GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Temptation

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READ: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12,13; Luke 4:1-13

Jesus has just been baptized and declared to be the beloved Son of God. He is full of the Holy Spirit and that same Spirit drives Him into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The three authors of the synoptic gospels use three different words to tell us about this act of the Spirit in Jesus’ life. Matthew indicates that Jesus is ‘led up’ or taken to the high Judean wilderness for this trial. Mark’s word is the most forceful indicating that Jesus is led by an irresistible force, compelled in stern although not violent language. And Luke uses a word also used to describe leading an animal with the idea that there is also one leading involved in the movement. Perhaps there is another way to describe what is happening, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and irresistibly followed the Holy Spirit up into the Judean wilderness where for forty days he was tempted by the devil”. I think in the past I’ve pictured Him led into the wilderness and more or less dumped there to endure the temptation on His own. Not so. The Spirit was with Him.

This is important to me. Jesus was tempted, a Greek word that means to try, make trial of, test for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave. He faced this temptation in much the same way any of us face temptation. He did not have the physical presence of God or even of another man to help Him through, but He did have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit just like we who follow Him do.

Satan seemed bent on finding a chink in Jesus’ understanding of His identity and therefore His mission. Jesus was just come from the very powerful baptism experience where He and everyone nearby heard the words this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And now forty days of silence. No heavens being torn open. No audible voice of God. And in this time there was some kind of compelling demand to fast; to fast for forty days and nights in a place that offered little sustenance in any case. And scripture tells us that the temptations came at the end of the forty days when Jesus was ‘hungry’ – a word that implies to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire.

I see in Jesus’ response to the devil’s test such a key to how we too can power through temptation. Jesus knew the character of God and He knew the word of God. It was upon those two things that He stood firm against Satan’s insinuations … ‘IF you are the Son of God….’, test Your power; test God’s care for You; do what You are called to do, but do it through my shortcut. Satan even tried using scripture to sway Jesus, but Jesus knew scripture and God’s character so well that He found the truth under the lie that Satan was suggesting.

Jesus came to show us the way. In this test He shows us the way to stand up under temptation. We too can stand firm in our identity in Christ when we depend upon scripture and the character of God. I can’t prove this, but I believe that Jesus’ answers were Spirit led and supplied. Even alone in the wilderness He was in communion with God through Holy Spirit and depended upon that connection to ace the test of Satan.

Lord, You amaze me! Thank You that You went through this test and so clearly demonstrated how we too can face tests. Lord, thank You for the scripture that is imbedded in my heart – Your words to encourage, support, rebuke, and make me steadfast. And thank You for Your character that shines through Your Word and lives within me through Holy Spirit. I depend upon this … I depend upon You! Praise You Lord Jesus!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – To Fulfill All Righteousness

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

In today’s passage Jesus is baptized by John. Both Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the baptism make it clear that Jesus very deliberately came to John to be baptized. There is much uncertainty about where along the Jordan this baptism happened. John was an itinerant teacher and likely taught and baptized at different places along the river, but at a minimum it would’ve been close to a day’s walk for Jesus to get to the place. Jesus didn’t happen by the river, he went to the river with the full intent of being baptized.

I feel John’s consternation at this prospect. John’s whole life is wrapped up in preparing the way for Jesus. John has been preaching and watching and waiting for the one he knows will come. John is so ready to step back and make way for Jesus. A bit later, after Jesus’ baptism, some of his followers come to him upset because “… that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan — the one you testified about — well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:23) John’s answer is beautifully summed up in John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less.” This is the heart of John – a heart all about Jesus.

Jesus insisted and John cooperated and the heavens opened to reveal the heart of God about Jesus. The synoptic gospel accounts are so similar, but show a different perspective. In Mark we see God speaking directly to Jesus – affirming Jesus’ identity and God’s own deep love and pleasure in His Son. In Matthew and Luke we see God speaking about Jesus for the sake of those watching – a third person perspective that clearly gives affirmation and identity to His Son so others would know. The gospel of John offers a fourth perspective, that of John receiving confirmation about the identity of this man as he sees the Spirit come down and remain on him. This is the one for whom he, John, has been preparing the way. This is the one for whom he has been waiting.

