A Song That Hits Home

I still remember where I was when I heard the news. My phone rang as I had finished my first class session for my Spring semester at college. The alarming call came from my father who informed me my grandmother had passed away after fighting her battle with cancer. My heart sank. Too distracted to continue on with the school day, I immediately packed up my bag and made the drive home to be with my family so we could grieve together. To keep my mind from racing in the silence, on the way home I turned up the car stereo and listened to music. In the midst of grief, I wanted to find words and hear lyrics that pointed me toward the hope of heaven and provided me with comfort in loss. I found both in Will L. Thompson’s “Softly and Tenderly”.

Even before my grandmother’s passing, the beloved hymn already had impacted my life. I can recall hearing this hymn numerous times throughout my childhood. I remember singing the lyrics many times during our church’s worship services. Each time the song served as a reminder to me of the hope of salvation found only in Jesus Christ. This song did more than remind, though. It introduced an invitation to this hope. The opening lines of verses 1 and 2 speak to this when they say,

Verse 1: Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me

Verse 2: Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?

These lyrics share the truth Jesus is calling for people to come to know Him as He draws them to Himself. Jesus is pleading for those to turn away from their sin and turn to Him for salvation. One Sunday I finally answered the call. I confessed my sin against God and looked to Jesus Christ as my only hope for salvation. The Lord had called me home as His child.

Years before my profession of faith, my grandmother had been pointed to the same hope of salvation. She had turned from her life of sin and placed her trust in Christ. She progressed through the years and remained faithful to her Lord. As she was in her final stages of life, she did not fret but faced it with a peace that surpassed understanding (Philippians 4:7). My mother later made the remark she had not seen someone so at peace in the last days of their earthly life. I suspect it was because my grandmother had taken the lyrics of verse 3 to heart:

Verse 3: Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.

With her time fleeting and moments passing, she knew what was to come. She did not worry about life after death but planned out the service that would take place because of her death. One of the songs she listed to play during visitation and the funeral service was the melody of “Softly and Tenderly”. For her, the beloved hymn was not merely a word on the hope she had of salvation; it was also a word confronting her and others with the reality of death and grief. She knew the time of her death had come and the shadows who gathered would now be grieving. The Lord had called her home to be with Him, and those still alive needed comfort.

The comfort in the face of this loss could not come from cheap words of pleasantries or in the offerings of apologies for the loss. The only comfort to hold true would be the comfort of God’s promise. It is on that note verse 4 of the hymn wraps up,

O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me

The love of God is the comfort for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Because of the mercy and pardon Christ offered willingly by dying on the cross, all who trust in God’s promise will find comfort in the loss of loved ones who have went to be with Him. In their grief, they find comfort and hope, and they are able to find them because of what Jesus Christ has done.

In the hour drive home to be with family, “Softly and Tenderly” became a song that hit home for me. The sweet and tender words of the hymn filled my heart with hope my grandmother was present with the Lord and comforted me as our family was experiencing this loss with her gone. Since her death, anytime I hear the first note of this hymn played, I know this is a song that will take me home.

A Heart for Jesus, Week 5 (Mark 1:40-45)

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. In this post, Esther walks us through Mark 1:40-45.

The Authority of Jesus

In last week’s passage we saw Jesus’s life marked by prayer and the preaching of the gospel. Even as the Son of God, He modeled prayer for us, so that we could learn from Him and do the same. Jesus was obedient in fulfilling His calling and did it dependent upon God the Father for strength and boldness.

Jesus’s Cleansing

Cleaning around the house is not everyone’s favorite task. Picking up and putting stuff away may be relaxing for some and stressful for others. Sometimes it depends on our mood. We know we could get it done in the moment or wait until later, but the truth is that we are not always willing. This is not the case for Jesus. The type of cleansing He did could not be done by anyone else. In this week’s passage we see a leper coming to Jesus and asking for cleansing.

