • The only way to approach the true and living God is through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

Grace and peace, David

Ahab: A Man of Wickedness

1 Kings 16:29-34

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat… (16:30-31a NIV).

God’s word is always relevant to the human situation, because God and mankind are the same as when the Bible was written. Yes, our technology has changed, but the hearts of people are the same. The human race rejects God as God, refuses to love God first of all, and rebels against God and his laws. The text before us answers the question that everyone seems to ask in their time, “It can’t get any worse, can it?” Yes, it can get worse in any nation and all nations. Consider the example of Israel. Jeroboam I, the son of Nebat, invented a new religion for Israel, and the next five kings gladly walked in his ways. The warnings of God through his prophets were unheeded, and Israel provoked the Lord to anger by their worthless idols. But as bad as that was, let us see what happened when Ahab became the new ruler.

The rest of the book of 1 Kings is a contrast between Ahab, a man of wickedness, and Elijah, a man of faith. From a human perspective, Ahab should have had all the advantages in this comparison. He was the absolute ruler of his country, and Elijah had nothing. Ahab lived for self-satisfaction, and Elijah lived to deny himself pleasure for the glory of God. In this brief opening section (16:29-34), the Holy Spirit provides us with God’s evaluation of Ahab. After setting Ahab in history, the Spirit tells us about Ahab’s character and preferences.

Ahab surpassed all his predecessors in wickedness. At least three factors combined to produce Ahab as he was.

  • The wickedness of his own heart. In every person there is a foul spring of what the Bible calls sin; that is, rebellion against God, the transgression of his laws, the “bentness” of the inner person of the heart. Listen to God’s word: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19 NIV). The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). Never underestimate the radical corruption (total depravity) of mankind. Being dead in sins, people are capable of the worst crimes against each other and the most obstinate rebellion against the true and living God.
  • The plots of Satan. Listen to the word again: The apostle wrote about the human situation this way. People are caught in the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26 NIV). Humanity has a tireless enemy that wants us all dead, and he is always alert for ways to bring this about. He had an “absolute ruler” under his thumb, and he found the perfect time to strike.
  • The religious decline in Israel. Where believers do not shine as lights, darkness increases (Matthew 5:14-16). If anyone doubts the power of true Christianity to transform a nation, consider England before and after the First Great Awakening. England was morally ruined, until the good news of justification by grace through faith in Christ was clearly proclaimed.

Ahab broke through barriers in his pursuit of sin. He disregarded the examples of God’s anger against his predecessors (15:30; 16:7,13 , 19). Instead of considering God’s judgment on them, he attempted to succeed where they failed. The fear of God had no place in his heart. What resides in the hearts of all people (There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18 ESV), was life-dominating for Ahab. He considered all the sins of Jeroboam to be trivial. “Why only break the second command of the covenant? Let’s go all the way, and break the first one, too.” Let’s call this “an Ahab attitude.”

When a ruler desires to surpass all their predecessors in evil and chooses to break through any barriers to do that, you know that trouble is sure to come! Ahab chose to lead his kingdom on the path to hell, and he quickly learned the bitterness of that choice. Let’s avoid his high-handed sins.

Grace and peace, David

A Holy Relationship

Leviticus 19:2

Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (CSB).

In fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham (read Genesis 15), the Lord God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There he formed them into a nation that was to be holy (Exodus 19:4-6) or set apart to the Lord. Everything about their way of life from that great event onward was to be marked by consecration to the Lord. They were not to live like the other nations. Peter succinctly described the way of life of the nations in 1 Peter 4:3. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry (NIV).  Pagans here is more accurately translated as the nations. A pagan way of life is simply the way of life of the people of the world. God ordered a new way of life for the people of Israel, and he defined this by particular commands. This required a revolution in their thinking and how they lived. Everyone else lived according to their sinful self and its pleasure seeking. But at Sinai God instructed them to live according to his pleasures and character. They were chosen to reflect the glory of God.

To say this was not easy is a massive understatement. It was impossible—apart from the grace of God by the Holy Spirit.

If you and I have followed the Messiah for several years or were brought up in a Christian home, it is to forget how people that are not set apart to the Lord live. When God instructed Israel to be a consecrated people, it was a radically new way of life. For this reason, the Lord needed to instruct them in detail. In Leviticus 18, the instruction was primarily about sexual relationships. In Leviticus 19, the Lord instructed them about other matters. In some kinds of systematic theology, it is popular to divide God’s law into moral, ceremonial, and civil categories. Leviticus 19 shows that it a hopeless task. All are simply the instruction of the law covenant to the people who had to live under it.

Instead of doing that, let’s observe three things that are essential for the way of life of the Lord’s people.

