Category Archives: Weekly Check-In

Chapter 31: The End of Time

Yes, I am coming soon. —Jesus. Of the original apostles, only John remained to hear these words. He had experienced the climax of salvation history, but God was not yet finished. He had one more message to share with John and the growing churches to show His servants what must soon take place.

John was exiled on the island of Patmos for his faith in Jesus. It was here that the glorified Christ appeared to John with a message of His second coming. John saw someone “like a son of man” dressed in a priestly robe and ready to judge. He fell like a dead man at His feet. This John who had leaned against Jesus’ breast (John 13:25) could not even stand before Christ’s unveiled glory. Jesus presented Himself as the resurrected One who has authority over life and death. He stood among seven golden lamp stands, which represent the seven churches located in the province of Asia Minor on the mainland close to the island of Patmos.

Jesus had messages for each of these seven churches. From the three churches addressed in this chapter, a pattern emerges. First, there’s a unique description of Jesus that is related to the message. Then each message contains both a word of commendation and a rebuke for the congregation. He then gives an instruction or warning before an encouraging promise to those who listen and overcome the problem. Jesus who stands among the lamp stands was carefully watching His churches.

John then saw the throne room of heaven where he was shown visions of future events. God sat upon His throne in unimaginable splendor and beauty. He was surrounded by living creatures and elders who worshiped Him without ceasing. He held a scroll that no one was found worthy to open, causing John to weep. But John’s hope was restored when he saw the Lamb standing as if slain. For the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll and also to receive power and glory and honor and praise!

Shortly thereafter, the bride, who symbolizes all faithful believers, was ready, wearing clean linen and prepared for the marriage supper of the Lamb. Then John saw heaven opened and Jesus descended in full glory on a white horse ready to wage war and judge mankind. The King of Kings was ready to rule with blazing eyes and a blood drenched robe, a sharp sword and filled with the fury of God’s wrath. He was accompanied by the armies of heaven. His appearance is a dramatic reminder of the awfulness of God’s coming judgment upon those who reject the Lord. God’s final judgment from His great white throne is the final event of human history as we know it. The dead stand before Him in judgment. Those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire.

Then John saw the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem. In this future re-creation, God dwells among His people where He wipes away every tear. Many themes from His redemptive Story find their culmination in this place where all things are made new. The majestic and glorious New Jerusalem will be home to all the redeemed. Nothing impure will ever enter it. The water of life flows from the throne of God, the tree of life bears much fruit, and all are invited to partake. This place is the hope of every believer, for it is where God’s Upper Story and His Lower Story finally merge into one. It is here that the redeemed will enjoy the presence of God and of the Lamb forever. As Jesus concluded His message to John, three times He said, “Look, I am coming soon!” No wonder we are called blessed! Our King is coming! Come, Lord Jesus, come!

God has set a time for judgment. All of us must give an accounting of how we have lived. How should that affect us today?

Chapter 30: Paul's Final Days

If one could earn frequent traveler miles two thousand years ago, Paul might hold a record. After
spending nearly three years in Ephesus, he retraced his steps through Greece and Macedonia before docking in Miletus. There, he summoned the Ephesian elders for a tearful and final farewell. He charged them with shepherding the church of God. After a brief stay with Philip in Caesarea, Paul headed for Jerusalem, knowing that chains awaited him there.

Paul seemed to always be able to stir up a controversy. Just walking into the temple court stirred up trouble. The Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem so the Roman authorities stepped in to arrest him. While being taken into custody, Paul gave his testimony before an angry crowd. The Roman commander brought him before the Sanhedrin to get some answers, but that only made the problem worse. Paul remained in protective custody and was transferred to Caesarea’s higher court where he remained for two years before appealing to Caesar.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome while still on his missionary journeys, he told them that he planned to visit them. He probably did not anticipate his “fourth missionary journey” to be under these circumstances. Luke joined him on this cruise to Rome with Julius, a kind Imperial centurion, as Paul’s personal escort. Paul warned the crew that sailing on in bad weather would be disastrous, but they continued anyway. Conditions worsened to hurricane force winds off the coast of Crete driving their ship every which way. Weeks later the storm had not weakened, but all thoughts of survival surely had. Food was low, gear was gone, hope was gone. What seemed like a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island became unlikely opportunities for Paul to talk about God. The next morning they arrived safely ashore on Malta where the islanders showed exceptional hospitality. When Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake without incident, the people thought he was either a criminal or a god. Paul healed many of the locals during their winter stay there. Three months later they were finally able to set sail for Rome.

