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I want us to look at John the Baptist this Sunday and next for our Advent focus. Certainly a part of Advent is anticipating and preparing for the celebration of Christmas – the coming of Jesus to us. So we’re getting ready for this. But a part of it is also looking ahead so that we’re prepared for the second coming or second advent of Jesus.

And who better to prepare us than John, whose ministry it was to do just this. Today we’ll focus on how his message prepares us.

But first let’s look at –

John’s life and ministry

He was quite unique and that in several ways. He lived in the wilderness. He lived here before his ministry (Luke 1:80) and this is where he received his prophetic message (Luke 3:2). And he continued to minister from here. Matthew 3:1 says, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea . . .”

In terms of food his diet was unique. Jesus said, he came “eating no bread and drinking no wine . . .” (Luke 7:33). He was known for fasting and certainly not for feasting. And he was known for abstaining from alcohol. Rather he ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).

His clothing was unique as well, “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist . . .” (Matthew 3:4) looking very much like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)

He was a prophet. He was widely acknowledged to be this by the people of Israel. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem bore witness to this, when they said, “all the people . . . are convinced that John was a prophet” (Luke 20:6).

Jesus also held this view. Speaking of John he said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes . . .” (Matthew 11:9). As we’ll see, he had a strong prophetic message for the people.

He was the forerunner, the one sent to prepare the way. As Jesus said, John is “more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Matthew 11:9-10).

This comes from Malachi 3:1. And John is the fulfillment of this prophecy. He has this unique role of preparing the people for the Lord’s coming.

Another text that sees John as the forerunner is found in Luke3:4. It identifies John as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This prophecy comes from Isaiah 40:3-5.

He prepared the way for Jesus in several ways. One is that he called people to look for the one to come. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12.

He also identified Jesus as this one. He said, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him (Jesus). I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34

He was faithful to his call. John did what God told him to do without hesitation. He didn’t care what others thought and he was fearless with those who held power.

He called the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him a “brood of vipers” or a nest of poisonous snakes (Matthew 3:7). And proceeded to warn them of judgment in they didn’t change. He also criticized King Herod – Mark 6:18, which eventually led to his own death

And he was faithful to death. Matthew 14:6-11 tells this story. “When Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.” He stayed true to God until the end.

Now we look at –

How John’s message prepares us for the coming of Jesus

John’s message was a message of repentance. He preached, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 3:2. So repentance is the way to prepare for the proper celebration of Christmas, as well as the second Advent of Jesus.

  • Repentance is a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behaviors.
  • It is choosing to turn away from our sin so that we can do God’s will from now on.

Here are some examples of John’s call to repentance. 1. He pointed out personal marital and sexual sins. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” – Mark 6:18. In this particular case Herod was guilty of both adultery and incest (Leviticus 18:16). And John was not afraid to call him to repentance.

2. He pointed out human greed. Our desire to have and to hold on to more than we need. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” – Luke 3:10-11. If you have more than you need, share your food and clothing with those who do not have these.

3. He pointed out the abuse of power, that is, using your power to take advantage of others. “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’” – Luke 3:12-13. That is, don’t do what most tax collectors do, take more than required in order to pad your own income. Only take what you are supposed to.

Not only did he address very specific issues of sin, he undercut their excuses for their unfaithfulness. They thought, Abraham’s our father. We’re the chosen people. It’s OK. We’ll be alright.

John said, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:9. So what if you are Abraham’s children! God can turn a rock into a child of Abraham. Repentance is what’s necessary.

As he said to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. . . Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8, 10. Bearing the fruit of repentance is what God requires.

What about you? Where are you allowing yourself to continue in wrong behavior? Where are you holding out on God? Those areas that you would rather not think about? And what are your excuses? You think, well God doesn’t really care about that issue. Or, hey, I go to church. Well, God can make church members out of rocks too! That won’t rescue you.

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ Advent means dealing with our sin through repentance. It means setting aside our excuses, our rationalizations and our justifications so that we begin to do God’s will.

And then, like the many sinners who responded to John in his day (Matthew 21:32), we too can confess our sins and find forgiveness (Mark 1:4-8). And then we will be ready to welcome Jesus and follow him in all of life.

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Check out the series on Jesus’ birth and childhood from Matthew 1-2

The Genealogy: 1:1-17 – Jesus is qualified to be the Messiah and sit on David’s throne.

A. Jesus’ birth and name: 1:18-25

dream: Joseph should keep Mary and own Jesus

prophetic connection: Isaiah 7:14 – Jesus is like Hezekiah who was born to a young woman and who was a sign that God remembered his promise to David for a son to rule. Jesus is not illegitimate (John 8:41). He is the true fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 – born of a virgin.

B. Gentile Magi honor Jesus as king: 2:1-12

prophetic connection: Micah 5:2 – Jesus is the promised ruler born in Bethlehem.

dream: The Magi should not return to Herod

C. Jesus is taken to Egypt: 2:13-15

dream: Joseph should take his family and flee

prophetic connection: Hosea 11:1 – Jesus is connected to Israel in going into and coming up out of Egypt.