What would have been lost if Jesus had not insisted on being baptized to fulfill all righteousness? Clearly the obvious approval and stamp of authenticity that God provided here as Jesus began His ministry was so important. But I think there is more. Jesus demonstrated His desire to do and experience all that we do and experience. The waters of purification that physically represented a ready heart were not a new thing to the Jewish people. But a baptism in living water that reflected a heart of repentance and a readiness to live a new life – this was new. Jesus’ baptism not only presented the opportunity for God to reveal His approval of His Son and His Son’s ministry, it also was the way for Jesus to demonstrate before many witnesses that John had been preparing the way, a validation of John’s ministry. There was a new way to follow and Jesus was on mission to show that way. What a lot of obedience happened that day and what a lot of obedience has followed to the glory of God!

Lord, I confess there are times when what You ask makes no sense. It feels full of hubris to say this, but it is a reality of human life, of my life. Help me, like John, to say ‘yes’ to those times when what You ask makes no sense. Thank You for this life story that reflects so much obedience and gives a peek at the ‘why’ behind obedience. Today Lord, I choose to obey even when I don’t understand why. Today I give you glory for Your greater purposes and I choose to trust!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – To Speak the Truth

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READ: Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-20

Today I’m recalling this prophecy spoken by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and recorded in Luke 1:14-17, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

I want to be like John. He was a joy and delight to his parents. Many others rejoiced because of his birth. He was great in the sight of the Lord. What a winner! He was odd but that oddity tied to a clarion voice of truth won people to him, to his message. His determined honesty caused some to wonder if he was the Christ, but John’s honesty wasn’t just for others, it was for himself. He never wavered from his understanding of his mission – to prepare the way for one whose sandals he wasn’t even fit to untie. He never puffed up or thought, ‘Wow, so many are following me, maybe there is more to me than I realized!” He remained ever John, the one called to prepare the way for Jesus.

John spoke truth without reserve no matter who the truth applied to and no matter the power of the person. He was rewarded for this honesty by imprisonment and an early death. I am a person who weighs my words. I value relationship and I know the power of words to help and to harm. Those considerations and a desire not to lose entry into another’s life through my words can prompt me to hold my tongue – maybe even when I should speak (or write!). Can I be as outspoken as John? I don’t know, but I pray that I never step away from saying what is prompted by the Holy Spirit no matter how brutally honest the message.

Lord, how I admire John. I sense Your admiration of him too – this man created by You to speak Your message just before you stepped on the world’s stage. Lord, I ask You to create in me that same humble heart that You crafted in John. I also ask that You give me an obedient heart and voice to speak out truth whenever and wherever You give me place and the prompting to do so and to  trust the results to You!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Obedience

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READ: Luke 2:40-52

I’m a bit surprised at everything today’s reading raises up in me. I so relate to Mary in this passage. I can feel the terror of being a full day away from Jerusalem only to realize my son, my precious deeply loved son, is not with me. I can so imagine it – a caravan of family and friends, people I love and trust with my life. First I feel the secure, just under consciousness certainty that Jesus is out of sight, but safe with his cousin. I mean, after all, the last time I saw him he was running around with him having fun like any young boy. Then, I imagine the longest day and a half of my life traveling with Joseph back to Jerusalem and searching and searching. And finally, finding him back in the temple! In some ways, no surprise after seeing him lit up and on fire during the temple ceremonies of the Passover celebration. But still, that rush of frustration that comes with renewed safety and the “How could you do this to me, to us?”

This was likely not Jesus’ first trip to Jerusalem for the Feast. But there is a poignancy about this trip – his last before he turns thirteen and is required to keep all the law as one who has reached maturity. One of the requirements of the law for a man was that he would go to the temple for the three great feasts of Judaism – the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Next year Jesus would be in Jerusalem for all three. But in Jesus I see one who is so ready. I can picture him sitting in the temple at the feet of the teachers along with a group of young disciples. Typically the Rabbis taught by asking questions and those sitting at their feet took turns answering. Jesus wowed everyone with the understanding demonstrated in his answers. He was where He was gifted and called to be – although the true call would be fulfilled when he took the role of teacher.