Examine the Text:

  • Read Mark 1:40. What was the attitude the leper had when he approached Jesus for help? 
  • What does the leper’s petition “if you will, you can make me clean” say about Jesus’s authority?

Jesus had compassion on the leper and willingly cleansed him. The leprosy left the man’s body, taking away not only the physical pain but the public shame leprosy brought with it. This man was made free in every way possible. He was welcomed back into the community that once rejected him because of his sickness. 

The leper likely heard the preaching of Jesus. He probably saw Jesus performing miracles in other’s lives. The leper knew Jesus had authority to do it. That’s why he trusted and asked. His cleansing was physical, but the ultimate cleansing Jesus provided to him and provides us cleanses our hearts. Jesus cleanses us from our sins and shame. He welcomes us into a new family through His blood.

Apply to Life:

  •  What are some ways you tend to “clean” yourself instead of trusting in the gospel of grace and the cleansing power of Jesus? Why not repent of that now and ask the Lord to help you trust in His cleansing power?

Jesus commands 

After having mercy on the leper and healing him, He charged him not to say anything to anyone but to go and show himself to the priest and present an offering for his cleansing as Moses had commanded him to do. This would make his cleansing official so that he could be reestablished into the community and be forgiven (Leviticus 4:2-32). 

Jesus’s command was clear. He was not to tell anyone what happened but to simply go to the priest. The leper’s disobedience caused people to want to come to Jesus for miracles and He could no longer enter the city to preach the gospel. He went to desolated places instead. 

Examine the Text:

Read John 6:1-3 and Mark 1:45

  • According to these texts, why was the crowd following Jesus? 
  • Why was Jesus withdrawing from the crowd and looking for desolated places? 

The main purpose of Jesus’s ministry on earth was to preach the gospel and save sinners from eternal condemnation. This is important because it helps us better understand and desire to know and follow Jesus for who He is rather than to see and/or receive His healing.

Apply to Life:  

  • Why are you following Jesus?  
  • How are you examining your heart when things don’t go the way you desire?
  • Will you still follow Jesus even if He doesn’t answer your prayers according to your will? How can you show that?

A Heart for Jesus, Week 4 (Mark 1:35-39)

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. In this post, Esther walks us through Mark 1:35-39.

The Priority of Jesus 

In last week’s passage, we learned about the identity of Jesus and His intentionality to let people see who He was through His teaching and miracles. Jesus is the Son of God! Even the demons knew him and feared him, though they did not follow Him. Having heard of His identity, in this week’s passage we will focus on the priorities of Jesus.

The Priority of Prayer

My “to-do” list is something I enjoy checking and hopefully completing by the end of each day. I get so busy trying to accomplish so much, and I base my productivity on what I have done. Can anyone relate? The problem comes when the “to-do” list contains the wrong priorities.

In Mark 1:35-39, we see Jesus prioritizing time with His Father by waking up early in the morning and looking for a quiet place to spend time in prayer. His priorities were in order despite His busy schedule and despite the pressures of the people. 

Examine the Text:

Prayer marked the life of Jesus: read Luke 5:12-16 and Mathew 14: 22-23 

  • Why was Jesus intentional in spending time in prayer? 
  • Why did He look for a desolated place to pray? 
  • What do you notice about the context where Jesus decides to withdraw from the crowd?

Scripture provides all these details because they are important. As we said in previous weeks, Scripture is the way which God communicates with us. The way we communicate with our God is through prayer.

Apply to Life:

  • How does your prayer life look like today? 
  • How well do you prioritize prayer when you are under pressure? 
  • What are the things you tend the pray about most often? 
  • Under what circumstances do you tend to pray with more fervency and why? 

The Priority of Preaching

After spending time in prayer, Jesus was ready to go and preach the gospel. Why? Because that was the reason why He had come. He had a mission from the very beginning and was obedient to fulfill what the Scriptures said about Him through the Prophets.

Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching and preaching the good news of salvation, giving hope to those who were hopeless. He cast out demons and made people free from the bondage of sin and destruction. 

Examine the Text:

Read Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:17-22

  • Why was Jesus intentional to preach the gospel everywhere He went? 
  • What were peoples’ responses to his preaching and teaching? 

While only qualified men are called to preach, we all are called to share the gospel with others and have the responsibility of discipling and teaching others about the truth of God’s Word. 

Apply to Life:

  • When was the last time you prayed and shared the gospel with someone? 
  • How is the Lord calling you to respond in obedience and faith as you share the gospel with people around you?

The Purpose of His Coming (Matthew 1:21)

In Christian circles, you are liable to hear at Christmas, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Certainly, such a statement is true. We have discussed the promise and plan of Christ’s coming because He is the reason for the season. Yet, we would do well to dig a little deeper and to ask, “What is the reason for Christ’s coming?” If Jesus is the reason for the season, it is wise to address the reason for why ‘the reason for the season’ has come.

To be honest, no one answer will suffice. “Why did Jesus come?” is a multi-faceted question. Nevertheless, as we continue our study in Matthew 1, we find one of the purposes for Jesus’ incarnation. Matthew 1:21 informs us, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Cut and clear, Jesus, God in the flesh, came to earth for the Father’s glory and for His people’s good. Because all have sinned and have rebelled against God, we face the judgment and wrath of God. We will be rightly punished for worshiping false gods and denying the true God. A false god is anything that we put before the one true God, whether it is possessions we have or other people we hold relationships with. There is no amount of good works or deeds that can bring about salvation and deliverance from this verdict. There is nothing humanity can do in and of themselves to escape this reality. We are stuck in our sins.

The only way for salvation to occur is by receiving God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness only comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus came to die for our sins. He became our substitute on the cross, absorbing the wrath of God, that we may receive forgiveness from God. God can “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Because of Christ’s coming, living, dying, rising, and ascending, we can be in relationship with God. We can approach the throne of God only by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16). We are not saved by works but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We can be forgiven by God through the person and work of Christ by responding with repentance for our sins and placing our trust and faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, yes, Jesus is “the reason for the season”. But we should likewise share during this season the reason why the “reason for the season” came.

Reflection Time:
-What have you made Christmas about? How does meditating on why Jesus came change your focus during the holidays?
-Spend some time this Christmas reflecting on why Jesus came and respond in prayer to the Lord.

A Heart for Jesus, Week 3 (Mark 1:21-34)

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. In this post, Esther walks us through Mark 1:21-34.

The Identity of Jesus 

Last week we saw how every aspect of Scripture is important! As we read, we can observe and ask questions like “why, what, where, who and how”. Yet, remember, the reason why we ask these questions is not merely to obtain information but for heart transformation. God uses His Word to reveal Himself to us, to teach us about his character, and to change our hearts. With hearts transformed, we will have a change of life! Praise God!

In this week’s passage, we see Jesus going to Capernaum to teach in the synagogue. People were listening to His teaching and were mesmerized! Why? Because “He was teaching as someone who has authority and not as the scribes”. How was Jesus’ teaching different than the scribes? Why is this important for us to know? These are good questions for us to ask. This same verse is mentioned in all the Gospels, and we can find them in Mathew 7:28-29, Luke 4:32 and John 14:10. 

Examine the Text:

  • Why is it important for us to know that Jesus’ teaching had authority? (Read John 12:49-50 and Luke 20:1-8 for guidance.)
  • Where did Jesus’s authority coming from?
  • Why were the scribes not able not teach with the same authority? 

Everything Jesus said came from the mouth of God. He was not merely a messenger or a prophet like John the Baptist was. He was more; He was the One whom all the Prophets were speaking of and the prophecies were pointing to.

While Jesus was teaching at the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit was there. The man said something that is very important for us to notice. He said, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy one of God.”

