Sunday School Lesson – “An Angel Foretells of John’s Birth” Luke 1:8-20

VERSE DISCOVERY: Luke 1:8-20 (KJV, Public Domain)

Before Gabriel spoke to Mary, he appeared to another person in relation to the future Messiah.  He came to a man by the name of Zacharias and foretold of the child he would father.  This child would grow to be a messenger before the Lord and would be he of whom it was prophesied as the one who would be characterized as, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” (Mark 1:3). 

Imagine for a moment, the president, king, or any head of a country, coming to an area to visit.  Before their arrival, another would have been sent ahead to announce and make the proper preparations before they get there.  Such as it was in ancient times when kings came into town.  And, so is the ministry of John the Baptist, the child whom Gabriel speaks of in today’s lesson as a promise to Zacharias, when the King of all kings makes His arrival on this earth.

Zacharias’ Duty

Luke 1:8-10 “And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.”

Righteous before God.  Walking in the commandments.  Blameless.  These are some of the noteworthy characteristics of Zacharias and Elisabeth his wife (see Luke 1:5-6).

Although he was a faithful priest in the eyes of the Lord and his wife modeled the same holy qualities, they had no child.  Being well-advanced in years, their time for this possibility seemed to be over until God steps in and shakes up their way of thinking and reorders their life with a great and precious promise.

The number of priests available to serve in those days was large.  Some estimates put them in the tens of thousands.  With that, 1 Chronicles 24:1-9 lays out the divisions of the priests.  There were 24 in all and from these divisions, the duties that were to be performed in the temple were selected by “lot.”  Using the term “lot” it describes the system of selection that depended on God to choose who will do what and when they will do it by the drawing or casting of lots.

On this particular day, Zacharias had the privilege to experience the opportunity to serve before the Lord.  “According to the custom of the priest’s office” (see 2 Chronicles 8:14), as the lots were cast for the duty of burning incense (see 1 Chronicles 23:13; 2 Chronicles 29:11), Zacharias’s name was chosen to perform this job “in the temple of the Lord.”

This was a highly desired position and considered a great honor.  Before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice was offered, the chosen priest would burn incense before the altar symbolizing the prayers of the people who were positioned outside of the temple (“praying without”), during this time.

An Angel Encounter

Luke 1:11-14 “And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.  But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.  And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.”

Above all else, we believe God to be sovereign.  We believe Him to be in charge of time and circumstance.  And, although Zacharias is considered old at this time, we believe God held his name in remembrance to appear on the scene and receive the promise of he who would be chosen and work to prepare the way of Christ at this chosen time in history.

While reverently going about his duties which, as already noted, had to be performed twice a day (see Exodus 30:7-8), “there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord.”  Imagine, if you will, being in that holy atmosphere where one might not hear anything but the burning of coals and the shuffling of his own feet; an atmosphere where everything is sacred and yet, God chose you to come before Him in the temple to perform this holy calling.

With the aromas of spices filling the air, off to the right side of the altar, beyond the ascending fragrant cloud, Zacharias sees “an angel of the Lord.”  Some depictions of this encounter may have Zacharias just hearing the angel, but the Bible says he “saw him.”

And when he “saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”  Throughout the Bible, any time an angel appeared directly to an individual it was often unsettling and troubling to the individual (see 1 Chronicles 21:30; Matthew 28:2-4).  God does not do anything frivolously, especially regarding having a heavenly host appear to mankind.  This was an occasion to take seriously.  Not knowing at that time, the exact reason for the visit, “fear fell upon him.”

“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias.”  Zacharias’s reaction wasn’t necessary, and the angel sought to ease the millions of horrific thoughts that may be running through his mind.  God’s dispatched angel came with a message of promise, not of peril; therefore, he spoke, “Fear not;” the same comforting words he will give to Mary in Luke 1:30.