His answer to his mother’s question and then his physical response reveals so much to me. Jesus is powerfully drawn to the call and passion of his life. He needs to be in his Father’s house, about his Father’s work. There is a call on him to which he longs to be obedient. But, he ultimately responds to his mother by returning with his parents down from the temple mount to Nazareth and to a place of obedience to his parents. This is a key decision point in this young man’s life. Who will he obey? How will he obey? Hebrews 5:8 tells us “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…”  Hebrews is specifically addressing what he learned in the suffering in the garden, but I believe Jesus ‘learning obedience’ began much earlier, just like ours does. In the day-to-day submission to his parents, he learned the greater submission and obedience to God that bought our salvation.

Jesus is so much more than me and you, but in so many was he experienced what we experience and left us a path to follow. There are seasons of my life where the call of God to a particular task or passion is so thick it presses on me. I long to make right decisions about submission and obedience and trusting God’s timing – just like Jesus did.

Lord, thank You for this story from Your life. Give me discernment, discipline, obedience to You and Your timing for the dreams and passions You place in me. Give me trust that You are at work helping me learn obedience and this for Your greater glory in me!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Refugees

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READ: Matthew 2:1-12; Matthew 2:13-23; Luke 2:39

God provides for His son. Sometime after Jesus was born in Bethlehem Magi come to visit Him. The time is set as during the time King Herod is alive, so this would be sometime before 4 BCE when Herod the Great is known to have died. After a side trip to the palace in Jerusalem the Magi find the infant at home in Bethlehem. They worship Him and leave gifts to honor Him and then, after being warned in a dream, they head home via a different route to avoid confrontation with Herod.

Dreams are one of the provisions God utilizes to protect His son. Joseph’s sleep is filled with warnings and direction that afford protection for Jesus. The Magi’s dreams protect both them and the baby. There is obvious certainty to these dreams – these are clearly from God and clearly meant to be obeyed. One of the nighttime missives causes Joseph to take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt in the dead of night. Refugees running before the cruel intentions of a wicked despot bent on destroying their son. I wonder did the gifts the Magi brought to the child provide needed funding for this quick flight? Were those gifts provision for protection?

After Herod dies, the couple and child are given freedom to return to Israel. But they don’t return to Jerusalem or Bethlehem in Judea, rather God directs them to make home as far north as possible in the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Herod’s son Archelaus is as bad or worse than his father before him.

I can’t help but think of the plight of refugees today. What a lonely, desperate, fearful thing to leave a land called home in fear for one’s life and the life of your family. How sad to realize the place you’ve left is no place to which you can return, but rather you must hope and pray you can find a new place to call home … a new place to belong. Throughout history God’s people have often been aliens dwelling in a strange land. It gives me hope for the displaced when I realize that God knows what it is to be displaced. God knows the feelings, needs, and struggles of the refugee and God is “…close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18. May I and my tribe be part of the provision and protection God offers to those in flight for their lives before the evil of our world.

Lord, my heart beats faster as I think of this very young family stumbling through the night racing for their lives to the safety of Egypt. They ran from their own who claimed them not to a people strange to them. And through this strange people You nurtured Your Son until He could safely return home. Lord, give me Your heart of care and provision for the refugees among us. And Lord I hear stories that You are meeting many of them in dreams and visions! I praise You for this and ask that You continue to make Yourself known both supernaturally in dreams and supernaturally in Your people.

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – The Devout Life

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READ: Luke 2:21-39

The passage today takes us into Joseph and Mary’s life with their firstborn son. It begins as a step back into a routine and devoted life. On the eighth day Jesus is circumcised and given his name, the name that the angel had given him before he had been conceived. And then, on what would have been the 31st day after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph travel to Jerusalem and enter the temple to present the sacrifices required upon Mary’s purification. At 33 days after Jesus’ birth he would be brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord and so his parents could offer the sacrifices required for redemption of the firstborn son. There in the temple, the supernatural breaks in again as first Simeon and then Anna recognize the anointing on this child of Joseph and Mary.