Apply to Life:

  • How can circumstances in your life give you an opportunity to know Jesus better, in His character and mission?
  • How is the identity and authority of Jesus being displayed in your life today?

Jesus’ performing miracles and teaching with authority came from His identity as the Son of God, not the other way around. His identity was not based on what He did but in who He was and is, as He is God Himself.

Apply to Life:

  • How does this truth about Jesus encourage you in terms of your identity? 
  • The unclean spirits knew Jesus’s identity before He performed a miracle. They didn’t need to see Jesus casting them out before recognizing who He was. The demons knew Jesus. In what ways are you tempted to put your identity in what you do instead of resting in what Jesus has already done for you?

In verses 29-34, we see Jesus healing many people. Scripture tells us Simon shared with Jesus about his mother-in-law’s fever, and immediately He went to see her and healed her. As soon as she was healed, she started serving them (verses 30-31). What a heart of gratitude! She didn’t serve Jesus so that she could be healed. She served Jesus because she had been healed by Him. In other words, her service was not based on what she could get out of Jesus; it was based on gratitude toward Jesus. Jesus initiated and performed this miracle in her life, and her serving was a result and response of Jesus’s work in her. 

Apply to Life:

  • How are you tempted to serve Jesus for what He can do for you? What Scripture can/will you memorize to help you have a heart of gratitude and serve in response to the gift of the gospel?

Right after the healing, the whole city gathered around them, and they brought to Jesus ALL who were sick or oppressed by demons (verse 32). However, Jesus healed MANY, but not ALL of them. Why? Because the purpose of the miracles was for people to listen to the preaching of the gospel. That is the mission and message Jesus came to share.

The Plan of His Coming (Matthew 1:18-25)

When somebody has a great idea or concept, they usually are faced with an inquiry that goes something like, “Well, do you have a plan in place for it?” In the same manner, we have observed from the Old Testament God has made a promise. But does this promise come with a plan? The answer is, of course, yes! Just as God made the promise of Christ’s coming, He had a plan in place. This plan involved Joseph, Mary, and a humanly impossible birth. Yet, what is impossible with man is possible with God.

In accordance with their Jewish culture, Joseph and Mary were legally pledged to get married. They were virgins and had not known anyone intimately, or at least Joseph thought so. Word came to Joseph that Mary was pregnant. Knowing he had no relations with her, he nothing else to assume other than she had been with another man. Because he was a man of character, he “resolved to divorce her quietly”. He did not want to enter marriage with these circumstances so he thought it best to bow out of the legal pledge for betrothal.

But the Lord had other plans for Joseph. Matthew 1:20 elaborates, “But as he considered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” God reminded Joseph, as a son of David, He was going to accomplish His promise through this event. By the child being conceived from the Holy Spirit, the baby would not inherit sin but would be divinity in the flesh. The sin inherited from Adam would not be found in this child.

The Virgin, Mary, conceived a son, Jesus, and it is this Jesus who is God in the flesh, God with us (1:23). It is this Jesus who was prophesied about in the Old Testament, in places like the Psalms and Isaiah. It is this Jesus who came as the promise and plan of God. As we will see more next week, Jesus came with a purpose too. He came with the intention of salvation and extending forgiveness for sins. It is no wonder we have plenty to celebrate during this time of year! We are in awe of the promises of God and struck by how He plans His promises to come to fruition. We praise Him for not only giving us the promise of salvation but by showing us His plan as well!

Reflection Time:
The plan of the incarnation (a virgin giving birth to a child) seems unbelievable. How would you share this truth with someone who would raise an objection to this event?
Meditate on and praise God for His plan in the incarnation.

A Heart for Jesus, Week 2 (Mark 1:14-20)

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. In this post, Esther walks us through Mark 1:14-20.