Paul was greeted by believers at the port of Puteoli, modern day Pozzuoli, about 150 miles south of Rome.  They encouraged him and he spent a week there before traveling on. When the Roman Christians heard he was coming, they joined him for the final forty miles of his trek to Rome where Paul was confined to house arrest under the supervision of a soldier. Paul invited the Jewish leaders to come to his house. There he told them about his conflict with the Jerusalem Jews and the fulfillment of the Scriptures by Jesus. Some believed, but others rejected his message. So, once again, Paul pronounced his mission to the Gentiles. He spent the next two years boldly teaching anyone who would stop by about Jesus (60-62 A.D). In his spare time, Paul corresponded with some old friends.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the church in Ephesus. He had spent three years there
developing the new church (Acts 20:31). He wrote to remind them of the high calling in Christ that is the basis of God’s plan to unite all believers—Jews and Gentiles alike—in one body, the Church.  Therefore, those who are called are to conduct themselves in the highest of ethical standards. Although the world is hostile, believers are to preserve unity in the Spirit. During his final Roman imprisonment (67-68 A.D.), Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to be faithful in preserving the gospel in the midst of persecution and false teachers. Timothy faced hardship in Ephesus. So knowing he was probably facing execution soon, Paul penned a heartfelt letter to strengthen this son even from a damp, cold dungeon in Rome.

What ways does God work things out for our good-even things that are difficult?

Chapter 29: Paul's Mission

Saul began his career as a radical Jewish scholar who was so convinced the Christians were wrong that he had them imprisoned and stoned. After an encounter with the resurrected Jesus he became a Christ-follower. Saul became Paul (his Greek name) who proclaimed Christ to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles. Led by the Holy Spirit, the believers in their home base of Antioch in Syria commissioned Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries to spread the news that Jesus the Messiah is raised from the dead. Their first missionary journey took them to the island of Cyprus where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer who opposed them and a Roman proconsul who embraced the gospel. They set sail for the region of Galatia (present south-central Turkey). They were invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch and, after an initial favorable reception, they faced persecution so they turned their sights toward the Gentiles.

Paul was joined by Timothy, Silas, and eventually Luke for his second missionary journey. They visited many cities in Macedonia, including Philippi where a church was begun in Lydia’s home. The evangelists were beaten and thrown in jail where their faith convicted not only their jailer, but apparently the other prisoners as well. Many Jews and Greeks from Thessalonica believed before Paul and Silas were sent away for their own protection. Paul then met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth where he was again opposed by the Jews. But Gentiles believed, so Paul stayed and ministered there for about a year and a half. He also wrote letters to these churches to teach and encourage them. He wrote the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue to be the model of Christianity that they had become in expectation of the Lord’s return.

After returning to his base of operations in Antioch, Paul set out on his third journey.  As he
strengthened the churches in the Galatian region, Apollos showed up in Ephesus where he met Priscilla and Aquila. He was a powerful speaker and strong disciple, but needed further teaching. Paul arrived in Ephesus, a hotbed of pagan idolatry, and as he began teaching in the synagogue, most Jews rejected his message. He stayed more than two years teaching both Jews and Greeks. Many people from the region came to hear him as the word spread. Some of the Ephesians believed and left their idols and witchcraft in exchange for a new life in Christ. This did not set well with the idol artisans who staged a riot to drive Paul out of town. While in Ephesus, he penned letters to churches in Corinth, Galatia, and Rome, though he had not yet visited there.

The Corinthian church had enjoyed a who’s who of early church leaders. This privilege should have prodded them onto Christian maturity but instead they chose sides like children on a playground. Paul chastised them for their divisiveness, corrected their immorality, and answered questions that they had about spiritual gifts. They needed to practice sacrificial love for one another. Some were even denying the resurrection so Paul gave them a remedial lesson on the essentials of the gospel and the hope of a future resurrection. The Galatian churches were confused by Jewish Christians who insisted they practice the Jewish ceremonial rites. Paul’s letter is a masterpiece on Christian liberty as he defended justification by faith alone. Paul’s pastoral desire to minister to the believers in Rome prompted him to write a letter to convey the foundations of the Christian faith. In spite of every form of opposition, the word of God could not be contained. God saw to it that obstacles became opportunities for Paul and others to take the gospel “even to the ends of the earth.”