There is a sentence at the end of the recounting of this story that caught my attention. “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.” Luke 2:39. This sentence and the details of this story affirm to me the simple devotion of these two young people. Joseph and Mary were striving to live righteous lives devoted to the God they love. This was true before their lives were interrupted by God’s angel and it is true as they walk down the road carrying God’s purpose in their arms. The sentence also points forward. I hear in it echoes of what Jesus said to John as he came to him to be baptized.  John’s initial response was, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Matthew 3:14. And Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15. Jesus is completely set apart from us as perfect, holy God. And yet, he is fully man, and living on the earth without special privilege or entitlement. He does what we do as we love and obey God, and so did his parents before him. But in both situations, it is as if God can’t hold His pride and joy and purpose in silence. He speaks powerfully through Simeon and Anna in the temple and He breaks through the barriers of time and space to speak out His love at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 4:17.

One other detail stood out thanks to Steve’s sermon Sunday on Jesus in the Passover. Jesus is presented in the temple for the redemption of the firstborn son. This ritual performed for every firstborn son to open the womb of a woman reminded a young couple of so many things. At the time of the first Passover, a specially selected lamb, a firstborn lamb, was sacrificed. This lamb sacrificed in obedience took the place of the firstborn sons and caused the angel of death to pass over the Israelites. This story would have figured prominently in their minds as they paid the price to redeem their son. The redemption at this point wasn’t from death – it was from being completely devoted to the Lord. Before the debacle of the worship of the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, every firstborn son would’ve been devoted to the service of the Lord. At that point in time the Levites were the ones who came to stand with Moses to purify the camp after the lapse into idolatry. From then forward the Lord chose the Levites to stand in the place of the firstborn sons (see Exodus 32:25-29 and Numbers 8:15-19) and a way to redeem those sons was established.

Joseph and Mary knew that they loved God. They did what they knew to do, what they had been commanded to do to demonstrate that love. Little did Joseph and Mary know that their obedient love resulted in them holding in their arms the one who fulfilled all that these sacrifices and rituals foreshadowed. The Son of God. The firstborn over all creation. The perfect Lamb of God.

Lord, help me as I seek to do that which I know to do. The little and big obedience that demonstrates so much more than duty – that demonstrates love and devotion. Thank You Lord that my loving obedience is the stuff You use to fulfill the purposes of salvation – both for me and for purposes bigger than I can imagine.

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Do Not Be Afraid

 

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READ: Luke 2:1-20

This story weaves through the years of my life read and re-read, told and re-told. And yet, even in this reading a new understanding captures me. The first sentences actually drew me in. The history of Rome’s occupation of Israel paints a picture of incredible unrest behind the seemingly peaceful statement in Luke 2:1 about a decree for a census. Herod the Great was dead and in the wake of that death Israel was divided into three protectorates under three different rulers. The census decree itself caused major rebellion and many Jews were killed in response. Over the course of about a 10 year period surrounding Jesus’ birth 2,000 Jewish men were crucified outside of Jerusalem. In another response to rocks thrown by Jewish men at Roman soldiers, 3,000 men were slaughtered in a bloodbath in the temple one year on the day of Passover.

After traveling a distance in a dark and dangerous time, Joseph came to Bethlehem and stood before the Censor of Rome to be counted, surely in an emotional turmoil. He stood before the representative of a brutal oppressor government to account for himself, his espoused wife and the child in her womb. He was required to report all of his material goods. He would surely have been aware of the unrest around the census; he may even have lost friends or family to Rome’s retribution. Perhaps he had considered joining in the rebellion. But here was his wife, large with child, pregnant with the promise of God. I wonder if even as Joseph stood for the census, in a town that was anything but ‘quiet’, he was hearing again in his heart the words of the angel “Do not be afraid.”

Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds – all of them lived in an incredibly dark time, a time of darkness to rival the darkness in so many places around our earth today. They lived ordinary lives turned toward God, seeking to live righteous in His sight. Each of them found their ordinary life interrupted in extraordinary ways. And in the midst of the interruption they heard “Do not be afraid.”

