Luke 4

This amazing chapter takes us to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In previous posts I have covered content from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark similar to what is found here. But this chapter is our only chance to deal with the temptation of Jesus, so that will be the focus of this post.

Did you notice that Jesus was “led by the Spirit…to be tempted by the devil”? God the Father put God the Son to the test — not to see if He was ready for His mission, but to show that He was ready. He was tempted so that everyone would know that Jesus Christ is the Conqueror! Because of His victory we, too, can have victory over the devil and temptation.

Jesus’ extreme fasting over a period of forty days set up the devil’s first round of temptation. It was a physical temptation (v.3-4), playing on Jesus’ hunger. Jesus blocked the attack with the truth of Deuteronomy 8:3, which affirmed that spiritual things are more important than physical things and God’s Word is more important than our appetites.

The second round was a psychological temptation (v.5-7). Jesus would not perform a miracle in the first round, so the devil tempted Him to demand a miracle from God — to catch Him before he hit the ground. Jesus threw the Scripture back at him and refused to sinfully put God to a test. Jesus knew His Father was a promise-keeper, and He didn’t have to prove it.

The third round (v.8-11) was a spiritual temptation: would Jesus bow down and worship the devil? The offer was for Jesus to take what was already His (the right to rule all kingdoms), but on corrupt terms. Jesus wouldn’t do it. For a third time, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, sending the devil slinking away in defeat.

You and I face the same battle. We are tempted by the same tempter with the same temptations. And we have the same choice that Jesus had: Will we trust God’s will or take shortcuts? Will you please God or please yourself? God’s way or my way? Will I do what is easy or what is right? With God’s help, we can conquer temptation by choosing God’s way.

We can have the same victory Jesus had when we face temptation because we have the same weapon Jesus used to defeat it — the Word of God. Ephesians 6:17 says it is “the sword of the Spirit.” A general knowledge of the Bible is not enough. We need a good grip on the Sword of the Spirit so we can swing it to attack temptation.

Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” That’s what it takes…and that’s what you are doing right now. Keep hiding it in your heart!

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Luke 2

This chapter, which spans twelve years, begins with the beautifully simple story of the birth of Jesus. Having made their way to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph did not find a desirable place for their special baby to be born. If we are careful not to romanticize their situation, we will conclude that Jesus was likely born in a dirty place, He was laid in a trough where livestock ate, and His first breath burned with the odor of animal waste. Fitting, wasn’t it? Because Jesus came to a messed-up, hurting world to make things better.

No baby ever had a birth announcement like Jesus. First one, then a multitude of shining extraterrestrials told a group of shepherds where to find Him, then shouted their praise to God. When the shepherds found the baby Jesus, they couldn’t contain their excitement. They told everyone about Him. Oh, how I wish we could recapture that evangelistic enthusiasm!

Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer the prescribed sacrifices for a first-born son. While in the Temple, they met two godly senior adults who both had a special interest in Jesus.

Simeon had been assured by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah with his own eyes. When he saw Jesus, he immediately knew His true identity. Scooping the baby up in his arms, Simeon pronounced a beautiful blessing, and then turned to Mary and prophesied the opposition Jesus would face — and how her own heart would be broken by His suffering.

Anna, a godly widow who had devoted her life to serving the Lord, also recognized that Mary’s baby was “the redemption of Jerusalem,” a Messianic title drawn from Isaiah 52:9.

The little family returned to Nazareth, “their own town” (v.39). Verse 40 gives us the only information we have about the next dozen years of Jesus’ life. He learned to walk and talk and play. In many ways Jesus was a typical child, but He had no sin nature and no character flaws (imagine that, parents!). And He certainly had uncommon wisdom for His age.

This was evident when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to His first Passover in Jerusalem. When they could not find Jesus on the trip back to Nazareth, they returned to Jerusalem and found Him in the Temple. At only twelve years old, Jesus was holding His own with the great rabbis of Judaism, amazing them with His wisdom.

An exasperated Mary asked Jesus to explain His behavior, and His answer went completely over their heads (v.50). He was in His Father’s house — God’s house. Jesus knew who He was and why He was born, even at the age of twelve. And that is the last thing we hear from Jesus for the next 18 years. We pick up there tomorrow.

Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart” (v.51). She did not completely understand her Son, but she tried to process it all. One day it would all be clear. One day her Son would become her Savior.

Luke 1

This extremely important chapter of the Bible is made up entirely of Holy Spirit-inspired content that is exclusive to Luke. It covers several events that occurred before the birth of Jesus, all carrying the authenticity of eyewitness testimony (v.2-4). About half of the chapter focuses on the announcement of John’s birth and the balance focuses on Jesus.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are introduced as exemplary believers with righteous hearts and blameless behavior (v.6). Like their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, they were elderly and childless, though they had prayed for a son.

As a priest, it was Zechariah’s turn to be stationed in Jerusalem for a round of Temple service. While he was burning incense in the Holy Place (probably a once-in-a-lifetime privilege), the angel Gabriel appeared to announce that Elizabeth would have a son. The angel explained that the boy would be named John and that he would be an extra-special man with an extra-special purpose: John would be a prophet (like Elijah, v.17) and would lead a revival in Israel.