To Know Jesus 

Puzzles have never been my favorite hobby. As a child, I remember trying to put together a puzzle. I was anxious about completing it before even starting it. I was so focused on grabbing the bigger pieces first so that I could deal with the smaller details later. However, the nightmare for any 8-year-old trying to put together a puzzle had happened. I lost a piece. Sometimes, we treat the Scriptures as a puzzle we are trying to complete. The truth is we won’t have all the pieces on this side of eternity. Yet, we do have what God has revealed! Even if we don’t know it all, we can rest in the fact that we don’t have to know it. We simply can trust in what He has given to us. The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Each part of it is of great importance! In this week’s reading, we see Jesus start His ministry after John the Baptist was arrested.

Examine the Text

  • Why did Jesus start his ministry “after John was arrested”?
  • Later (in Mark 6 and recorded in Matthew 14), John was arrested and beheaded by King Herod. Why is this important to mention?
  • Read Luke 16:16 and Mathew 11:12-15. What does this say about God’s Word? What does this say about God’s character? 

God has a perfect plan that you and I can trust! Alleluia! The King has come! The Messiah whom the Law and the Prophets spoke of has come. Therefore, the mission of John the Baptist has been completed. In his death, John stood up for the gospel and what was right.

Apply to Life

  • The people of Israel waited hundreds of years for the Messiah to come. There are times we wait and wonder too. When was the last time you struggled to trust God’s plan for your life? How could it have looked different if you had chosen to trust Him?

The Call of Following Jesus 

Mark 1:15 presents Jesus and His mission, saying “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” When Jesus spoke of time, He was not referring to a chronological timeline, but speaking of when all the prophecies were to be fulfilled and redemption of sin would come through repentance and faith.

Examine the Text

  • What does repentance look like in the life of a follower of Jesus?
  • What does it mean to believe in the gospel? (If you have not believed in the good news of the gospel, then why not respond in repentance of sin and trust in Jesus for salvation now!)

The Cost of Following Jesus 

Mark 1:17 says, “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” This call to follow Jesus came with a cost. Mark 1:18-20 shows the cost Simon and Andrew faced. Casting their nets to make a way to provide for their families as fishermen, they were called by Jesus to leave their livelihoods and follow Him. Now, does this passage mean we need to leave our current jobs to follow Jesus? Of course not! The point of this passage is to reveal the heart. A heart that follows Jesus will be willing to leave behind or let go of anything that stands in their way of fully following Jesus. Their hope is not found in tangible things but believes Jesus is enough to satisfy every need. As they follow Jesus in this way, they help lead others to follow Jesus.

Apply to Life:

  • Do you have a heart that willingly follows Jesus fully? If not, what are some areas of your heart where you tend to hesitate to follow Jesus fully? 
  • What are some tangible things you tend to put your hope and faith currently? How can you replace these things with true biblical hope?
  • Who are you currently sharing Jesus with? Where does making fishers of men fit into your schedule?

The Promise of His Coming (Matthew 1:1-17)

In the fray of the Christmas season, there are many things that seek to capture our attention. Commercials and ads invite us to consume and purchase. Movies tell us this can be a magical season if we just believe, and it is the season for true love. Yet, what the commercials promise fail to keep us entertained or satisfied. The movies watched may encourage the longing of our hearts but they fail to reflect the reality of our relationships. The magic described in movies is nothing more than a mirage.

While these things fail to deliver on what they promise, we come to find Christmas is about a promise fulfilled. A promised fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Christmas is about the Lord over all creation and Savior of the world coming to earth as truly God and truly man. This is known as the Incarnation. Jesus’ coming to earth should not have come as a surprise, precisely because it had been promised. From Genesis 3 throughout the Old Testament, there is a hope for the promised seed to come (see Genesis 3:15). The promises of God to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and King David (2 Samuel 7) were still waiting to see their complete fulfillment.