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

“But the angel said to him (Zechariah): “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” Luke 1:13

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:30

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of a visitation from God. Do not be afraid to obey. Hear, believe, act and know that you are participating in the unshakable purposes of God Himself.

Lord, our times are dark but You have called us to live in the light and to let the light shine through us. Today my life is simple – simply hearing, believing and acting daily in a way that brings You glory. Tomorrow You may call me to something more; a harder hearing, believing and acting on what You speak to me. Whether in small things or big, help me hear the “Do not be afraid” from You Lord! Help me live an unafraid on purpose life in You!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Prequel #4

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READ: Luke 1:39-86

Can you feel it? The story is rapidly approaching a climax. I love it that the story unfolds from the point of view of pregnancy. “After his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.” “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth a town in Galilee…” “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.”

The angel Gabriel presented to Mary a double birth announcement. Not only would she have a son, but her barren relative Elizabeth was also six months pregnant and would bear a child. Astonishment upon astonishment! After Mary’s beautiful yes to the Lord, she hurries off to see Elizabeth.

What blesses me in the unfolding of these births is the personal and universal heart of God. I’m encouraged that as He brings about His plans and purposes for individuals and mankind He is present in the details providing for those He uses to fulfill His promises. Can’t you just imagine the depths and heights of joy for Mary as she walked into Elizabeth’s home and saw her rounded belly? Confirmation. Her faith is affirmed. What God said is TRUE!! And then to have John leap in his mother’s womb and hear the Holy Spirit words coming from Elizabeth’s mouth calling her the mother of Elizabeth’s Lord; blessing her for believing that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished. Joy!

Mary’s heart overflows with praise – praise to the God who has done great things for her and the one who helps and remembers Israel. Mary leaves Elizabeth and Zachariah sometime near the time of John’s birth. After John’s birth when Zechariah’s tongue is loosed in praise the Holy Spirit prophesies through him revealing a long planned partnership between his little John and the baby yet in Mary’s womb. And again I imagine the impact of three months time with pregnant Mary in his home pondering these events with these two people he loved.

Honestly, it feels to me like God is pregnant! Marking time as only a pregnant woman does – waiting, eager, expectant. What a blessing to see His love for Elizabeth, for Mary. What a joy to see His plans unfolding and to know He is in the midst!!

Lord, You’ve long shown me that You are in time even though You are outside of time. You go before me. You are present today. You are ahead of me. In the midst I see the marks of Your presence – the signposts You leave along the way. How I love You and rejoice in Your love for me and for us!

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Prequel #3

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READ: Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25

Yesterday the story of a couple ‘well along in years’ spoke to me. Today it is the story of a young couple, just starting life together. This story is different, yet there is a very strong recurring theme of ordinary people doing ordinary things whose lives are set on a new trajectory as heaven touches earth in preparation for Jesus’ birth.

The story of Joseph and Mary really has to start with Mary. If she had said ‘no’ to God, there would have been no need for an angel to visit Joseph, His obedience would not have been tested. Mary — In my mind’s eye I see a young teen, probably 13 or 14 (I cringe to think of this from our cultural perspective) excited at the prospect of setting up housekeeping in the home her husband will provide. Once the marriage contract or ‘Ketubah’ was legally entered into between Joseph and Mary’s father, she and Joseph were legally wed although without the possibility of consummation until Joseph had readied a place for Mary to live with him. Only divorce could separate them at this point. In keeping with Jewish marriage tradition of the time, Joseph would have approached Mary’s father with the offer of marriage. Mary was given the choice to accept the offer at which point Joseph would give a dowry payment to Mary’s father in compensation for all of the work Mary did for the family. That work was real day-to-day participation in the life of the family. I picture this day being like all others for Mary. Arising early, greeting the day and her Lord in prayer, moving into the daily tasks of hearth and home, perhaps wondering if this would be the day her husband would come to take her to her new home. But instead of Joseph, her day was interrupted when the angel greeted her and everything was turned upside down.