This was too much for old Zechariah. Face-to-face with an angel, he voiced his doubts that it could happen. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah would not voice anything else for nine months.

Zechariah learned a lot in his silence. When John was born and he was able to talk again, his first words were an eloquent expression of faith and praise. Unbelief had closed his mouth, faith opened it again. The prophetic section in verses 76-79 is beautiful and hopeful. It is clear that Zechariah believed his newborn son was the prophet of the Messiah, and that the yet-to-be-born Jesus was that Messiah.

Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy Gabriel made another birth announcement, this time to a virgin young woman named Mary. The angel’s message was shocking: Mary would become pregnant without the participation of a sexual partner, which is scientifically impossible — but “nothing will be impossible with God” (v.37)!

Gabriel used unmistakably Messianic language in reference to Mary’s miracle son: Son of the Most High, King, Son of David, Son of God. In spite of the impossibility of the angel’s announcement and the unlikely choice of a “humble servant” (v.48) to give birth to a King, Mary believed (v.45). Her simple statement of faith is a timeless example of surrender: “Let it be to me according to Your word” (v.38).

Mary’s song of praise in verses 46-55, traditionally called the Magnificat, is beautiful and full of hope. Mary recognized the significance of what was happening in her: God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Abraham many years before (v.55). God was sending His mercy to the world (v.50)! Thank God for His mercy expressed in His Son, Jesus!

Before you continue your day, take a moment to re-read Luke 1:79 and pray your response to God — your own Magnificat.

Leviticus 16

The book of Leviticus is primarily a book about atonement. To “atone” is to make things right with God by cleansing and covering over sin. So this book of Scripture was Israel’s manual for what to do about the problem of sin — a problem you and I share with the ancient Israelites. The detailed instructions for atonement reveal the seriousness of God about dealing with sin, and the volume of blood required for the ceremonies and sacrifices reveals the depth of sin.

Once a year the high priest of God’s people would perform a series of special ceremonies to atone for the sins of the nation. It was called the “Day of Atonement” (or “Yom Kippur”).

The ceremonies began with the high priest taking a ceremonial bath, symbolizing the fact that he must be clean before God. Then he would offer a sacrifice for himself and his family. In doing so, even the priest had to admit that he was a sinner. God would accept the blood of the innocent bull as a covering for his sins. Of course, this was just a symbolic preview of what Jesus would accomplish once and for all when He shed His blood to atone for the sins of all humanity.

The priest would then go behind the thick veil that hid the Holy Place where the presence of God dwelled. Once there he would sprinkle blood on the “mercy seat” and God would accept the blood as atonement for Israel’s sins.

In the highly symbolic ceremony that followed, two live goats were presented as sacrifices. One would be killed and offered as a blood sacrifice, symbolizing that sin requires the punishment of death. The sending of the second goat (the “scapegoat”) into the wilderness symbolized the fact that God had removed their sins far away from them.

God established the Day of Atonement “as a statute forever” (v.29). Jesus perfectly and completely fulfilled the Day of Atonement and all the symbolism of the ceremonies. According to Hebrews 9:11-14, Jesus, as our great high priest, went behind the veil to sprinkle His own blood on the mercy seat of heaven in order to atone for our sins. Like the first goat, He died for sin. Like the second goat, He carried our sins far away, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). What a Savior!

Mark 8

COMPASSION (v.1-10). Jesus was sensitive to the needs of the crowds that followed Him. “I have compassion on the crowd,” He said. Compassion is love in action. Jesus put His love for the people into action by performing an astounding miracle of multiplication. That’s Jesus for you: loving, blessing, providing, and caring.

SIGNS (v.11-13). The Pharisees came demanding a sign from Jesus, a miracle that would be impressive enough to convince them that He was the Messiah. This bothered Jesus (He sighed deeply) because their request was a “test” (v.11). In other words, the Pharisees did not want to see a miracle so they might believe in Jesus and worship Him, but so they might gain an opportunity to dishonor Him, discredit Him, and (ultimately) to destroy Him.

LEAVEN (v.14-21). In my opinion, Jesus is using a bit of humor to make a point here — a serious joke, if you will. As the disciples were thinking about snacking on the small amount of bread they had in the boat, Jesus said, “Look out for the leaven.” Leaven is a piece of yesterday’s dough used to make today’s dough rise. It contains active yeast, and so a very small amount would spread and permeate a large lump of dough. In the same way, a little bad doctrine could infect a lot of people, ruin many lives, and send many to hell. The leaven of the Pharisees was legalism: the more religious rules you keep, the more God will like you. The leaven of Herod was the other extreme, liberalism: rules don’t matter; do whatever makes you happy.

The exchange in verses 16-21 is funny because Jesus’ statement about leaven went right over the disciples’ heads, so He just went with it, making another point: when you are with the One who can instantly create food for thousands, don’t worry about where your next meal will come from!

