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19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “Who then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 They said to him then, “Who are you? Tell us so that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say concerning yourself?” 23 John said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why do you baptize then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but One stands among you, whom you do not know. 27 This is He who comes after me, who is preferred before me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-23

Who was John the Baptist? He confessed that he was not the Christ, he was not Elijah, nor was he the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15ff.

Who was he? “John said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” just as the prophet Isaiah said’” (Cf. Isa. 40:3).

John was the messenger of God sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). He prepared people for the coming of the Lord Jesus by calling upon all to repent of their sins and turn to the LORD God for forgiveness and life through faith in the Messiah who was about to appear and be offered up a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29).

Who are we as Christ’s Church in this world? What are we and all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be in this world? We are not the Christ, but we are a voice “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Through our called ministers, we continue to call upon all to repent of their sinful and rebellious ways and to look in faith to Christ Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Soon He will appear in the clouds with all His holy angels and every eye will see Him (cf. Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:29ff.)! Until then, we continue to be God’s voice, His witness, calling on all people to repent and believe on the LORD Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:8). In Jesus’ shed blood, there is forgiveness and life everlasting for all who repent and turn to Him in faith for salvation!

Dear LORD Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit and embolden us to be Your voice in this world, calling on all to repent and trust in You for forgiveness and life everlasting! Amen.

[Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, 70 as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets of long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, 72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, 73 the oath which He swore to our father Abraham, 74 to grant us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, 78 through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise from on high has visited us; 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-79

In these prophetic words, Zachariah the priest, being filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke of the salvation God was providing in His only-begotten Son and of the ministry of his son, John the Baptist.

Jesus, Son of God and descended from David through the Virgin Mary, came into the world as promised from the very beginning. In Jesus, God Himself visited and redeemed His people.

Jesus bore upon the cross the punishment for the sins of the whole world and made atonement for God’s people and for all of mankind. He suffered, died and rose again that He might set us free from the curse and condemnation of our sins to live for Him and serve Him evermore!

John the Baptist, the son born to Zechariah in his old age, would be the prophet of the Highest, going before the Lord Jesus Christ — Jehovah God Himself in human flesh — to prepare His ways.

And how was John to prepare the people for the coming of their Lord? He was to give them knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. He was to teach them of God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the innocent sufferings and death of God’s Son, the Dayspring from on high who would visit them. He was to call upon all to repent of their evil ways and look in faith to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world for mercy and forgiveness. In this way, he would give light to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death and guide their feet into the way of peace with the Lord their God.

People today are still sitting in spiritual darkness and the shadow of death. They do not know the LORD God and His mercy in Christ Jesus and are headed for an eternity of suffering and punishment apart from Him and His lovingkindness. Thus, the ministry of God’s Church today, as it prepares for the second coming of the Lord Jesus from heaven, is to give to people in this world knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. The Church, through its ministers, is to call people to repentance and faith in the Messiah and Savior; for Jesus, God’s own dear Son, came into this world, redeemed all of mankind by suffering and dying on the cross for all sin and rose again on the third day.

Ministers of Christ proclaim the law of God that people might see their sinfulness and the error of their ways. And they make known the good news of God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus that people might trust in Him alone for eternal salvation. In this way, the called servants of Jesus continue to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death and guide their feet into the way of peace.

O gracious and merciful God, bring us all to repent of our sinful and erring ways and grant us mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the Son, Jesus Christ, that Dayspring from on High who has come to visit and redeem us. And, dear Lord Jesus, move us to share with others sitting in darkness and the shadow of death the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins through faith in You and Your innocent sufferings and death in their stead. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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“Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts become burdened by excessiveness and drunkenness and anxieties of life, and that Day comes on you unexpectedly. For as a snare it will come on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Therefore watch always and pray that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 (cf. Luke 21:25-36)

Jesus tells us what will happen before He suddenly appears, coming in clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead. He speaks of what would happen to Jerusalem and what would befall His disciples (Luke 21:5ff.; cf. Matt. 24:1ff.; Mark 13:1ff.); and then he speaks about what will take place immediately before His coming.

“There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men fainting from fear and expectation of what is coming on the inhabited earth. For the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).

He tells us that, “when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). And He adds the parable of the fig tree: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are sprouting leaves already, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So in like manner, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (v. 29-31).

Jesus said (v. 32-33): “Truly, I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” And, indeed, these signs were already fulfilled in the first century after Christ. There were wars and commotions, false Christs and false prophets. Christians were betrayed and persecuted, and Jerusalem was destroyed for its impenitence and unbelief as Jesus had warned (cf. Luke 19:41-44).

And, Jesus warns us to “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts become burdened by excessiveness and drunkenness and anxieties of life, and that Day comes on you unexpectedly. For as a snare it will come on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Therefore watch always and pray that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man” (v. 34-36).

Instead of living in drunkenness and excess, and being wrapped up with the cares of this life, we are to be watching and praying that we not be caught off guard and, like the rest of the world, be found living in sin and impenitence and not ready at Jesus’ return.

Rather, we are to live in continual repentance, confessing our sins and holding fast in faith to Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness that we might be found ready to stand before Him when He appears.

The Bible tells us in Acts 3:19-21: “Therefore repent and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the One who previously was preached to you, Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the time of restoring what God spoke through all His holy prophets since the world began.”

