Following Jesus • 30 / Where the Spirit leads

Read This: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 3:23a; Luke 4:1-13

Jesus is thirty years old. He’s just been baptized by John and anointed by God as priest and king. This event linked Jesus to another Old Testament prophecy and equipped Him for ministry.

Being anointed with the Holy Spirit is not a symbolic metaphor. It’s not like getting toasted at a wedding or dubbed a knight. The Holy Spirit is a person. An all-knowing, all-powerful person. He is the Spirit of God. When He anoints someone it’s not symbolic. It’s like a pilot stepping into the cockpit. He gets involved, directing and empowering for God’s glory and interests.

So, what does the Holy Spirit do with Jesus? What’s His first move?

He drives Him into the wilderness to be temped by the Devil for forty days.

Not what you’d expect, right?

Which highlights one of the core principles of discipleship. Trust. Jesus was entirely submitted to God. He surrendered His will to God and followed God’s leading in word and deed. We’ll learn more about this in the days to come, but it’s important to note at the outset of Jesus’ ministry. The Spirit knows what God wants, and the Son of God trusts Him.

Following Jesus • 29 / The anointing

Read this: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22

Spiritual awakenings are rare, thus remarkable. People typically drift from God rather than toward Him — unless He kindles their desire to know Him.

When “all the people” from Judea and Jerusalem rush out to hear John the Baptist’s preaching, it signals God’s involvement. It also reveals how compelling John’s message was. He described the coming Messiah as being so much greater than himself, he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s slave.

In response to John’s preaching, multitudes confessed their sin and acknowledged their own unworthiness to be part of the Messiah’s kingdom. That’s why John baptized them. “Baptism” was a ceremonial metaphor for being washed or cleansed. These people wanted to be cleansed from their sin and accepted by God. They wanted to surrender to His authority and submit to His standards. Yet, none can achieve total righteousness and submission. We’re fallen, we sin, and we wander. The only way to be acceptable to God is for God Himself to make us acceptable.

So that’s what He did. He came, as Jesus (“God is salvation”), to perfectly fulfill the law by living a human life without sin. Then He, as the perfect sacrifice, bore the consequence of our sin by dying in our place. And because He was perfect, God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf and released Him back to life (the resurrection).

Jesus’ baptism, which symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection, foreshadows all of this. And it’s such important business, God didn’t let it slide by unnoticed. He created a scene.

Throughout biblical history, “the heavens” were the domain of God and His angels. Only a handful of witnesses had ever caught glimpses of the heavenly realm — Jacob, Elisha, Balaam’s donkey, etc. But now God throws open the heavens to reveal and authenticate what’s happening here. The text actually says He parted, rent, or tore open the heavens. Then His Spirit visibly entered the picture and settled on Jesus in the form of a dove.

People saw this. They heard God’s Voice identifying and accepting Jesus as the the perfect sacrifice. And they watched as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.* This is where Jesus was revealed to be the Christ, or Messiah — which means the anointed one.

 

* In his commentary on Matthew 1-7, John MacArthur puts it this way: “[Jesus] was here being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry. The Spirit anointed Him for His kingly service, as Isaiah had predicted: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61:1).”

Following Jesus • 28 / The next person in line

Read this: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22

John the Baptist spent his days preparing people to meet God, challenging the proud and baptizing the humble.

One day, the next person in line to be baptized was Someone he knew. It was his own cousin. Jesus. The Messiah.

Startled, John pushed back. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John was right to object. Baptism was a sign of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. It was a confession of being unworthy to stand before the holy God. John had grown up learning all about the Messiah because of his own role as the messenger who would announce Him to the world (Day 25). How could he, a sinner, baptize the One who had no sin? John’s reaction to Jesus testifies that Jesus was the holy Son of God.

But Jesus assured John it was the right thing to do. A distinguishing act. By submitting to baptism, Jesus affirmed the truth of John’s teaching. Repentance for the forgiveness of sin is necessary to stand before God.

By submitting to baptism, Jesus was also declaring His role as the Redeemer of mankind. He took His place among us and identified with our sin to signal the day when He would physically take our sin upon Himself through His death on the cross (Isaiah 53:12; 2 Corinthians 5:21).*

John, who didn’t back down from anyone, willingly surrendered to his Lord. He baptized the One who one day would forgive his sins.

 

*For more on this, see Matthew 1-7 of The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, pages 74-78.

Following Jesus • 27 / Great expectations

Read This: Matthew 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-18

Why did so many people flock to John? Because they longed for God — and God had been silent for a long time (Day 8).

Except for that blip thirty years earlier. There had been talk of a great King (Day 19). Angels appearing to shepherds to announce His birth (Day 14). Magi from the east coming to worship him (Day 20). Simeon and Anna prophesying over a baby in the temple (Day 17). And Zechariah the priest, John’s own father, also receiving an angelic visit to prepare him for John’s miraculous birth . . . and calling (Day 11).

Now that same John was preaching in God’s name, stirring hearts, and bringing conviction.