  • We are to be holy or set apart, because the Lord our God is holy or set apart. What is he set apart to? He has consecrated himself to his glory, the fame of his name, the righteousness of his character. By grace, we are to be like the Lord.
  • God urges us to live his way, because he is the Lord. He himself is the starting point for how we evaluate what to live. For Israel under the law covenant, this involved behavior that was basically an avoidance (“do not”) of what the nations did. Some of these matters related only to their life as a nation, producing a distinctive appearance to their persons and their worship, economy, and so forth. Every Saturday and festival day, everyone could tell the difference. But all was to be done because he is the Lord.
  • The Lord requires us to live in love. Here is the Second Greatest Command (Leviticus 19:18). An examination of each of these commands will show that they are either a demonstration of love to God, love for people, or both.

In the same way in the new covenant, our way of life starts from the reality of what God is. In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle set for the glory of Christ. In the remainder of the letter, he applied that to how Christ’s people ought to live. Let’s think more often about how the identity of the Lord should transform our lives.

Grace and peace, David

The Genealogy of Jesus

Luke 3:23-38

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli… (3:23 ESV).

When Jesus began to preach, he was about thirty years old. Everyone thought he was the son of Joseph. But his family went back through Heli… (3:23 CEV).

Recently, a friend gave us a gift membership where we could trace our ancestry. We were told that we might find something surprising. One surprise is how far back we can trace our ancestors in some cases four to six hundred years, while in others all leads end in three or four generations. Another surprise is the reflection about how many people it took to produce David and Sharon and our children and grandchild. Yes, we knew this, but seeing their names and dates of birth and death adds a deeper touch of reality. Even more, as I researched our family trees, I solemnly wondered, “How many of them changed their minds and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life?” That might seem a very melancholy reflection, but even in the line of Jesus the Messiah, not everyone was godly. (Read the books of 1 & 2 Kings.) Thank God for his grace that has reached many, though others persisted in the hardness of their hearts. (They are responsible for their own hearts.)

Luke begins this section by saying that Jesus began. The question is “What did he begin to do?” The ESV, NIV, NASB, NLT, and CSB all supply the word ministry. However, considering Luke 4:18, the first statement in Luke from Jesus about what he was doing, it might be better to supply preach, as in the Contemporary English Version, quoted above. After his baptism, Jesus began to do his great ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word. God made his good news known through his one and only Son. This required much preaching (to the crowds) and teaching (to small groups and individuals). God the Spirit uses the word of God to bring people to new birth. It ought to be our delight to hear the Scriptures taught and preached. Do you hunger after Biblical preaching?

Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old at that time. I was twenty-seven when I became a pastor of a local church. Charles Spurgeon was sixteen. After I had been a pastor for a few years, I appreciated the wisdom of waiting till a man is thirty. Those couple extra years can make a significant contribution to how a man looks at life and ministers to people. But the Lord has his reasons for putting some into situations ahead of human reasoning, though not ahead of God’s. For example, David Brainerd and Robert M. M’Cheyne died when they were twenty-nine. If they had waited till they were thirty, their powerful ministries would not have existed. My point is that thirty years old can be a good year to start, but we mustn’t make absolute rules.

Luke joins all this with the genealogy of Jesus. A careful study of the genealogical lists in the Bible will reveal that some generations are skipped in any genealogy. It seems they were constructed in patterns for easier memorization. Here, Jesus is called the son of Heli, though he was at least his grandson. (In the whole list, the word son is supplied from the first instance in 3:23.) A comparison with the genealogy in Matthew makes it clear that we have two different lines back to the time of David the king. Many have puzzled over this. It seems (note my word choice) that Luke gives Mary’s physical line back to Adam, while Matthew gives the line of the kings from Abraham who was promised that kings would come through him to David to Jesus. If this is so, why would Luke give Mary’s line? Here are a couple suggestions. First, it connects Jesus with the promise made to Mary by Gabriel (Luke 1:29-35). When studying a passage, we should never forget what the writer has previously said. Biblical writings are carefully constructed. The list shows that he was David’s son, and that he was also the son of God. Second, many have suggested that it fits in with Luke’s purpose that the good news is for people of all nations. Unlike Matthew’s list that starts with Abraham, Luke’s list includes not only the Hebrews but also people of the nations. In addition, giving Mary’s line might be another example of Luke’s theme of the importance of women in the people of God. Luke has much to teach us about the nations and women. Let’s remember this in our doctrine and way of life.

Grace and peace, David

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:21-22

Have you skipped stones on a lake or pond? Many people have. It is a fun pastime with friends, or on a date on a sunny afternoon, a playful challenge between male and female to see who can have the most skips or skip a stone the farthest.  Please don’t do it if someone is fishing nearby!

