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“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6
John was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.
The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.
John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.
John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!
And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.
Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.
Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” Matthew 1:1-6a
The Israelites kept meticulous genealogies throughout their history. Family lineage was extremely important for earthly reasons, but God also determined an accurate recording of the direct line through whom Jesus would come.
At the outset of Matthew’s genealogical recalling, Jesus is named the Messiah–the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation. First, the author notes, in backwards order, the two most important men in Jesus’ line. He is the promised son of King David who will reign forever on the throne [2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 9:5; Jeremiah 33:17; et al]. He is also the promised seed of the patriarch Abraham through whom the whole world will be blessed [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Galatians 3:8].
Then the genealogy follows forward from the first notable ancestor. [Although, just like the rest of us, Jesus line can be traced all the way back to Noah and Adam. So we truly are brothers and sisters of Christ!] All three patriarchs make the list–Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–the three men with whom God identifies Himself to Moses at the burning bush [Exodus 3:6]. Jacob was later called Israel and the Jewish nation took this name from him [Genesis 32:28].
Jacob’s son Judah, meaning praise, is mentioned next as are his sons by Tamar [Genesis 38]. Tamar is one of the few women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ, she kept Judah accountable to his duties. And on down to Salmon the father of Boaz before another woman is mentioned. In fact, Boaz is tied to two notable women in Jesus’ lineage. His mother, Rahab, was the woman who aided the Canaanite spies when the Israelites were scouting out the Promised Land [Joshua 2 & 6]. And his wife, Ruth, was the Moabitess who accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi back to her homeland [Ruth 1:6-22].
From these came King David, the man after God’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. Jesus is the fulfillment of promise after promise. He is the son of Eve that will crush the serpent’s head [Genesis 3:15]. He is the seed of Abraham through whom the whole world–Jew and Gentile alike–will be blessed. And He is the son of David, the righteous one, who will always sit on the throne.
Do you understand the significance of Jesus’ genealogy? Are you ready to give an answer about Jesus’ lineage? More importantly, have you accepted Abraham’s seed with mustard-like faith and become a co-heir with Christ?
“Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips , and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5 [NASB]
God is transcendent. That is He exists outside of His Creation and He is not subject to its constraints. He is also holy. There is no sin in Him.
Just as He is infinitely above the caterpillar and the archangel, so He is infinitely above all sin. As much as food chains, corporate ladders, caste systems and authority hierarchies are leveled before Him, so every shade of sin stretches out to separate us from our God [Isaiah 59:2; 1 John 3:9].
Individual sins are indistinct from sin’s totality. The parts equal to the whole rather than the reverse.
As humans though, we tend to classify and, often times, justify sins by ranking them according to our perception of not-so-bad to absolutely-horrible. Lies are little and white, hence, not-so-bad. Murder, especially obsessive serial killings or mass genocides are absolutely-horrible. We don’t want to accept that while some sins seem harmless or invisible, only earning a human slap on the wrist, that they could in any way equate to unspeakable, violent crimes against humanity.
But in God’s eyes, sin is sin. Every act of moral disobedience that stems from the spirit of self-as-god–that foundational thought that says I am basically good, so therefore I should be allowed to choose all things for myself. [And, by the way, we are each allowed to choose all things for ourselves; Joshua 24:15. But therein lies the rub! Because everybody choosing for themselves leads to problems. No government would ever stand with such a willy-nilly system. There would be no end of conflict and no resolution either.] Every godless, irreverent, shake-a-fist-at-heaven or deny God’s existence defiance. Every perversion of His design for us–whether in word or deed, whether in body or in spirit, whether in self or in another–all is sin. Plain and simple.
All of it separates us from our holy God. All of it was pardoned by Christ’s blood shed on the cross.
But we have to recognize our distance from our Creator God. We have to understand that the gap between us is called sin. We have to know that all we like sheep have gone astray, everyone turning to their own ways [Isaiah 53:6]. That all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. That we are each born in sin, with the proclivity to do what is right in our own eyes [Judges 17:6 & 21:25].