Of all the counsel he gives to the different churches, which piece of counsel challenges you the most?

Chapter 28: New Beginnings

What could turn a group of gutless deserters into courageous, outspoken evangelists willing to be
imprisoned and even die for their cause? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. He had proved Himself alive for forty days to various people in a variety of circumstances and places. Just before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit so that they could be witnesses to His resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit stormed in like tongues of fire. He empowered each disciple to declare the gospel. Peter became the first mega-church preacher and that day three thousand new believers were baptized. This new community of believers embraced teaching and fellowship and enjoyed the favor of nearly all the people. All but the powerful Jewish rulers, that is.

The new church continued to grow rapidly. The apostles were even able to perform miracles similar to those Jesus had done! As the apostles spread the word of the resurrection in Jerusalem, they incited outrage and opposition from the Jewish rulers. Peter refused to be silenced and continued to speak in spite of orders to stop. Even a severe flogging could not curb his zealous proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen’s scathing sermon before the Sanhedrin showed how the Jews had repeatedly rejected God’s prophets and resisted God’s Spirit. The Sanhedrin dragged him outside of Jerusalem to stone him.  He saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God and entrusted himself to the Lord.

Sparked by the martyring of Stephen, persecution drove Christians like Philip out of Jerusalem and into outlying areas like Samaria. While the opposition grew, so did the spread of the gospel message. A Pharisee named Saul made it his personal mission to defeat this movement once and for all, but his blinding come-to-Jesus moment on the road to Damascus really “opened his eyes.” Meanwhile, God prepared Ananias to deliver God’s marching orders to Saul: he had a mission to be God’s witness to the Gentiles. As Ananias laid his hands upon him, Saul’s sight was restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Within a few short days, this persecutor of Christ became a preacher of Christ. Needless to say, his turnaround was met with suspicion and doubt, but trusted Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles in Jerusalem. Saul soon found himself on the receiving end of death threats, so he too was sent away from Jerusalem. The church spread throughout Judea and Samaria as God used even persecution to achieve His Upper Story purpose of spreading the news that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

God’s next move was so radical that He had to prepare both Peter and Cornelius for this new revelation. While an angel told Roman centurion Cornelius to send for Peter, Peter was given a vision of unclean animals on a sheet. A heavenly voice instructed him to eat this meat that was definitely not kosher. What Peter called impure, God now called clean. As Peter was trying to interpret the meaning of this vision, Cornelius’ servants arrived and summoned him to their master’s home. When he explained the gospel to a full house, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles too! The Holy Spirit was now available to all who believed! Peter now knew his vision was not about food but about God’s plan to declare all people “kosher” who would believe in Christ. Peter’s ministry continued in Jerusalem where Herod Agrippa’s persecution grew deadly. Peter was imprisoned but even prison bars could not stop God’s plan. As his friends earnestly prayed for him, an angel miraculously freed him. Kings, rulers, and prison guards all found themselves fighting against God and helpless to stop His plan. While the Lower Story of persecution drove believers away from Jerusalem, the Upper Story of resurrection drove many to God.  He alone can redeem even the worst of circumstances. After all, He alone is the God who raised the dead!

How do you feel the Holy Spirit working in your life today?

Chapter 27: The Resurrection

Ashamed. Afraid. Absent. Mere hours after they pledged never to leave Jesus—even to die with Jesus—the Eleven were nowhere near the cross as the sun began to set. The Roman soldiers were still there though and pierced His side to prove Jesus was very, very dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, an unlikely duo, show up at the cross. These two members of the Sanhedrin shed their secret discipleship and took responsibility for burying Jesus’ body. Wrapping Him in enough spices for a king, they laid Him in a nearby tomb. Remembering Jesus’ words, the Jewish authorities and Pilate secured the tomb and posted a guard there to keep the three-day resurrection story from gaining any traction.

