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“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25
The disciples followed Jesus simply because He called them. While He taught in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and at open air gatherings during the week, many others came to follow Jesus because of the miracles He performed.
In these verses we see that almost all of the inhabitants of the original Promised Land had representatives following Jesus’ ministry. Strangely missing from the list of followers, though, is Samaria. Another mixed-culture people group looked down on by the orthodox Jews of the south. No doubt Jesus noted their absence and, out of His love for them, willfully passed through the taboo region, bringing them the good news [John 4].
Medical care in the Roman Empire would have included herbal remedies, some doctors and surgeons, folk-practices, superstitions and temple rites. Complete and immediate healing was more than anyone could ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. Yet that is exactly what Jesus did.
He preached. And He healed all who were brought to Him. No ailment was too great. And none was too small.
And for this simple ministry, the masses followed Him. He didn’t have high tech visuals or catchy music. He didn’t offer amusement or entertainment or interest groups. He didn’t promise wealth or prosperity or power or protection. Because all of that is false. All of it insincere, destructible and corruptible. All of it will pass away.
Even the physical healings people received from Jesus were temporary–everyone who experienced supernatural healing still aged and died naturally. Because this life is temporary. This world is not our home [Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:11-12]. We’re only passing through.
But the word of the Lord–the good news of His kingdom come–will stand forever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25].
Have you simply come to Jesus? Are you drawn by the mere truth of Him? Or does something else court your affections?
“As Jesus was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22
Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee by calling disciples to Himself. This was not customary. In fact, usually it was the disciple who chose the teacher or rabbi. Prospective students would begin by sitting at the back of the room, listening to their would-be rabbi. If they liked the teaching and wanted to study under the rabbi then they worked their way to sitting in the front and following the rabbi wherever he taught.
But that was an earthly tradition. God isn’t content to wait around while we stray further and further from His truth, hoping that we might show up in the back of His class our of curiosity. He passionately pursues all people.
Jesus found His first four disciples working as fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. So they were probably of mixed Gentile and Jewish origin. They probably had a recognizable accent to the “purer” Jews of the south. And they probably would have been despised–or looked down on–by the religiously devout just as much as Jesus was.
They were perfect for the job in every way!
Simon Peter is hard at work with his brother Andrew when Jesus promised to make them fishers of men. James and John responded too.
I have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus meant by this turn of phrase. Were they well versed in the prophecies of the Messiah? Or were they from Galilean families who practiced watered-down worship?
Regardless of what their understanding, what we do know about these men is the most important thing that could be said of anyone. They followed Jesus. Without hesitation. Without concern about their livelihood or their parents. They literally laid it all down and committed their lives to Him.
So often we let the love of the world consume us–the desires of our physical bodies, the desires of our eyes and the pride for what we have and do–bind us up [1 John 2:16]. When Jesus knocks on our hearts and calls our name, we hesitate. But what about my college plans? My job path? My friends? My house? My family? My healthcare? My retirement?
We have so much that we, like the rich young ruler, sadly turn away from following Jesus’ lead [Mark 10:21-22].
Is your life free to follow Christ? Or are you weighted down by the world?
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 4:12-17
When Satan didn’t succeed in tempting Jesus, it appears he turned his attentions to attacking Jesus’ cousin, John. Maybe now he could force God’s Son to out Himself as the Messiah. Surely the Savior of the world would storm the prison and miraculously overthrow the government, decimating its army to free one of His beloved human beings.
But it’s still not God’s appointed time.
It was, however, God’s time to send His Son as a light to all nations.
So instead, Jesus moved to Capernaum from which most of His earthly ministry was soon to be based. This is the promised blessing for these two tribal territories whose trade routes connected Israel to the Mediterranean.
Capernaum was a sizable town in the Galilee region. Because of the Assyrian captivity, the people there were of mixed-culture descent–returning Jews and the pagan peoples that moved into the area during the captivity. Influence from all of the Gentile religions greatly diminished Jewish worship in Galilee.
They had become spiritually dark.
But Isaiah had foretold that God would send His Son as a light into this spiritual darkness [Isaiah 9:1-2]. The reason? Because it was always God’s intention to redeem the whole world, not just Israel [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Acts 3:25].
Satan intended to silence John’s message, but God’s purposes prevailed. Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near [Matthew 3:2], and stepped into the way prepared by John’s ministry.
A torch that he passed to His disciples. A torch that has passed down through the generations and come to us. God’s light is still for everyone on the planet. His redemption for everyone who has, does and will ever live. The way has been prepared for you and I to take up the message.
Will you embark on the journey of the eternal torch? Making disciples of all nations? Teaching them to obey God’s Word? And baptizing them in the name of the Triune Godhead [Matthew 28:16-20]?
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.” Matthew 3:13-15
Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully man. He had to travel from Galilee to the Jordan the same way everyone did. It was a hot and dusty walk for him just as it was for all the others.
Jesus came to have his physical body baptized in water, but he had no sin to confess. Did the crowds murmur at his lack of confession? Or did they whisper the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood, trying to understand the truth of him?