`B. Judean Herod tries to kill Jesus: 2:16-21

prophetic connection: Jeremiah 31:15 – refers to the exile into Babylon. “Rachel” weeps for those who are no more – taken into captivity. Jesus’ exile to Egypt and the weeping for those killed by Herod are linked to this.

dream: Joseph can come back since Herod has since died

`A. Jesus’ home and name: 2:22-23

dream: Joseph should go to Galilee

prophetic connection: Isaiah 11:1 (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah  3:8; 6:12). Jesus is again connected to Hezekiah. Jesus is the true fulfillment of the prophecy of a branch that will come from David. This is a Hebrew word-play between “Branch“: NSR and “Nazareth“: NSRT. Jesus’ home of Nazareth does not make him insignificant (John 1:46; 7:41-42;52), it ties him to the prophetic promises of the branch of David.

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Story #1. Jesus will be despised because of the circumstances of his birth, although they actually point out that he is the promised Messiah – Isaiah 7:14.

Story #2. Jesus will attract Gentiles who will honor him as King.

Story #3. Jesus will show himself to be the faithful Son of God – Hosea 11:1

Story #4. Jesus will be opposed by the Judean authorities who will eventually kill him.

Story #5. Jesus will be despised because of his hometown, Nazareth, although the name actually points to him being the promised branch or Messiah – Isaiah 11:1.

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Today we are looking at the Gospel of Luke and how the angel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. As we work through these stories we will see how Mary emerges as an example to us in a couple of different ways.

Let me begin by backing up and giving you a very brief overview of –

Luke chapters 1-2


John’s birth

Jesus’ birth

1. Birth announcement – 1:5-23Elizabeth’s response – 1:24-25 2. Birth announcement – 1:26-38Mary’s response – 1:39-56
3. The birth – 1:57-66Prophetic response – 1:67-79

John’s growth – 1:80

4. The birth – 2:1-21Prophetic responses – 2:22-39

Jesus’ growth – 2:40-52

You can see the way these accounts of John and Jesus line up with each other, each having the same topics in the same order. And you can see how the story alternates between John and Jesus. We will focus in on the first part of sections 1 and 2 – the birth announcements – and see what we can learn. In these stories –

Gabriel comes to Zechariah and Mary

. . . to make his announcement about John and Jesus. There are a number of parallels in these two accounts and I want to use these to lay out  these stories. (The presence of parallels are noted by most commentators, but see especially John Nolland).

1. Their social situation is given

  • Zechariah is an older priest, married to Elizabeth – v. 5.
  • Mary is a young woman, betrothed to Joseph – vs. 26-27.

2. Their spiritual status is noted

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous people. v. 6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
  • Gabriel tells her that She is favored by God and the Lord is with her – v. 28.

3. The condition that keeps them from having a child is noted

  • “Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” – v. 7.
  • Mary was a “virgin” – v. 27, engaged, but not yet married.

4. The angel Gabriel came to them

  • He appeared to him in the Temple in Jerusalem while he was offering up incense in the Temple during prayers – vs. 8-10; 13.
  • He appeared to her in Nazareth in Galilee – v. 26.

5. They were both troubled

  • He was troubled by the presence of an angel. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was (literally) terrified when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
  • She was troubled by the greeting – “O favored one.”  v. 29 says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

6. They are told not to fear

  • “Do not be afraid” – v. 13 – “your prayer has been heard.”
  • “Do not be afraid . . . you have found favor with God” – v. 30.

7. Both are told they will have a child

  • “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John” – v. 13.
  • “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” – v. 31.

Gabriel also tells them both about the greatness and life mission of each child.

8. Both respond with a question to Gabriel

  • “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – v. 18. In other words, we’re too old!
    • Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin” – v. 34

9. Both are given a sign

  • “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words” – v. 20.
  • Elizabeth is with child. This is a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible with God, as Gabriel says in v. 37.

10. What they did after the encounter is told

  • He quietly waited for the fulfillment. What else could he do?
  • She responded in faith, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” – v. 38.

This is an amazing number of parallels. But the significant thing is that these parallels are used to make contrasts between Zechariah and Mary, which show that even though Zechariah is good and blessed –

Mary is highlighted in these stories

Let’s look at this –

1. Their social situation: It was more exceptional that God would come to lowly Mary, as opposed to Zechariah who was a priest, in the Temple, at the time of prayer.

2. Their spiritual status: Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous, but Gabriel himself tells Mary that she has God’s favor.

3. The condition precluding birth: Elizabeth’s birth would be miraculous, but a virgin birth is an unprecedented miracle.

4. Gabriel came: Zechariah was praying and had asked for a child. God took the initiative to come to Mary. She hadn’t asked for anything.