“For thy prayer is heard.”  Zacharias was a righteous man and he was a praying man and according to God’s holy word, “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry, “(Psalm 34:15; see also 1 Peter 3:12).  Knowing the heartbreak and shame of being childless; I don’t know how many years Zacharias prayed, but in His perfect, pre-ordained time, God let him know He “heard.”

In a previous article titled Know That God Hears, I wrote: “Our deepest heart’s desires do not fall on deaf ears.  God is not playing cat and mouse with us.  He wants us to seek Him that He may be found: “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near,” (Isaiah 55:6).  Then, He can respond!” (Word For Life Says)

And, respond He did.  The angel told Zacharias of what would be.  He said, “Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.”  A woman, who like her husband is “well-stricken in years,” (Luke 1:7) will finally, not only have a child and know the joy of motherhood, but she will “bear thee a son.”

Just think, after all those years of let downs.  After feelings of disgrace have surely washed over them and it seemed all hope is gone – God favored them.  They would know what it is like; they will experience their very own fulfilled promise in the form of a son named “John.”

His birth would not only bring “joy and gladness” to the parents whose hearts longed to hear a babe crying in their home, and to hold and coddle their own flesh and blood – but, “many shall rejoice at his birth.”

As time goes by and Elisabeth does give birth, we see in Luke 1:58, “her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her,” (emphasis mine).  I believe the angel’s words were meant to have a much farther reach of impact in the lives of the people who will respond to his call of repentance, and eventually be led to Christ.

John’s Foretold Character

 Luke 1:15 “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”

“For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord.”  When Jesus came on the scene, during His years of ministry, He testified of John and said, “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,” (Luke 7:28; see also Matthew 11:11).  Jesus’ ministry obviously is superior in depth and importance than that of John the Baptist’s (read John 1:29-34 for John’s own testimony of the Lamb of God’s ministry; He [Jesus] that is preferred before him [John the Baptist]).

Nevertheless, because of his position and unique ministry as the one who would prepare the way before the Savior, John the Baptist stands out and is extraordinary among the name of the prophets.  From the time of the womb, he would bear witness of the Christ (see Luke 1:41; John 1:15, 29-34).

“And he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.”  This is reminiscent of the instructions we see given to Samson’s parents when an angel appeared to them.  The withholding of oneself from “strong drink” as well as other strict requirements, was in keeping with what is known as a Nazarite vow (compare Judges 13:4-5).  This devoted life would be a sign of the holy and set apart nature of the individual; that God was doing something special in his life.

“And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”  John the Baptist would be heavenly empowered and enabled from the womb to fulfill the role as that prophesied voice and that holy messenger, heralding to all who would listen, before the arrival of the Savior (compare Isaiah 40:3).  Anything done for God must be Spirit-powered.  Many today try to operate in their own power but fall short of producing godly fruit for the Kingdom.  John’s life and mission would be infused with “Holy Ghost” power!

John’s Foretold Ministry

Luke 1:16-17 “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.”  When John the Baptist came into his ministry, he is seen “preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 3:1-2).  People from all over the area came: “Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins,” (Matthew 3:5-6).  He was working to turn hearts back “to the Lord their God.”  He was winning souls to the Kingdom, fulfilling this prophecy over his life.

John’s style of clothing (camel’s hair garments) and eating choices (locusts and wild honey) did not detract from the impact he made on those who came out to see and hear him.  The love for people, the Kingdom, and the ingrained ministry in him compelled him to reach out and help those who were seeking “the Lord their God.”

“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias.”  In the Old Testament, it was prophesied, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me…” (Malachi 3:1).  When we study the New Testament, particularly the sayings of Jesus on the subject, we see that John was, in fact, he that came “in the spirit and power of Elias [Elijah],” (read Matthew 17:11-13 for further clarification).

“To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.”  In correlation with this prophecy of John the Baptist being compared to Elijah, here too we see another O.T. promise being fulfilled through his life and ministry.  With almost exact wording, Malachi 4:5-6 talks about Elijah coming again with a focus on restoring familial relationships.  The very fabric that makes up the strength of the home is relationships; those connections would have “hearts” renewed in love and peace for one another again.