Joseph — A righteous man perhaps around 18 years of age. Sometime after Mary’s experience, he also would have risen early to meet his God in prayer and then gone about the normal duties of his day. Added to those regular obligations he likely spent time that day preparing the place that he would bring his bride. I can only imagine the deep distress he had to feel as the news of Mary’s ‘condition’ was delivered to him. He obviously processed this and came to the conclusion that he would not expose Mary to public disgrace but would divorce her quietly. This would’ve been a blotch on his reputation – Mary’s family would retain the bride-price and no reason would be given for the divorce. But God had a different plan and sent the angel of the Lord to change Joseph’s mind.

What speaks most loudly to me in this story is the profound impact of two young people going about daily life saying ‘yes’ to God every day. Those days of ordinary tasks and ordinary plans lived with hearts turned toward God in ‘yes’ built the foundation for a very profound and costly ‘yes’ in each of their lives. I’m not sure I’ve grasped before the power of ‘yes’. Yes is the starting-gate for the most mundane and the most amazing of God’s works!

Lord, YES! When it comes to living life in You, to serving You, I want to be the biggest ‘yes man’ ever! Give me the ability to say yes to the smallest of tasks you ask me to do. Give me the courage to say yes to the big stuff too. Give me wisdom and discernment that I might know Your voice and reserve ‘no’ for those things that are not from You. Yes Lord, YES!

 

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GLEANINGS from Claudia: Following Jesus – Prequel #2

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READ: Luke 1:5-25

Today I got stopped in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In so many ways this is the story of an ordinary man and woman. Likely the story touches me so much because scripture says “…they were both well along in years.” A commentary I looked at suggests that this way of defining them means they were likely 60 years or older. Me too!

Zechariah was of the priestly tribe of Levi of the division of Abijah, the eighth division in a rotation of 24 divisions or groupings of priests. He and Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah, south of Jerusalem. When the time came for the division of Abijah to serve, Zechariah went to Jerusalem to live at the temple until that time was completed. There were about 18,000 priests living in Israel at the time. Of that 18,000, 50 priests were on duty every day with about 300 priests serving over the course of a week. Each day lots were utilized to discern who was to serve in each of four different capacities. On this day, the lot fell to Zechariah to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. This duty shows that he was the ‘officiating’ priest of that day. Many commentaries indicate that this particular duty fell to a priest only once in his lifetime. The incense that Zechariah burned on the altar of incense within the Holy Place represented the prayers of the people. As he went in to place the incense on the altar, the people stood outside praying “May the merciful God enter the Holy Place and accept with favor the offering of His people.” (Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Jesuswalk.com)

Zechariah’s story goes on to detail an angelic visitation, the good news that “…your prayer has been heard.” And the prayer to be answered was that Elizabeth would bear him a son. Because of unbelief, Zechariah is struck dumb for the nine months that the child grows in Elizabeth’s womb. Only on the eighth day after John’s birth is Zechariah able to speak. His voice returns after he writes his belief to astonished observers “His name is John.” And when his voice awakens he fills the place with praise.

So much in this story stirs me. I’m in awe of God’s obvious and detailed planning for the coming of Jesus. I’m convicted and assured that God hears our prayers and doesn’t forget them. He stores them up to be answered in His time and for His purposes. There is no way that Zechariah went into the Holy Place praying for a son. That prayer was long done in him and Elizabeth. But God and His angel knew and remembered and “…your prayer has been heard.” I feel all of the prayers of all of the believers over all of time held in that moment. I intuitively know that God hears and God answers and that in Zechariah’s story all of creation paused pregnant with the soon to be born answer to our prayers.

John went into the Holy Place on behalf of the people of Israel. He received a very personal answer to a very personal prayer. But I think God was saying so much more in that answer. Your prayers are heard. The prayers of your people are heard. I see you; I regard you; I answer you. Believe!

Lord, open the fount of my prayers to You. Help me pray the old prayers, trusting that You hear and will answer in Your time in Your way. Help me to pray the new prayers, believing that You hear; You see; You care and You will answer. And open my mouth to fill this place with praise!

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