Sunday morning, a group of faithful women approached the tomb wondering who could remove the rock that sealed the entrance. Imagine their shock as an angel told them Jesus was not there, “He is risen, just as He said!” Hearing the news, Peter and John sprinted to the tomb. They, too, found it empty. As Mary Magdalene wept still in disbelief, Jesus appeared to her and she too believed. Later the same day, an unrecognized Jesus approached two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus. They told Him all of Jerusalem was talking of the events of the last three days. The One whom they had hoped would redeem Israel had been crucified and they were discouraged. Some silly women even had an unbelievable angelic vision that the tomb was empty. Jesus admonished the two for their unbelief. Then He used Moses and the Prophets to teach them about the Messiah. Jesus dined with them that evening. When their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, He disappeared from their sight, but they believed! So they headed back to Jerusalem, full of joy to report their experience to the Eleven. They were interrupted there by yet another Jesus encounter. An empty tomb and two appearance reports later, the disciples still cowered and mistook Jesus for a ghost when He spoke to them. “Touch me and see,” He said as He showed them His hands and feet. When Jesus re-explained the Old Testament in light of all that had happened, He opened their minds so they too finally understood.

Thomas was not about to believe these second-hand stories. He wouldn’t believe it until he saw the nail marks for himself. A week later, Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas and the others just so he could touch the scars for himself. Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God!” Yes, now he believed that Jesus was the God-man and that He was risen indeed.

Days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Having caught nothing all night, Jesus told the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The miraculous catch was so great that they could hardly get the fish into the boat. It prompted Peter to bail out and head to the Lord. Over a beach breakfast, Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved Him. Then He told Peter three times to care for His sheep. The Eleven met Jesus on a Galilean mountain where He commissioned them to continue to carry out His mission by saying, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

As God, Jesus had all authority to now commission His disciples to carry out the building of His new community of believers who would be identified with the Triune God. They, in turn, could accomplish their mission because, as Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23), He would be with them to do so. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ proved Him as the Son of God. It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the climax of God’s great story of redemption. The redemptive work was finished, but now the real work began to spread the good news. His ragtag group of disciples were just the ones to do it, armed with the power of God.

Why is it important for us to believe, as Christians, Jesus rose from the dead?

Chapter 26: The Hour of Darkness

Knowing that His time had come, Jesus spent His last few hours with His disciples. The Passover was approaching so they prepared a customary feast. But this was no ordinary Passover meal; Jesus was about to change history. At His “last supper,” He taught the disciples a significant lesson by washing their feet.  He even washed Judas’ feet, although He knew Judas would betray Him. Then Jesus took the unleavened bread and cup of wine from the Passover meal and instituted the New Covenant, the Covenant that Jeremiah and Ezekiel had promised centuries ago. Aware of His God-ordained destiny, Jesus clarified His relationship to the Father so that His disciples might understand what lay ahead. He promised them that an advocate, the Spirit, would come and help after His own departure. After a lengthy prayer to the Father for His glorification, Jesus led this rag-tag group through the night to the Garden of Gethsemane.

What Peter lacked in judgment, he made up for in zeal. Peter pledged to even die with his Lord rather than abandon Him. But Jesus knew that He would go through His ordeal alone. He told Peter that he would disown Him three times before dawn. Jesus’ anguish for what was to come drove Him to agonizing prayer. Peter and his companions quickly exchanged fidelity for forty winks while Jesus prayed, searching to see if there was any way to avoid what was awaiting Him. He answered His own prayer when He acknowledged that He would do God’s will and not His own. Then Jesus’ betrayer and conspirators arrived to arrest Him. They escorted Him to Caiaphas’ kangaroo court. No one could find legitimate charges against Jesus until He affirmed His identity—Messiah, the Son of God. The Sanhedrin charged Him with blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. The religious henchmen beat and belittled their legitimate King. Watching from a safe distance, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Stunned and ashamed, he left in bitter humiliation. Judas, in a sudden moment of remorse, returned the blood money and opted for a rope.

Meanwhile, Pilate was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Jews wanted Jesus crucified, and he wanted Caesar’s sustained support. What’s a governor of a no-name, backwater region of Rome to do?  Interrogating Jesus himself, he found no legitimate charge to pin on this man. Yet the pressure was escalating from the crowd as they threatened to turn him in to Caesar as a rebel sympathizer. Pilate’s thug soldiers clothed, beat, and crowned Jesus with contempt before they marched Him to the cross.

