Filled with the Spirit

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

John was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. However, according to the people’s testimony of John 10:41, he never performed any signs. Not only that, he would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah multiplied the flour and oil for the widow of Zarephath, raised the widow’s son from the dead, called fire from heaven. Yet, John never performed any signs. He didn’t speak in tongues, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, foretell a drought, pray the rain back, call down fire from heaven. We might claim he prophesied in that he spoke from God about the the identity of Jesus. Even with that, there were never any accompanying miraculous signs to testify that his teaching was from God. There was even a time when he wasn’t sure about Jesus’s identity (see Luke 7:18-19). Yet, he was constantly filled with the Holy Spirit his entire life, even from the womb. This is different from his parents’ experiences. They were also filled with the Holy Spirit, but only for short periods of time (see Luke 1:41-45, 67-79). This is important to note because when we talk about any aspect of the Holy Spirit, we sometimes commit a Bible study fallacy. We think particular phrases, like “filled with the Holy Spirit,” are technical terms that always refer to the exact same experience or manifestation.* The fact is seen in this very chapter: John being filled with the Holy Spirit was a manifestly different experience from Elizabeth and Zechariah. By the way, the text doesn’t at all say Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, but she experiences the exact same manifestation as Elizabeth and Zechariah (see Luke 1:46-55). What a fantastic rule of Bible study we should learn here. Certainly, whether we are studying the Holy Spirit or some other issue, we examine all the uses of similar phrases. We will learn a great deal from that exercise. However, never forget immediate context is our biggest help in understanding what is meant with a given word or phrase at a given point. Don’t assume every time you see a word or phrase it means the exact same thing as every other time you read it. Further, don’t assign technical meanings that you then try to force into the words or phrases every time you see them. Stick with the context.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 1.

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Bread and Fish

Today’s reading is John 6.

Okay. I’m going to share something shocking. It goes against everything you are hearing today, not only from the world, but even from many people in church. Why did Jesus multiply the bread and fish? Not to feed the hungry. Not to serve the community. Not to love the crowd to the point of listening to Him. The key comes in John 6:14. When Jesus miraculously fed the people, they claimed him to be “The Prophet who is to come into the world.” The people correctly understood the reference of the miracle. Jesus is the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15-19; He is the Prophet like Moses who was to come into the world. But they, like so many today, missed the point of the miracle.They thought the point was to feed them. So they wanted to make Him king so He would keep on feeding them. Nope. Go back and read the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.* The purpose of the prophecy was to show who the people were supposed to listen to. But when He taught them. They didn’t like it. The didn’t listen. They left. Like so many today, they misunderstood what the mission of the Prophet and His Church really is. Neither Jesus’s goal nor the goal of His church is to feed people hungry for bread. Jesus is not like Moses; He is greater than Moses. Jesus doesn’t give bread, He is bread. Even though Jesus was actually greater than what they were expecting, He didn’t measure up to what they were expecting. They were willing to settle for a Messiah/King who would feed them. So they rejected the Messiah/King who would teach them. In fact, the only ones who staid were the ones who realized Jesus’s gift of life doesn’t come through any bread He might give, but through the Words He teaches. People today are no different. Many are attracted to churches who think their mission is to feed the hungry. Few are attracted to churches who think their mission is to teach the lost. Don’t be ashamed to be part of a church that won’t cave to the societal pressures to offer the mediocre service of filling physical needs. Yes, the world loves us when we do that. Yes, the community will be upset if our doors close if that is how we view or try to accomplish our mission. But that isn’t our mission. Be thankful to be part of a church that will offer the true service of passing on Jesus and His words of life. Yes, the world will despise us for it. Yes, most will reject it and us. Yes, the great majority will abandon us, even more so they will try to shut us down, and will throw a party if our doors close. But we will be walking in the footsteps of our Savior. And do not think we are to use the former (community benevolence and service) to get an opportunity to do the latter (share the gospel). That isn’t what Jesus was doing. And if it was, it failed. Why do we think it will work for us? Be unashamed of the gospel. Be unashamed to be part of a church that sees proclaiming the gospel as its mission.

Tomorrow’s reading is John 7

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Pay Closer Attention

Today’s reading is Hebrews 2.

Because Jesus is better than the angels, the communicating God has done through Him is better than the Law and the Prophets. But what does that mean for us practically? “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Sadly, as we look around today, it seems that many people believe that because the Gospel of Jesus is better than the Law of Moses, we don’t have to pay that much attention. We can kind of float around and be generally spiritual and offer some mental assent to Jesus and His superiority and everything will be alright. I mean, the Law…boy, you had to really pay close attention to that to make sure you didn’t violate it, but the gospel is easy. However, the author of Hebrews seems to have the exact opposite notion. Jesus is better. His gospel is better. So we better pay much closer attention or we will drift away from it and abandon the salvation Jesus has authored. That is what makes what we are doing here so important. We need to be reading, studying, memorizing, meditating. Let’s pay closer attention today to Jesus’s message to us.