For this reason, Matthew begins his gospel account by listing the genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1). Genealogies in the Bible tend to get overlooked and are often passed over. However, it is important to remember God has placed them there for a reason. We see in Matthew 1 God is showing how the promise He has made is coming to fruition in Jesus Christ. There is not time to go through the entire genealogy right here for the purpose of this devotional, but Matthew 1:17 sums it up for us, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteens generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” The long-awaited promise had arrived. Jesus Christ was the expected One. Since Genesis 3, humanity had been looking for an ultimate deliverer to save them. Although Abraham and David were faithful men, they fell short like everybody else (Romans 3:23).

Within their family line, though, the Ultimate Deliverer would come. Nobody could save themselves from the judgment and wrath of God but One was to come who would become a substitute for sinful humanity (Isaiah 52-53). This One was and is Jesus. He lived the perfect life humanity had not, He died on the cross in their place, and He rose again to ensure our reconciliation with God. The promise of His coming saturates the pages of the Old Testament and extends to the New Testament, like here in Matthew 1. The reason we celebrate Christmas can be summed up in three statements: Christ with us, Christ as us, and Christ for us. The Incarnation reminds us Christ came to earth. In order to die in our place, Christ came as one of us. Yes, He was truly divine but He was also truly human. That is why He could be our substitute, and that is what we learn in “Christ for us”. Christ came for us, to save us and reconcile us back to God. So, this Christmas season, meditate on Christ’s incarnation and thank the Lord He is a promise-making and a promise-keeping God!

Reflection Time:

  • What promise have you believed that has failed to deliver, whether it be words from a friend or an item you’ve purchased from an ad?
  • Read Genesis 12:1-4, 15:1-6, and 2 Samuel 7:4-17. Meditate on how these passages, among other Old Testament sections, promise the coming of Christ.
  • How does understanding Christmas as “Christ with us, Christ as us, and Christ for us” help you to focus and hope during this holiday season?

A Heart for Jesus, Week 1 (Mark 1:1-13)

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. In this post, Esther walks us through Mark 1:1-13.

To Follow Jesus

As we begin our study in Mark, we are looking at “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). We must rightly understand this term gospel. The gospel is not a cliché word for the Christian life nor is it about what we do. The gospel is the good news found in Jesus Christ alone. Only through the gospel can we have a right relationship with God. A heart that follows Jesus is a heart that has come to know Jesus. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the identity of Jesus is on display. In the week’s text, we are introduced to His title “Son of God”. It is important for us to understand this title. Son of God does not imply Jesus is a created being, because He is the second person of the eternal Trinity. In his book Jesus the Son of God, Dr. D.A. Carson clarifies and says, in part at least, when Jesus is called the Son of God, it is saying He is the true messianic King. When we come to know Jesus as this Son of God, we believe and see differently and are changed. In particular, a heart that follows Jesus believes He is the promised Son of God (vv. 1-8) and sees He is the sinless Son of God (vv. 9-13).

A heart that follows Jesus believes he is the promised Son of God because the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied and promised what would surround the coming of Christ. The person of John the Baptist confirmed it. Both Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 are quoted in verses 2-3, though Isaiah is only mentioned since more of the quoted material comes from Isaiah. 

Examine the Text:

  • Why does Mark quote these Old Testament passages? Read Isaiah 40:1-8 and Malachi 3:1-5 and observe what those texts are talking about in their context.

Notice, the text does not only highlight the mission of John the Baptist but his attire too, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey” (verse 6). What may seem like an odd wardrobe at first glance is an intentional detail that connects him with an Old Testament prophet.

Examine the Text:

  • Read 2 Kings 1:8 and compare it with Mark 1:6. Who is John the Baptist likened to here? Why is this important in understanding Jesus as the promised Son of God? (see Matthew 11:14; 17:11-13 for help.)

The prophecies of John the Baptist point to the promised Messiah who was to come, Jesus Christ. Because of this, a heart that follows Jesus believes he is the promised Son of God.