HEALER (v.22-26). When some people (friends?) brought a blind man to Jesus, they begged Him to touch the man. Jesus did, and in a most unusual way. He spit on the blind man’s eyes, and the man regained his sight! What a powerful Savior — even His saliva works miracles!

CHRIST (v.27-30). This scene, presented in greater detail in Matthew 16:13-20, contains the famous confession of Peter: “You are the Christ.” That statement is as true today as when Peter said it. I am glad I can say with assurance that Jesus is the Christ and He is my Christ.

DISCIPLESHIP (v.31-38). Jesus spoke plainly (v.32) about how He would suffer, die, and rise again. Peter’s rebuke revealed His misunderstanding: Jesus would take no shortcuts in fulfilling the plan of redemption. Likewise, there are no shortcuts on the road to Christian discipleship. Read verses 34-38 again, slowly. This is real Christianity.

Mark 6

I chose this as a “key” chapter from the Gospel of Mark because it includes such a variety of activity in the ministry of Jesus. The six scenes in the chapter cover the rejection of Jesus in His hometown, the sending-out of the disciples, the murder of John the Baptist, the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on the water, and many miracles of healing.

For this lengthy passage, I am going to summarize each section with a list of questions that may lead to application.

Verses 1-6. What was so offensive to the people of Nazareth about Jesus sharing His wisdom and healing the sick (v.3)? Why does it seem that those who need Jesus the most are the ones who are most offended by Him? Could it be that we can’t accept the ministry of Jesus without also dealing with the authority of Jesus? Does our unbelief (lack of faith) limit the work of Jesus in our lives (v.5-6)? What blessings and miracles have I missed because I didn’t believe Him?

Verses 7-13. What does Jesus’ instruction in verses 8-9 teach me about living by faith and trusting Him to meet my needs? What do verses 10-11 teach me about where and to whom I should witness? Am I supposed to just give up on people, or should I do what I can and trust God with the results? Why is it important to tell people they should repent (v.12)? Can a person be saved without repenting?

Verses 14-29. John had a very unique ministry, but should we follow his example in pointing out the sins of public officials (v.18)? What kind of treatment should we expect when we speak up about God’s standards for morality? How does Herod demonstrate the shallow, ineffective faith of a person who gives intellectual assent to the truth (v.20) but does not apply it to his or her life?

Verses 30-44. What does it mean to be “like a sheep without a shepherd” (v.34)? Have you ever felt that way? How can I develop a compassionate heart like Jesus (v.34)? What does this miracle teach about the power of Jesus to make much out of little? Does it apply only to food, or could it also include ability, influence, knowledge, opportunity?

Verses 45-52. How should it comfort us to know that Jesus is watching us and that He is aware when we are struggling? How does the presence of Jesus make a difference when we are afraid and discouraged? What “wind” is blowing against me that I need Jesus to calm?

Verses 53-56. Have I ever been so desperate for Jesus to save my relatives, neighbors, and friends that I would run to them, bring them to Him (v.55), and beg Him to help them (v.56)? If not, why not?

Exodus 32

For forty days, Moses had been on Mount Sinai meeting with the Lord. He had received all the laws and commands that would define Israel’s relationship with the Lord, along with detailed instructions about how they were to worship Him. Much of those instructions centered around Moses’ older brother, Aaron, who would serve as the lead priest of Israel.

As Moses descended the mountain, I imagine that he was excited to show Aaron the stone tablets on which God had engraved the Law. After all, Aaron’s name was written on them 37 times. He had much to learn and memorize about how to lead the nation in worship.

When Moses arrived at the base camp, he found his brother already leading the people — but in the wrong direction! The people had asked Aaron for idols, and he enthusiastically obliged them, making a golden statue in the form of a cow and organizing a little cult around it. Aaron was leading a worship service for a metallic cow! The people were actually praising the deaf-dumb-blind-unfeeling-unknowing-nonliving idol for delivering them from slavery in Egypt!

God knew it, and His anger “burned hot against them” (v.10). When Moses saw it, his anger “burned hot against them,” too (v.19). Before he said a word, Moses looked at the stone tablets in his hands — the ones that said the name of Aaron 37 times — and he threw them down, shattering them on the rocks below. It was a powerful statement.

Aaron must have panicked as Moses approached him, stomping in anger, nostrils flaring, fire in his eyes. Aaron blurted out an explanation, blaming the people and making the absurd claim that he threw the gold into the fire “and out came this calf!” (v.22, 24).

God punished His people that day with the swords of the Levites and with a plague (v.27, 35). But amazingly, Aaron was allowed to continue as a priest and a leader. God extended grace to the man when He could have exercised judgment. Shocking, isn’t it? Shockingly amazing grace.

And that is exactly what I see when I look in the mirror: a man, like Aaron, who was a fool, a sinner, an idiot, full of excuses and behaving inexcusably. But God was shockingly gracious to me, too. He forgave my past and gave me a future. He chose to use me and didn’t hold my sins against me. He is an awesome and holy God, but He is full of grace and second chances. What a Savior!