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 • 19 / Paying Attention

Much is said about Jesus’ low-key birth. Small-town parents, strangers in Bethlehem, no vacancy, sleeping in the stable. Mary and Joseph were nobodies from nowhere. Unnoticed.

But Jesus’ birth was no secret. The birth of John the Baptist six months prior was “talked about through all the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65-66). And since John’s father knew who the Messiah was, all that talking surely pointed to Jesus’ arrival.

Then there were the shepherds. They also “made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:17-18).

Later that month God led Simeon and Anna the Prophetess — both known and respected throughout Jerusalem — to meet Jesus in the Temple. Afterward, Anna “continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Society itself was keen with anticipation of a great king and deliverer to come from Judea. Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Virgil all mention this. The entire Roman world was expecting an unprecedented world leader to arise, and the Jewish scholars even knew the approximate time and place of His arrival (from Daniel’s prophecies and Micah 5:2).

Jesus’ birth was certainly not shrouded in secrecy. Anyone paying attention would have found out. Especially after the international incident recorded in our next passage.

Following Jesus • 18 / He Knew Jesus Before He Met Him

Read This: Luke 2:28-38 

Imagine you’re fascinated by the end times. You spend years studying Daniel, Revelation, and all the other prophetic books. As your understanding grows, you see what’s coming. You understand how world events are lining up for history’s finale.

One day God’s Spirit directs you to a certain place. He reveals that you’ll witness a key event in the final countdown. And so it happens. You show up, you see the beginning of the end, and you explain its meaning to everyone you meet.

That’s how it was for Simeon. He didn’t just know Jesus was the Messiah. He knew everything about Him. For example, he knew . . .

  • Jesus would bring light to people of Galilee.
  • Jesus would bring salvation. Not just to the Jews, but to all people from every nation.
  • There would be a price to pay. By shining light into the darkness, the evil of men’s hearts would be exposed.
  • Though the Gentiles would be saved, many of the Jews would oppose, deny, speak against, contradict, and reject Jesus.
  • The Jews’ violent rejection of Jesus would cause Mary, His mother, great pain.

Simeon knew what was coming. The Old Testament revealed the time, place, and purpose of Jesus’ coming — and Simeon knew all of it. His remarks amazed Mary and Joseph, and confirmed yet again that theirs was no ordinary child. He was the Messiah, God’s salvation for all people.

[See also: Isaiah 8:14; 42:6; 45:25; 46:13; 49:6,9; 52:10; 60:3; Psalm 98:2]

Following Jesus • 17 / The Old Man

Read This: Luke 2:25-28 

Picture Mary and Joseph as a young couple leaving town for the big city. It’s time to dedicate their baby at the Temple.

As they make their way through the crowds, an elderly man approaches them and reaches out to hold their Baby. The man is Simeon, and he has a reputation.

Simeon is known to everyone as righteous and devout. He doesn’t just keep the law — he understands its meaning. Simeon has weighed God’s claims and believes in Him.

Simeon is also a man of action. He’s spent his life searching the Scriptures, scrutinizing every prophecy pointing to the promised One. He isn’t just waiting for the Messiah, he’s watching for Him.

Luke tells us the Holy Spirit is on Simeon. No wonder — the man is alive for God. One day, the Spirit reveals to Simeon that he will not die until he has met the Messiah. The language used in this passage implies interaction. Simeon is seeking God, and this is God’s response.

That’s why Simeon is in the Temple on this day reaching for Mary’s Baby. God told him now is the time and this is the One. Jesus is the Messiah.

Following Jesus • 16 / The Righteous Baby

Read This: Luke 2:22-24 

Legal protocol requires more than one witness to confirm a matter. That’s why Luke takes time at the beginning of his gospel to feature several righteous witnesses. Several to verify the matter, and righteous to establish their testimony as reliable.

Why such attention to verification? Think about the claims Luke was making! Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He’s the Messiah. He was conceived in a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is God in human flesh. He’s the Redeemer. He came to save His people from their sin.*

These are unprecedented claims. That’s why Luke presents multiple witnesses for confirmation. Up to this point we’ve heard from Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds. Now Luke returns to Joseph and Mary, establishing their righteous character by showing their adherence to the law:

These character references do two things — they demonstrate Joseph and Mary’s righteous character, and they show how Jesus Himself kept the whole law. That’s because Jesus didn’t come to nullify the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). To keep it perfectly (which we can’t do) so His righteousness can be applied to our accounts. 

Jesus kept the entire law from birth . . . so we can be saved.

 
* For more on this, see the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Luke 1-5, pages 165ff.