Apply to Life:

  • How does realizing the Old Testament Scriptures spoke about the coming of Jesus hundreds of years before His coming strengthen your faith in Christ and encourage you in the credibility of the Bible?
  • What are some areas of your life where you embrace Jesus as your authority as the Son of God? What are areas of your life where you may not tend to see Jesus as your authority as the Son of God?
  • All authority has been given to Jesus by God the Father (Matthew 28:18; John 17:1-5). What steps will you take to surrender these areas to Him?

A heart that follows Jesus also sees He is the sinless Son of God. Mark 1:9-13 highlights the baptism of Jesus and His testing in the wilderness. It is important to understand these scenes together. Jesus’s baptism was not due to Him publicly confessing and repenting of sin. Rather, His baptism was to put forth His mission. The mission to save could only be accomplished by cleansing and by a spotless sacrifice.

Examine the Text:

  • Mark 1:12-13 mentions Jesus being tested by Satan. However, in order to gain more information on how Jesus responded to the testing, read Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-11. What does Jesus’s response say about who He is?

Apply to Life:

  • How does Jesus’s response to Satan’s testings inform us on how we should respond to temptations? How can you prepare to respond like that this week?

The Heart of Jesus

The heart of the Christmas season is celebrating the life of Jesus Christ. In His life, we see the identity of Jesus Christ on display. Jesus came to change our hearts for Him. How does the life of Jesus change our hearts for Jesus? Each Friday throughout the month of December, Esther St John will walk us through Mark 1 to help our hearts see Jesus. However, before we look at what it means to have hearts for Jesus, we need to first see the heart of Jesus. In this post, Esther shows us the heart of our Savior from Mark 1.

I hated school like no one’s business. I was the worst student in the class, and probation became a pattern for each school year. My sister’s story was different. She did well in school. Unlike my sister, I always came back to my parents crying at the end of the school semester with a report card that looked like a candy cane, all white and red. One day, my sister came to my classroom to drop off my lunch box. I couldn’t help but to notice the teacher’s look on her face when she realized who my sister was. With a very surprised tone in her voice, she asked “Are you two related?”. I nodded and she continued asking, “What happened to you? Why are you not like your sister?” My heart as a 7-year-old was broken and embarrassed. It was then I concluded my knowledge and performance must determine who I was and am as a person. It would give and direct my worth and my future. Though, I began to buy the lie, I am thankful the Scriptures teach us the opposite and corrected me on that.

Mark, in his Gospel, gives us a glimpse of Jesus’s earthly ministry, His character, His love, and His compassion for people. In the first couple of passages, we come across John the Baptist introducing Jesus as the “mighty one, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie”. John the Baptist was right. He was not worthy, but God had called him to baptize Jesus with water according to Isiah 40:3. Why? Because that was the plan God had for him. He, John, heard the voice of God as He called Jesus His “Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11).

Anyone who does not know Jesus could assume that He, being the Son of God, would agree with what my second grade teacher taught me that day. Namely, performance is what matters. However, that is not the heart of Jesus. Jesus didn’t avoid temptation but suffered with endurance, so that we could follow in His steps. He called the uneducated, ordinary, and disliked people as His disciples to prove His point. These men didn’t know anything, but Jesus came to teach them and did so with authority (Mark 1:21-22). Jesus came to serve them (Mark 1:29-34) and did it with a heart of love and compassion for them (Mark 1:40-42).

Jesus came to make us free from believing that our future depends on what we can do for Him or anyone else. He came to preach the gospel of grace that invites us to repent from our sins and believe in His transforming power. He came to change our hearts and to extend an invitation for us to know and follow Him. That is the heart of Jesus.

I am grateful to tell you that Jesus saved me a few years later, but my battle against the lie I believed at age 7 is still current. This is a battle I fight everyday. It is a battle we all must fight every day. You may not have the exact struggle I do, but we each must remember our value, our future, and who we are as individuals is not defined by our roles. Our identities are not determined by our marital status, our work, or even our family. It has been determined by the blood of Jesus.