Over many years of teaching the Bible, I have found that many people like to play another kind of skipping. When they ought to be focused on the passage of Holy Scripture before them, they like to play, “Let’s skip this passage and talk about these other verses or ideas or something else.” I’m not sure what their problem is. Perhaps they have difficulty concentrating, or their minds were on something else in the first place, or they’re uncomfortable with what the passage is teaching, and they want to run away, Jonah style.

The problem with this, besides endless spiritual distraction, is that such skippers miss what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for their benefit in the passage they’re supposed to be reading. This is one reason (there are others!) that cross references and study notes in a Bible might be hindrances rather than helps for some people.

So then, let’s focus on Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus and listen to what he wrote, instead of thinking about Matthew, Mark, and John, which are excellent presentations. What does Dr. Luke tell us about the great event?

Jesus joined with the crowds in baptism. When all the people were being baptized… (3:21 NIV). At this point, we must remember the context. Their baptism was a sign of their repentance or change of mind. They said by this act that they needed to have a world and life view that was ready for the Lord to appear among them. They confessed they needed the forgiveness of sins (3:3). They became learned who were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8). But Jesus needed neither repentance or forgiveness. Then why was he baptized. He, the Lord, had arrived and he joined with the people to proclaim that his world and life view was centered on God and that he would live accordingly.

Jesus prayed at his baptism. And as he was praying… (3:21 NIV). Jesus didn’t merely participate in a ritual; he worshiped; he prayed to his Father in heaven. He demonstrated that our life in God’s presence is to be characterized by prayer. The prayer life of Jesus is a theme in the Gospel of Luke (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:35, 46). John had taught his disciples to pray (11:1), and so Jesus acted as a follower at his baptism. We all should pray as we participate in worship at our local gatherings of believers. It is what genuine disciples do.

Jesus received honor at his baptism (3:22). At this time, he was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry. Notice how God pointed out that this was a significant event.

Heaven was opened. Luke did not write all the details that we would like to know, but in some way the Father let Jesus have a vision of the glories of heaven after about thirty years in human form. This would provide encouragement and certainty to the man, Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove in bodily form. I think this is the only time in the Bible that the Spirit came on someone in bodily form. The point of this in Luke’s Gospel will be discussed in 4:14, 18. Here is the event; the interpretation of the event comes later.

A voice from heaven identified him as God’s Son. We should hear “echoes” from two important texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is Psalm 2:7, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Son. The second is Isaiah 42:1, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Servant, in whom the Lord delights. We should hear the Father in heaven talking of the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). All three Persons of the Trinity join to mark the dawn of the new covenant era, the age of freedom and light!

We all personally ought to invest time in thinking through the implications of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42:1-9 and their connection with Jesus, his baptism, and his ministry. God is pleased in his Son. Is he our delight?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Four)

Luke 3:15-20

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them (3:19 NIV).

John the Baptist preached Christ. It is easy to overlook this, because much discussion on John focuses on him as a sensationalist preacher, his message of repentance to prepare for Messiah’s coming, or on the ceremony of baptism. However, we should see John’s place in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. As the herald of Christ’s first coming, he preached Jesus the Messiah. A few points should make this clear.

As John preached, the people were stirred to think about the Messiah (3:15). John told them the good news so much that they began to speculate about if he was the Anointed One. The Messiah, as we plan to see in more detail in a later post, would be a preacher of good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). When God would come to deliver his people (Isaiah 35:4): Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 NIV). So then, as John preached that the Lord was coming in the wilderness, it would have been easy to speculate about who John was (cf. John 1:19-27).

John declared the superiority of the Christ (3:16). He did this in two ways. First, by saying that in comparison to Christ, he was only the lowliest of slaves. Christ was superior to him in his person. He said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandals. In John’s Gospel we hear the attitude of John the Baptist. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30 CSB). Second, he said that Christ had a superior ministry. John’s baptism was only a sign that testified to a repentant heart. Christ’s baptism is the work of the personal Spirit of God. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would signify the blessings that would happen in the end times (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). Christ would bring about this age of renewal. This was far beyond anything John could do!

John talked about the salvation and judgment that Christ would bring (3:17). The Messiah was coming to clean house! The winnowing fork was used to toss grain into the air, usually on a windy hill. The chaff would be blown away, while the grain would fall safely onto the floor. Christ was coming to gather in the good grain to be in his house, while those who were not fruitful would be brought to eternal fire.

John preached the good news to his listeners (3:18). This good news was about the Messiah and what he was coming to accomplish. Notice that this was not a “side bar” matter, but that John used many other words.

Here are two practical ideas. First, people won’t like it when we talk about sin (3:19-20). Because John boldly pointed out Herod’s sin, he lost his freedom and eventually Herod had him put to death. Second, we ought to ask if our local churches are known as people from whom others can hear the good news of Jesus Christ? He must be the core of our message (Colossians 1:28-29). Does your gathering of believers preach the good news and show its transforming power to the world?

Grace and peace, David