If we are found acknowledging our sins — agreeing with God about our sinfulness — and looking to Jesus and His cross in faith for pardon and forgiveness, we will be ready on that day. Instead of being condemned, we will be given eternal life for Jesus’ sake (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Psalm 32:1-6; John 3:14-18). But, if we are found continuing on in our sinful ways, impenitent and unbelieving, that day will find us unprepared and bring upon us God’s wrath and judgment (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-10; John 3:18; Mark 16:16).

O gracious and merciful Savior, grant that we continue in daily repentance and faith that we might be found ready on that day when You come to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.” Colossians 4:12-13 (Read Colossians 4:7-14)

Within the greetings of fellow believers shared by the Apostle Paul is the greeting of Epaphras, a believer from Colosse who came to visit Paul in prison and who was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only did Epaphras send greetings to his fellow believers, he prayed for them. Paul said to the Colossians that Epaphras was “always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.”

Epaphras’ prayers for the church at Colosse, as well as those in Laodicea and Hierapolis, were not brief, passing addendums. He labored fervently in prayer for them. He was continually wrestling with God and imploring God’s mercy and grace upon his fellow believers that they would not turn away from the truth and fall from saving faith in Christ Jesus but stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. He prayed that they would be brought to spiritual maturity and be filled up in all things pertaining to God’s will.

His prayer is similar to the desire of the apostle Paul for the believers at Ephesus, recorded for us in his letter, Ephesians 4:11-16: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”

The prayers of Epaphras and of the apostle Paul reveal to us God’s will for us as believers – that we grow up into Jesus Christ and heed His leading voice recorded for us in the Scriptures, that we no longer be carried this way and that with every wind of doctrine but hold fast to Christ and His Word.

The prayers of Epaphras and the apostle are also an example to us for our prayers. Even when, for one reason or another, we are prevented from speaking to someone of the truth, we can labor fervently for them in our prayers.

Have we loved ones or children in this world who have been brought to Christ by the “washing of water by the Word” and introduced to their Savior through the teaching of the Holy Scriptures? Are they struggling with temptations from within and without? Lift them up in prayer, pleading with the Lord God to have mercy upon their souls and keep them from the evil one and the many dangerous and misleading lies of false teachers in the world. Pray that God would graciously restore the fallen and keep all of them in His protective hand and bring them safely through this evil world to Himself in heaven. Labor fervently in prayer that they might grow up into Christ Jesus, trust in Him alone and in His mercy for salvation, and “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”

This is my prayer for my children, grandchildren and for all those I know and love in this world. Let it be your prayer too.

And, when we remember that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that any of us have been brought to know Christ and to trust in His life, death and resurrection for our salvation, certainly we must admit that it is only by the gracious working of God that anyone for whom we pray can be brought to faith in Christ Jesus, be preserved in that faith, and be brought safely into heaven!

O Lord God, heavenly Father, have mercy upon us for the sake of Your Son, Christ Jesus, and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead. Graciously keep us in the faith until we reign with our risen Savior in heaven. And, dearest Lord Jesus, have mercy upon our children and grandchildren and all our loved ones. Graciously cause them to hear Your Word, trust in You for forgiveness and life, be preserved from the false and pernicious doctrines of the devil, and be kept in the one true and saving faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Psalm 50

A Psalm of Asaph

1 The Mighty One, God, is the Lord; He has spoken and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. 3 Our God will come, and will not keep silent; a fire consumes before Him, and a strong tempest is around Him. 4 He calls to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people: 5 “Gather My faithful ones together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” 6 The heavens will declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge. Selah
7 “Hear, O My people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, even your God. 8 I will not reprove you for your sacrifices or for your burnt offerings that are continually before Me. 9 I will take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds. 10 For every wild animal of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird of the mountains, and the creatures that move in the field are Mine. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 Sacrifice a thank offering to God, and pay your vows to the Most High, 15 and call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth? 17 You hate instruction, and cast My words behind you. 18 When you see a thief, you are pleased, and have a share in those who commit adultery. 19 You let loose your mouth to evil, and your tongue is bound to deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; you accuse your own mother’s son. 21 These things have you done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was indeed like you; but I will reprove you and make a case before your eyes. 22 “Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver: 23 Whoever sacrifices a thank offering glorifies Me and makes a way; I will show him the salvation of God.”

In this psalm (which we read tomorrow), God reminds us of His coming judgment upon the peoples of this world and, more specifically, of His judgment upon those who claim to be believers and take His name upon their lips.

God does not desire faithless sacrifices and rituals. He will judge those who go through the motions of sacrifice and worship but whose hearts remain impenitent and without true faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross.

And, indeed, those who continue on in their sinful ways, impenitent, have no right to call themselves Christian or to take God’s covenant of mercy upon their lips. Their worship and sacrifices are worthless and God does not desire them.

Rather, God desires true repentance — that we agree with God about our utter sinfulness and trust in Him to mercifully forgive our sins and accept us as His dear children for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. He desires repentance which produces the fruits of repentance — thanking God for His goodness and mercy, paying our vows to the Lord, calling upon Him in times of trouble.

God will judge the wicked, but those who repent and look to Him for mercy for the sake of Christ Jesus will see the salvation of God.

And so, I ask you before God, are you truly sorry for all your sins, in thoughts, words, and actions? Do you look in faith to Christ Jesus and His cross for mercy and forgiveness? Do you desire, with the help and aid of God the Holy Spirit, to amend your sinful ways and live for Your God and Savior in accord with His Word?

If so, I, in the name of the Triune God, announce unto you the grace of God and forgive you all your sins for the sake of Jesus’ holy life and innocent sufferings and death in your stead. Go in peace! Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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