5. Both were troubled: She was not terrified, but more perplexed about what the angel said.

6. They were told not to fear: Even as she is told not to fear, her favored status is emphasized.

7. Both will have a child: John is great, but Jesus is greater. And it is the greater honor for Mary to have him.

8. Both asked a question: Zechariah responded with doubt. Mary simply wanted to know how God would do what he said he would do.

9. Both received a sign: Zechariah was judged for his unbelief – he couldn’t speak. She received a positive sign – Elizabeth was pregnant.

10. What they did after the encounter: She responded with true faith – ‘Do what you want Lord.’

I am showing you all this to make a point.

Mary is the example

She is the hero of the story. Zechariah is also blessed, but Mary is the focus. What can we learn from her?

1. Mary is an example to us that God loves to use the lowly to fulfill his will. She was of humble circumstances. This is especially so in contrast to Zechariah. He was a priest, a man – who had priority in this culture, and he was older. She had no official role, was a woman and young, somewhere between 14-20 years old.

She was not just lowly in circumstance, she was also inwardly humble. In vs. 28-29, the angel said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” This was a strange thing for her to hear and so she was trying to make sense out of it. She must not have thought of herself as greatly favored by God.

She referred to herself as a “bondservant” or slave in – v. 38. And later in the story she spoke of her “humble estate” in v. 48.

And yet as we learn in this story – God used lowly Mary in the most extraordinary way. As Elizabeth says in Luke 1:42-43, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She reminds us of what Paul said in   I Corinthians 1:27-28 – “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” – that is, by God.

As she herself said later in Luke 1:52 – “God has brought down the mighty from their throne, and exalted those of humble estate.”

2. Mary is an example to us of how to receive God’s word in faith. She had amazing faith. She was told that God will do what had never been done in all of human history – the impossible. What was her response? She said in v. 38 – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ‘OK God, do whatever you want.’ This is amazing faith!

Did she think of the shame factor, that everyone would suspect that she was unfaithful? Did she think of the complications this would bring to her marriage. Joseph almost divorced her as we learn in Matthew. This was going to mess up her life!

But nevertheless hers was a response of faith. She believed, just as Gabriel said, that “nothing will be impossible with God” – v. 37.

Elizabeth notes Mary’s faith when she says in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

She reminds us of what Paul said about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20-21. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now, having said this it is clear that she was not perfect. Later she had doubts about what Jesus was up to, like the other disciples, and Jesus’ brothers. But Mary is an example to us in this story. She teaches us that God loves to use the lowly to accomplish his will. And she teaches us how to receive God’s word in faith, so that God can work in and through us.

May we learn from her example

William Higgins

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Good News of a Great Joy

I want us to think briefly on a theme that was interwoven throughout our program today and the Christmas story itself, and that theme is joy.

This comes from Luke 2:10-11.  The angel of the Lord came to the shepherds and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord.’”

We live in a world that is often not joy inducing. Just look at the headlines on any day, in any given paper and you will see stories and pictures of suffering, injustice, and death. And in our own lives we all experience our share of pain, sadness and even despair at times . And because of this – – – we often struggle with joy.

And yet the angel of the Lord comes and says, “I bring you good news of a great joy.”

(more…)

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Jesus’ Birth & Ministry Were Foretold

As we saw last week, the death and resurrection of the Messiah was foretold and prophetically pointed to many centuries before, in the writings of the Old Testament.

And we saw in Luke 24:25-26 how Jesus himself taught his disciples that the prophets foretold that the Messiah should suffer first, and then enter into glory.

Today we look at how Jesus’ birth and ministry were foretold by the Scriptures.

Now, some of these Scriptures are straightforward prophet predictions about the Messiah, which find fulfillment in Jesus.

And some of these Scriptures present what we call “types” of Jesus, as we saw last week. These are models or images of Jesus that come from various individuals, especially David, or the nation of Israel as a whole.

  • So, what happened to David, for instance, becomes a prophetic picture of Jesus’ life.
  • So, what David said, for example, become prophetic pronouncements about or from Jesus.

What happened before, in Israel, foreshadows what happens in Jesus, who is the true fulfillment of all of God’s plans and purposes.

(more…)

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We have entered the season of Advent. This is a time when we look forward to our celebration of the birth of Jesus and his coming to earth.

What I would like for us to think about for Advent this year, is the amazing way in which the coming of Jesus was foretold, foreshadowed and prophetically pointed to so many centuries before he came.

And today, in connection with our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, I would like for us to look at some of these Old Testament texts that focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

These are important Scriptures because, the idea of the Messiah dying and being raised from the dead was not something that was generally expected. Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t know what to think of all this when it happened. But yet it was there to be seen for the one with eyes to see.

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The Christmas story is very familiar to us. So I want us to look at it today from a bit of a different angle. I want us to see what we learn about God from the story of Jesus’ birth.

1. God’s forethought on our behalf

God has had a plan for us from the beginning of time and has worked meticulously to see it through to completion. It wasn’t just thought up as he went along.

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