Crucifixion was an exceptionally cruel way to die. The public execution drew hordes of scornful onlookers. Their jeers challenged Jesus to save Himself. They failed to grasp that Jesus was there to save them. One of the two criminals crucified with Jesus, however, got the picture. His faith secured his place in paradise. Even the creation itself testified to the enormity of this event. As sin overcame Jesus, darkness eclipsed the whole land. For the first time in eternity, Jesus was forsaken by His Father.

“It is finished,” He proclaimed. At that very moment, the temple curtain was torn, an earthquake split rocks and tombs were opened. It was finished. What could compel the Son of God to endure such torture? Finishing. Finishing the work that the Father sent Him to do. The debt of all sinners was put on Jesus, who alone could pay it in full. God is holy, loving, and just. His love compels Him to pursue His people, but His holiness requires justice for sin. The mob of mockers witnessed a Lower Story drama. A few faithful disciples witnessed a Lower Story injustice. But God witnessed the Upper Story culmination of a plan prepared before the foundation of the world. It was no surprise. It was justice. And it was finished.

What is the the irony of the statement, “He saved others but He can’t save himself.” How do you feel that such a price was paid for you?

Chapter 25: Jesus, Son of God

Who do you say I am? It was the most important question Peter was ever asked. People did not know what to make of this Jesus. He was like no other rabbi. His claims about Himself were outrageous and way out of line if He were merely human. Two thousand years had passed since God promised Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed. A thousand years had passed since God promised David that his descendant would reign forever. Now, in Jesus, God’s marathon plan of redemption was sprinting toward its climax. Peter’s answer to the question would change his life forever.

“You are the Messiah,” Peter confessed. Then Jesus began to teach His disciples that this messianic mission included suffering, death, and a resurrection from the dead. They objected to this idea of a Messiah, but Jesus rebuked them. His mission was set and no one could come between Him and the cross. In fact, He taught His disciples that they too would need to lose their lives to save them.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and gave them a glimpse of His future glorification. When He was transfigured before their very eyes, they fell face down in fear. Jesus had often made “I Am” statements connecting Himself to the name Yahweh or “I Am.” Then a voice from heaven stated that Jesus was the Son of God, thereby confirming His assertions.

I AM the light of the world. I AM the bread of life. Jesus declared that failure to believe in Him would have eternal consequences—you would die in your sins. But the Pharisees knew full well the weight of the “I AM” statements – and Jesus’ claims to be God were, to them, nothing short of blasphemy. From then on, their hatred of Him ripened into an assassination plot.

I AM the resurrection and the life. Despite getting word that His friend Lazarus was on his deathbed, Jesus delayed His journey. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been entombed for four long days. Sisters Mary and Martha mourned their brother’s death, disappointed that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him, but Jesus assured the women that His delay was for divine glory. At His command, Lazarus walked out of his tomb, proving Jesus’ assertion that He alone is the Source of life.

The march toward Jerusalem continued. His time was fast approaching and He had to prepare the
disciples for what lay ahead. He told them that the kingdom of God is accessible to those with childlike trust and humility, not through performance. Along the way, Jesus met a rich young man who had performed well since childhood. Jesus told him that discipleship, for him, would mean giving away his riches. Unable to part with earthly wealth, the young man walked away from Jesus’ offer. So strong is the lure of riches that, as far as the gospels record, this is the only time Jesus’ offer was refused.

For the third time, Jesus told them that His work included suffering, death, and a resurrection after three days. Now it was time for Jesus’ grand entrance. He sent His disciples to fetch appropriate transportation and a colt was just where Jesus said it would be. He mounted the donkey and triumphantly rode into Jerusalem as people laid down their coats and branches on the road and hailed Him as the long awaited King, son of David!

Jesus was preparing to glorify the Father’s name. He continued to offer eternal life to all who would believe. The incensed Pharisees instilled fear in many; some who did believe kept quiet. But Jesus’ claims were non-negotiable; He was the only Source of eternal life, the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. Who do you say I am? It is the single most important question that everyone must answer, even today.

What are examples of how Jesus gives us the "way, the truth, and the life"?

Chapter 24: No Ordinary Man

One thing about this Jesus:  He never invited neutrality. His followers called Him the Christ. His contenders called Him a blasphemer. Some were drawn to Him, while others could muster nothing in His presence but contempt. His teachings were revolutionary and His miracles undeniable. He claimed nothing less than equality with God and proclaimed Himself as the long expected Messiah. Jesus never left sitting on the proverbial fence as an option.