John knew full well who Jesus was. He tried to defer to Jesus’ spiritual authority, but Jesus is not so self-important that he can’t be ministered to by a human being. On the contrary, Jesus was blessed by John’s ministry just as John was blessed to minister to him.
The deeper significance of this moment was not lost on Jesus. He is the fulfillment–the completion bringing to reality–of all of the prophecies and the generations of waiting for the woman’s seed who will crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15], the promised inheritance of Abraham, the living law of Moses and the eternal culmination of the line of King David. By faith in the Christ who was to come, each of these were credited with righteousness, that is, they were considered morally right or justified in God’s eyes.
When Jesus was baptized by human hands in an earthly river, his physical body was cleansed like a high priest washing before offering the temple sacrifices [Hebrews 4:14-16]. Spiritually, Jesus was preparing to give himself as the spotless sacrifice–without a sin to confess but bearing all of our sins on the cross–to impart his righteousness to each of us who accept his sacrifice by faith.
John baptized the Son of God Almighty, but that didn’t bring his ministry to an end. He didn’t reach the top in a big showy fanfare and then retire. Instead, Jesus’ baptism reaffirmed John’s commission. Whatever we do to our fellow human being, so we do to our Lord [Matthew 25:40]. Each time John honored his call to baptize repentant sinners, he was ministering to Jesus all over again.
We have also been commissioned to baptize the nations [Matthew 28:19-20]. When we obey our call to make disciples, we minister to–that is, attend to–Jesus.
And John consented. Jesus wasn’t going to override John’s freewill, forcing him to do it Jesus’ way. God always honors our right to choose.
What would you choose if Jesus showed up and asked you to minister to him? The answer is as easy as how you treat the people you see everyday. Because as you do to them, you do to Jesus. Are you faithfully fulfilling your commission?
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” Matthew 3:1-3
As we’ve already mentioned, family trees are incredibly important in understanding scripture. Not just the genealogies, but also knowing who is related to whom and how. The prophets foretold a forerunner that would do as John did [Isaiah 40:3 & Malachi 3:1]. But the gospel of Luke explains the miraculous details surrounding John’s cousinhood to Christ [Luke 1:5-25, 39-45 & 57-80].
Yes, John’s birth was also announced by an angel visiting his father, Zechariah, in the temple. As a sign for the unbelieving Zechariah, he was struck mute until the baby was born, and he obeyed by naming him John.
Surely John was raised on bedtime stories of God’s hand in his very own life from infancy. How he leapt with excitement in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, in the presence of his savior Jesus who was in his mother Mary’s womb at the same time.
But we don’t know much else about John’s early years. Just that we he grew up began to baptize people in the Jordan river. He proclaimed the need for repentance. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near.
Some debate surrounds the phrase, the kingdom of heaven is near. What did John mean by this? Obviously, he lived and preached nearly two thousand years ago and the human race is still here. Not only that, but God did not come down and restore theocracy as the world government system. So why did John proclaim this message? Was he wrong?
Absolutely not. It wasn’t an end time message. He was called.
Called to let people know that heaven was walking among them at that time. That heaven had bent low and touched the earth in the form of his half-cousin Jesus Christ. People then, just as now, needed to get their hearts prepared to receive their savior. In so doing, we become the kingdom of heaven even while we still live here on earth.
The kingdom of heaven is still at hand. It comes to us in God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit and the accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we prepare our hearts to receive Him, He can come and restore them. He reinstates our heavenly citizenship so that we can live eternally with Him.
Just like John, you and I have also been called to carry this message. Are you? Do you live and speak like the kingdom of God is at your fingertips and in your heart?
“Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.'” Nehemiah 4:13-14
Throughout the sinful history of the world, wars and rumors of wars have threatened human life and national security [Matthew 24:6]. War is not God’s desire. But it is a natural consequence of sin in the world.
Certainly, God’s people defended themselves against foreign nations. And God Himself intervened in miraculous ways during many of the major battles.
God calls us to defend the cause of the widows and the fatherless [Deuteronomy 10:18], the oppressed and the afflicted [Psalm 10:18 & 72:4] and the rights of the poor and needy [Proverbs 31:9]. Through Nehemiah, God called the nation of Israel to defend their families–not just their physical lives, but the spiritual, emotional and mental wholeness of their families. Their soundness built on the Word of God.
And He called them not to be afraid. The awesome, Almighty God was with them.
America was built on these same biblical principals. Godly men and women founded our nation with the intention to preserve sound Bible teaching and strong family relationships. They desired to see families empowered by the Word of God and defending the nation from the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted and right on up to the top.
Each Memorial Day, we remember the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have given their lives to protect and defend the freedoms that we often take for granted. Without their sacrifice, we would not be free. Rather, we ourselves would be the oppressed and afflicted, possibly the widows and the fatherless in need of a righteous defender.
Just like the soldiers who died to help make and keep America a free nation, Jesus died to eternally free us from sin and the fear of death. So today, honor those who have selflessly served our nation and recognize that image of God in yourself to live as a righteous defender of His truth in all your ways [Proverbs 3:6].
How is God calling you to defend others? What can you do to honor His righteous image in you?