For it is from the honest recognition of our true sinful station that we can understand our need for Christ and Him crucified [John 3:16].
Do you see sins in shades of grey? Ask the Holy Spirit to sharpen your focus on God’s holiness. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal divine transcendence to you in light of the truth of eternity.
“When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘You made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against His anointed one.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak Your word with great boldness.” Acts 4:24-28
Faith without free will is no faith at all. Love without free will is no love at all. And God desires both from the joyful submission of our free will to Him.
Here after Peter and John were released from prison, they prayed with fellow believers. And they acknowledged that, from the beginning, God knew exactly at which point in human chronology He would send Jesus. God sent His Son when the Roman-centric world would swallow up His chosen people, Israel, and both cultures would converge to crucify Him.
Because it was all a part of His plan to redeem His Creation.
Though–being all-knowing–He knew who would carry this out, God didn’t choose to villainize or destine people or force anyone to do the job. Everyone who denied, denounced and destroyed Jesus’ physical body did so of their own free will. Just as everyone who comes to Christ also does so of their own free will.
Faith is absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see. But it must stem from the free will of our intellect, for without faith it is impossible to please God [Hebrews 11:6]. So if God chooses who will have this faith and who will not, then it is no longer faith. It is coercion.
Love, by necessity, is a choice. No one can force someone else to truly love them. But each person comes to love another purely as an expression of their own free will. We each choose whom we desire and how to demonstrate that affection. So if God chooses who will love Him and who will not, then it is no longer love. It is coercion.
But God is self-sufficient–He needs no one. God does not show favoritism [Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11]. He sent His to die on the cross for whosoever would believe in Him [John 3:16] and He doesn’t want anyone to choose to perish in the lake of fire [2 Peter 3:9].
And even knowing what we will choose, He still acts mercifully with all of us. Indiscriminate of our ultimate decision to accept or deny Him. He still loves each and every one of us. He still lets us choose for ourselves whom we will serve [Joshua 24:15].
Whom have you chosen?
“And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.'” Exodus 33:19-22
It is not permissible to see God’s being with our human eyes, because He wants us to live to tell about Him, and our sinfulness would altogether overwhelm us in His holy and glorious presence.
But Moses boldly petitioned to see God’s glory. And God, in His sovereign mercy and grace, granted that Moses see just His back. In fact, God covered Moses with His hand and only removed it at the first moment when it was safe for Moses to look upon Him.
Why would God not want everyone to see His face?
Can you imagine the world of trouble that human beings would cause creating and recreating the face of God? Painting. Sculpting. Duplicating. Publishing and posting. Especially in our very visual generation. The face of God would be reduced to an all too familiar, flawed representation that in no way compares to who He truly is. And people would come to replace the real God with a mere likeness.
Just the chapter before, the people of Israel demanded Aaron make them a golden calf to worship [Exodus 32]. They sang and made offerings to a piece of over-sized bovine jewelry!
The same danger existed with God showing His face to them. Wouldn’t these same hard-hearted people have desired to sculpt God’s portrait in gold and precious stones? But to whose glory and honor?
He didn’t want an empty self-portrait. He didn’t need their offerings or to enslave them in religious rituals, prostrating themselves before His image. He wanted their hearts full of love for Him. Just as He wants us to passionately pursue a personal relationship with Him.
In every other world religion, the false god has a face, an image that the followers associate with their worship–because they are no god at all, just an image made by human hands. But the One True God is high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1 & 57:15-17].
He is holy [Leviticus 19:2; Joshua 24:19; 1 Samuel 2:2; et al].
He is beyond understanding and compare [Exodus 15:11; 1 Kings 8:23; Job 36:26; et al].
And we will behold God when we stand redeemed before Him in heaven one day [1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2].
Are you living to see God face to face?
“Even while the people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.” 2 Kings 17:41
Hand-me-down faith happens when we base what we believe about God on what others tell us, rather than on what God tells us about Himself in His Word. One of the greatest dangers of this hand-me-down religion is seeing God wrongly.