He attracted criticism, but He also drew crowds. He often taught the people in parables, brief stories that drew spiritual lessons from everyday life to reveal the secrets of God’s kingdom. With simple illustrations, Jesus taught that in Him, God’s kingdom had come, while exposing the religious leaders’ misguided view of religion. Jesus’ trilogy on being lost told of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Each demonstrated the value God places on a repentant heart. In the story of the lost son, Jesus exposed the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees as the older brother’s indignity, angered by his father’s compassion.  Like this father, Jesus’ concern for sinners created an ever-widening rift with the Pharisees. His popularity increased and so did His opposition.  Yet Jesus’ teaching ministry to the masses continued, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them how to live by faith in close relationship with God.

Jesus was a great teacher, but even His closest disciples struggled to grasp His true identity and purpose. He authenticated His words with miracles that made His authority undeniable. The disciples were awestruck when Jesus calmed a raging storm at sea. The people were mystified when he expelled demons from a possessed man into a herd of pigs, who promptly drowned themselves. Who was this man? He certainly wasn’t looking or sounding like a Messiah should. The desperate came to Him for healing, and weren’t turned away. Jesus healed a woman with a bleeding disorder, while pausing to restore her dignity and commend her faith. Meanwhile, the daughter of a synagogue leader named Jairus died. Jesus established His authority over death by raising her back to life. He healed two blind men, and the Pharisees exposed their own desperate lack of vision by crediting such miracles to the prince of demons.

News about Jesus spread through villages and cities, homes and institutions. Even King Herod grew interested. He was haunted by the fear that John the Baptist might have returned from the dead, for he had ordered John’s execution. Wherever He went, people gathered around Jesus. After one especially long day, Jesus fed more than 5,000 with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. The miracle was meant for more than filling empty stomachs. He had come to fill empty lives; the real point was that He is the “bread” of eternal life. As a result of his teachings, the people were divided. Many turned away, but those who truly believed were drawn close. In one of His finest moments, Peter announced, “You have the words of eternal life…you are the Holy One of God.”

Many came to Jesus with Lower Story needs, but Jesus’ mission was greater than any had imagined. He’d come to offer an Upper Story life, to fulfill the promises that began centuries ago with Abraham and David. He’d come to offer a life of faith – faith in unseen realities, faith in who He is, and what He could do for them eternally. The offer still stands.

What are specific ways you can be sure you have a secure Christian foundation, just as Jesus spoke about in the parable of the seed? 

Chapter 23: Jesus' Ministry Begins

If God’s prophets were meant to be peculiar, John the Baptist did not disappoint. Eccentric is too mild a description for this wilderness dwelling preacher who wore odd clothes and lacked both a sense of tact and a balanced diet. His message, though, was right in step with a long line of prophetic predecessors. He called for Israel’s repentance and baptized those who came forward in the Jordan River.

John was awestruck when Jesus came to be baptized by him. Then he watched in amazement as heaven opened wide and the Spirit of God came to rest on Jesus. John and those with him were astonished to hear the voice of the Father Himself broadcasting His divine approval. The community of God had gathered to bear witness to their incarnation. The Spirit then led Jesus to a lonely wilderness, where he spent the next 40 days in one-on-one combat with Satan, the enemy of God. He confronted Satan’s evil temptations obediently through scripture.

John the Baptist denied claims that he was Messiah, pointing to Jesus and announcing, “Look, the Lamb of God.” Andrew heard John’s message and rushed to tell his brother, Simon Peter, and others that Messiah had come. Jesus gathered His band of followers and began training them with marvelous words and miraculous ways. His first miracle took place when He went to a wedding in Cana with his mother, Mary, and his disciples. When the wine ran out, Mary turned to Jesus to remedy the situation. Jesus instructed the servants to fill six jars with water and serve the guests. When they did, the guests marveled how the finest wine had been kept a secret until now. Jesus’ disciples realized they had caught their first glimpse of the One who shared creative power with His Father.