Naturally, the people were expectant. They discussed the Messiah, wondering if it might be John. But John said no. Then, he told them how to recognize the Messiah when He did come:

  • I’m baptizing with water for repentance. The Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (as only God can do, and as prophesied in Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 36:25-26, and Malachi 3:1-3).
  • He will be so much greater than me that I am not even worthy to remove his sandals (a menial task performed by the lowest servants).
  • He will wield God’s authority to judge between the righteous and the wicked — something no mere man is qualified to do.

Then John explained God’s plan for their salvation.

Everything John said prepared the people to meet their Messiah. The One who would deliver them from a fate far worse than Roman rule. The Messiah would deliver them from their separation from God.

Following Jesus • 26 / What repentance looks like*

Read This: Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-14

Prophets were big news in Bible times. They spoke for God. If you wanted to hear God, you listened to His prophet. Since John was considered a prophet, people came from everywhere to hear him.

John’s message was clear — the way to God is through repentance. Not wealth or power or Jewish descent. Many accepted John’s message and were baptized to demonstrate their repentance (see Day 25).

Then the religious and political leaders got in line, but not to make peace with God through repentance. They had other motives, and John called them field snakes, slithering away from the flames as the farmers burned off their fields. Coming to God hinges on repentance. It’s not made possible by our achievements, and it doesn’t mean having Abraham as an ancestor. It means surrendering to God. Making peace with Him on His terms.

What are His terms? Admitting that we can’t save ourselves. Our goodness isn’t good enough. Thankfully, He is merciful and loving. He knows we can’t be perfect, so He sent His Son to be perfect in our place. Our part is to turn from self-centeredness and learn to love as He does. Sharing with those in need. Refusing to cheat, steal, and violate others. Loving others as God loves us. That’s what John explained to those who came to hear from God.

And those who didn’t wish to hear from God apparently got their wish.

*Click here for Days 1-25

Following Jesus • 25 / The King is Coming

Read This: Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:1-6; Luke 3:1-6

The story of Jesus has reached a turning point. All the prophecies, announcements, and marvels of His coming lead to this moment. The Promised Deliverer is about to go public. The King is coming!

Arriving monarchs were always preceded by messengers — heralds who announced their arrival and prepared the way. The coming of Jesus’ messenger had been predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah, so when John the Baptist made his appearance (Day 5 & Day 11), the people took note.

As a messenger, John shunned all attachment to the society he came to “prepare.” Living in the wild, dressed in animal skins, and eating locusts and honey, he awaited his King. And when the moment came, he spoke with such authority the entire region of Judea and Jerusalem trekked into the wilderness to hear him.

John’s message cut to the heart: Repent — and demonstrate your repentance!

This was new. He told them the way to peace with God was not through heredity, but brokenness. Turning from sin. Repentance.

All who repented were baptized. This was not Christian baptism as we know it. The only baptism practiced at that time was the baptism of Gentiles converting to Judaism. Since Jews were considered God’s people, non-Jews had to be baptized “into” a relationship with God by joining “God’s people.” But that wasn’t what John was doing. He was baptizing both Gentiles and Jews into relationship with God — through repentance.

For a Jew to acknowledge he was no better than a Gentile — that both were separated from God by sin — was unheard of.

Reflect on Isaiah’s prophecy. John, crying in the wilderness, making clear the way to God. Is relationship with God reserved for the Jews? For the religious? For the rich? No. It is for all people, through humility and repentance.

Following Jesus • 24 / Jesus’ First Words

Read This: Luke 2:39-52 

Most tales of heroism feature ordinary people thrust into crisis. They’re faced with a challenge and respond well.

That’s not how it is with Jesus. His reason for coming is clear from the beginning. Israel’s Deliverer isn’t just another Abraham, Moses, or David. He’s not some person stumbling into a challenge and rising to it. Israel’s Deliverer — the Messiah — is none other than God Himself, coming to save His people.

The New Testament opens with the arrival of Jesus. He is announced by angels and celebrated by Elizabeth, Mary, Zacharias, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and the wise men. They all know who He is. But what about the Boy Himself? Did Jesus understand His role — or was He an ordinary man who became a hero?

Luke provides our only glimpse into the years between Jesus’ birth and public ministry. It’s a crucial piece of the story. What does it reveal?

It reveals Jesus, at twelve, knowing exactly who He is and why He came. He’s God’s Son and He came to do His Father’s business. By calling God His Father, Jesus claimed equality with God. Oneness.

He was God, born into humanity to save the race. No wonder He sat in the Temple dialoguing with the teachers. No wonder Luke describes the exchange as between equals, with the Boy pressing His elders for answers. No wonder the bystanders were amazed at His understanding. He was the fulfillment of everything those teachers had ever studied — and He knew it.

Jesus’ early years saw Him growing in strength, grace, wisdom, and favor with God and man. His parents carefully observed the whole law (as evidenced by their journey to Jerusalem for the Passover), and Jesus lived in complete submission to them.

But there was never any question about who He was. His first recorded words make that clear. He was the Son of His Father. The Deliverer.