When our faith–what we absolutely, certainly believe without being able to see–comes from people rather than the Word of God, we inherit a flawed understanding. Because we are all sinful and therefore have imperfect understanding–understanding that falls short of fully comprehending the glory of God [Romans 3:23].
Jesus warned that there will be those who believe they belong in heaven, that they have lived religious lives invoking His name, but they will not actually have known God–by experience and relationship–they will not have known and done God’s will [Matthew 7:21-23]. Why? Quite possibly because they didn’t get into His Word for themselves. They didn’t read the Scriptures with the intent of pursuing the knowledge of God.
Yet, there is certainly a place for instructing others in the truth. God commanded the Israelites to love God with all that was within them, and from this love to impress God’s Word on their children by talking about Him all day long in every situation [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]. They were to observe Sabbaths and holy days and be ready to answer their children’s questions about why they did such things [Exodus 12:26; Deuteronomy 6:20; Joshua 4:21].
But this instruction was meant to turn hearts to seek God in His Word, not substitute human instruction for God’s Word.
In the 2 Kings passage above, we see that well-meaning, religious, but still sinful people, easily mixed worldly ideas with the truth of God. They worshiped the Lord. But even while they did what should have been right, they served idols–a complete rebellion against God. More tragically, they handed this mixed faith–which was no faith at all–down through the generations of God’s chosen people.
But the youth did not have to accept the watered down truth they were given. King Josiah ruled not many years after these verses. When God’s Word was found in the Temple and read to him, he grieved that he had not fully known God, that understanding had been withheld from his generation. He returned to a right belief in God and endeavored to lead all Israel into a right understanding [2 Kings 22:8-13].
What is your understanding of God based on? Human interpretation or God’s Word? If human interpretation in any measure, turn back to God’s Word like King Josiah and seek to meet Him face to face for yourself.
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” Exodus 3:13-14
‘Eh-yeh. The Hebrew word, translated I AM here also translates I have been/was [2 Samuel 15:34; Psalm 50:21] and I will be [Joshua 1:5; Isaiah 47:7; Hosea 14:5] in other scripture passages. Past, present and future. Eternally existent, in a word, is the Word through whom and by whom all things were created [John 1:1-3].
Remember that repetition was the biblical way to bold-type, italicize, highlight or otherwise emphasize an idea. So in giving His name to Moses, ‘Eh-yeh aser ‘eh-yeh, God emphasizes His existence. Not just the eternality, but the primacy or preeminence of Him. God was the first [Genesis 1:1; Revelation21:6 & 22:13]. All existence comes from Him alone, and without Him nothing and no one exists [John 1:1-3].
Not only so, but He created human beings in His image [Genesis 1:26-27]–our existence derived from His. So why is it that in 1637, French philosopher, Rene Descartes, coined the popular phrase, Cogito, ergo sum–I think, therefore I am? Satan’s perpetual lie to humankind is that we can somehow attain to God-status–or at least shed our need for Him–by attaining mere knowledge [Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:14].
Such thinking denies the truth of who God truly is. It tricks our finite minds into believing that we can reject His image in us and remake Him after our own image instead–that we can live, whether wholly or in part, of our own accord without any consideration that there is an infinite, sovereign God in heaven.
Through Asaph, the psalmist, God wrote that those who forget God are guilty of thinking that God, in His patient silence, is somehow like themselves [Psalm 50:21]. His quietude condoning their unrepentant sinfulness. But Paul says, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator [Romans 1:25]. An offense for which we can be forgiven, but for which we need to wholeheartedly repent.
God is not like you or like me. He is God. If we are to rightly know Him, we must start by putting ourselves aside and learning to understand Him for who He truly is. We mustn’t shade or in anyway manipulate His person to ease our conscious. Rather, we must allow Him to shape us and to purify us from all the unrighteousness that weighs down our consciousness before Him, the Holy God [1 John 1:9].
Are you remaking God to fit your image of who you need/want Him to be? Or have you surrendered everything to the Divine Potter’s hand, allowing Him to form you once again in His image?