Monday’s reading is Hebrews 3.

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When Did That Get in There?

Today’s reading is Matthew 12.

I’m not going to share something with you from today’s reading so much as from my own experience with today’s reading. How many times have I read Matthew? I can’t even count. For the first time that I can remember, I noticed a statement. At the end of Matthew 12:43-45, when Jesus spoke about the vanquished unclean spirit coming back with seven friends to take over and making the latter state worse than the first, He actually ends the paragraph by saying, “So also will it be with this evil generation.” I have read right through that before and never even noticed that phrase. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Is He simply saying things are going to be bad in the judgment for “this evil generation” (see the previous paragraph)? Is He saying that “this evil generation” initially responds but ultimately will be in a bad state? After all, quite a few start to follow Him but end up shouting “Crucify Him” in the end. Is He saying that He is here to clean up this evil generation and initially it will seem to work, but they will ultimately end up worse off because of their rejection? Or is He saying that just like that whole demon-possessed situation leaves a person worse off in the end, the evil generation will be worse off because before Jesus came they had less of an excuse but after He is done, they will have no excuse? I’m not exactly sure what this phrase is saying. I’m going to have to spend some serious time digging into this. But this is another one of those reminders. We think we have read and we know, but there is always more. We often think certain topics and texts are beneath us because we’ve figured them out so they aren’t really for us any more. But that just isn’t so. With every topic and text we are missing so much. We need to keep reading. Keep studying. Keep teaching. Then go back and do it all over again.

Tomorrow’s reading is Matthew 13.

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Jesus’s Modus Operandi

Today’s reading is Matthew 4.

“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction of the people.”

Listening to the blogosphere today, you’d think Jesus’s modus operandi was to enter a town, go to the “other side of the tracks,” seek out the marginalized and vulnerable, hang out with them, feed them, heal them, show how much He loved them, and then gain from that an opportunity to teach them. Therefore, those in authority hated Him, so they killed Him. That simply wasn’t His method. Jesus entered a town and went to church. That is, He went to the synagogue to teach. People of all shapes, sizes, and social statuses would come listen. He taught all and healed all in need. More would come to listen, and more would come to be healed. Please, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying in today’s world we do our best and most effective evangelizing by preaching in a religious meeting house. I’m just asking for some honesty about Jesus Himself. We can’t possibly come to truth if we develop a habit of retrofitting what we think is a good idea back on top of what Jesus actually did and on top of what is actually written. Further, we are in danger of actually missing the point of Jesus’s mission and work when we do so. Jesus’s mission was not to socially empower the vulnerable or socially mainstream the marginalized. Jesus’s mission was to save souls from sin and build His kingdom. It happens that the marginalized and vulnerable were often the ones who did respond. Whatever we do and wherever we go to meet people, whoever responds, let’s make sure we keep Jesus’s main mission our main mission. And let us be unashamed of His gospel and His kingdom.

Tomorrow’s reading is Matthew 5.

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Fruit, not Root

Today’s reading is Matthew 3.

One of the aspects of Biblical literature I find interesting is sometimes we see similar metaphors used to make different points. Most of the time, when we see the root and fruit metaphor, the point is the root determines the fruit and the fruit declares the root. However, in today’s reading, John is saying the root is not what matters, the fruit is. Here, the root is about biological descent. Israelites found their roots in Abraham who received the promises. But John says, “It doesn’t matter where your roots are. God is laying an ax to the roots. What matters is your fruit. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” It doesn’t matter who your parents are. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Jesus is calling us to repentance, but more than just calling us to mentally declare a shift, He is calling us to change and bear fruit in keeping not with our roots but with our repentance. What fruit will you bear today?

Tomorrow’s reading is Matthew 4.

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Stay Awake!

Today’s reading is Mark 13.

While I personally believe this entire chapter refers to a judgment that is already past, I am also aware this is typical judgment language. That is, almost everything said in this chapter can be said about every judgment God has brought and will bring upon men, nations, and the world. Thus, I need to stay awake. Of course, I don’t mean literally I must never sleep. But I need to be alert in life. The tempter is everywhere, taking every opportunity he can to slip into my heart and mind unnoticed. Sometimes, I don’t even realize he is there until some ungodly notion has taken hold and come to fruition. I need to be alert to his schemes, to nip them in the bud before they have an opportunity to grow. When God judges, I want Him to find faith in me. I need to stay awake.

Tomorrow’s reading is Mark 14.

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