The disciples became increasingly aware that Jesus was indeed their long-expected Messiah, but others were not so sure. A religious leader, called Nicodemus, had a secret encounter with Jesus to find some answers. Jesus’ simple reply was, “You must be ‘born again’….of the Spirit. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus had a similar conversation with a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well. With her, he spoke of ‘living water,’ but the message was the same: accept His gift and be saved. When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus confirmed His identity. She believed and shared the news with her entire village, as the second missionary of the new Messiah.

Jesus traveled the area, taught in the synagogues, and healed the people. He cast out demons and cleansed socially exiled lepers. The crowds grew and so did His critics. On one occasion, four men dug through the roof of a house so they could bring their paralized friend to Him. Before he healed him, Jesus forgave the man, while the religious teachers grew indignant over such blasphemous claims. But Jesus validated His authority by commanding the paralyzed man to get up and walk. The Pharisees missed the miracle and were irritated that Jesus had violated tradition by healing on the Sabbath.

This Sabbath violation, coupled with his absurd claim to be the Messiah Himself, on top of his questionable social circles, quickly turned the establishment against Him. So the conspiracy to kill Jesus began. While many debated, questioned, and wondered about Jesus’ identity; one thing was certain: Jesus was controversial. Some saw hope, but others hated Him and wanted only to be rid of Him. John the Baptist had loved Him from the beginning but now, languishing in prison, he began to doubt as well, demonstrating that even the best of us have our faith tested under difficult circumstances. But throughout this chapter, His baptism, His triumph over temptation, His miracles, and His message confirm Him as the long expected One who defies expectations, is drawn to the least and the lost, and whose message is indeed for all, from the graduate professor, to the immoral woman, to the leper – the Anointed One indeed.

How did Jesus use healings and miracles to advance his ministry and message?

Chapter 22: The Birth of the King

Heaven had been very quiet for 400 years. No burning bushes. No splitting seas. No visions. No dreams. No prophets. No message from God…just silence.

Then, in a magnificent yet uneventful way, a word – but not just a word, The Word came. At the time, the event seemed trivial to all but a blue-collar carpenter and his teenage bride. In fact, the Word of God had taken on flesh and blood and was first heard in a baby’s cry. His birth was less than humble, yet His presence dispelled darkness and cast an unexplainable ray of light across history then and now. God’s promises to Abraham and David had found fulfillment at long last. Jesus would bless all nations and would take His rightful place on David’s throne. It is this event to which everything thus far in The Story has pointed.

Mary was the first to hear the news. In the midst of wedding plans and setting up house, the angel Gabriel pronounced that she had been chosen to give birth to the Son of God. Nothing could have been further from her mind…or her to do list. Mary was engaged and a virgin. The power of the Most High would take care of everything, he said. So Mary rejoiced. She accepted her position as God’s servant and praised Him with purest trust in His plan. Joseph was the next to know. He considered pursuing a quiet, legal termination of their relationship to save them both from the humiliation of an illegitimate pregnancy. However, he received his own angelic visitor, who confirmed Mary’s innocence and gave his blessing on their marriage. Joseph wed Mary and soon after made the journey to Bethlehem to pay his taxes as required by law. The town was bustling, and the inn was full – so the Son of God was born in a lowly stable.

Angels delivered the birth announcement and shepherds became the welcoming committee for the King of Kings. They hurried to see for themselves, and found a surprisingly unassuming setting for a king: a baby in a feeding trough, accompanied by his mother, earthly father, and the local livestock. God also sent signs in the stars and faraway magi charted their course with gifts in hand. King Herod felt threatened by the birth of another monarch, so he ordered the massacre of all the baby boys in the surrounding areas that would have been of Jesus age. God sent angels again so His redemptive plan would stay its course. They warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Israel only after Herod’s death and they made their home in Nazareth. Jesus grew up there as the precocious son of reverent Jews. He and His family traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover. When Jesus was 12, He stayed behind in the temple unbeknownst to his frantic parents. They found Him sitting with the teachers who were amazed at His words, “in his Father’s house” as young Jesus said . Jesus grew up as all boys do and Scripture tells us that He increased in wisdom and favor with God and with people.

God’s Upper Story intersects with His Lower Story at the birth of Jesus Christ, the God-man. God’s redemptive story approaches its climax as the Son of God from eternity past becomes the Son of Man for eternity future. Messiah has finally come.

What is your favorite part of the Christmas story? Who could you share the good news with?