Some see it in a different way, perhaps referring to the turning of the hearts of the children of Israel back to the way of their fathers, the patriarchs.

Regardless of how one views it, his ministry softens “hearts” that will be ready to receive the healing that Christ will offer.

When John the Baptist does arrive on the scene to do the work of the Lord, the people would have been 400 years without hearing the voice of a true prophet of God.  The above quotation from Malachi 4:5-6 were among the last words spoken by a prophet in the Old Testament.

“And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  The ministry of John the Baptist would change hearts and minds from unjust behavior to “just” behaviors; leading people to look for the greater gift of salvation which is found in Jesus Christ.  As such, he was making “ready a people prepared.”  John the Baptist can be seen as the opening act, while Jesus Christ, without a doubt, is the main event.

Zacharias’ Doubt

Luke 1:18-20 “And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.  And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.  And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”

“Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.”  Surprised at the announcement.  Overwhelmed at the possibility.  Over-thinking the proposed miracle.  All this and more led Zacharias down a path of doubt.

Here, Zacharias’s prayer was heard, and God sent a messenger to declare he’s getting what he prayed for.  But the faith that caused him to ask in prayer was missing at the declaration of the miracle.  Rather than respond with rejoicing, he responded with questioning.

What happened?

He looked with human eyes at human conditions and made up his mind for God, that it just wasn’t possible.  Let us be reminded of this great biblical truth: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6; emphasis mine).

Zacharias was a “diligent” seeker of the Lord (as noted earlier in this lesson).  God was ready to reward him, but he just couldn’t see with his natural eyes the miracle ahead.  Therefore, he asks, “Whereby shall I know this?”

What God speaks always comes to pass, so the angel, who is revealed as the same “Gabriel” who speaks with Mary – his response below is just.

“I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.”  Coming as a holy messenger of God, what “Gabriel” brought was good news!  As if it isn’t awesome enough to see an angel, period – this one brought a promise with him.  Most would think this is convincing enough, but for Zacharias, he met the miracle with misgivings about his situation and wanted something more: “Whereby shall I know this?”

Thus, the angel Gabriel said, “Thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed.”  If we fast forward to the birth of John, particularly the eighth day when it was time for him to be circumcised according to custom, which would also be the same time when he officially gets his name, we see Zacharias wrote the babe’s name “John” on a tablet.  And when he did so, “his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God,” (Luke 1:59-64).  Until that day he was “not able to speak” according to Gabriel’s words because he “believest not.”

Remember, what God promises, He is able to perform (Romans 4:21).  Believe Him for it all.

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“…But Lord, I Thank You!” – Word For Life Says

Job 1:20-22 “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”

Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Job 19:25-27 “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:  And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:  Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”

Anytime we see a “…” in a sentence it expresses a train of thought and direction or a transition if you will.  That “…” is very important to this message.

Times of transition can be good and bad.  When one is engrossed in unpleasant circumstances a nice change of pace can be just what the doctor ordered.  It breathes new life into you and lifts your spirits high making you feel as if you are on cloud nine.  At the same time, when one is entering times of affliction, lack of any sort of substandard anything compared to what they are used to, the feelings of dread and just suffering through take over.

There are different seasons that everyone goes through in life.  There are times of joy and there are times of pain.  While we don’t mind dealing with the seasons of joy and happiness that come our way, a whole other story could be told for the times of pain and suffering we encounter.

There are seasons, even for the Christian, that come that are not too pleasant.  There are times when the people of God had to endure trials and tribulations.  There are episodes of turmoil that have wiggled their way into our families, our lives, our jobs, and our finances.

Sometimes difficult and new stuff pops up out of nowhere, things you weren’t looking to happen in this season of life, and it has blindsided you and caught you off guard.  There may be things that surprised you and now you just don’t know which way you are going.  The road hasn’t always been easy to travel.  We are looking for the new.  We need a transition.  We are in need of a “…” moment.

It’s time to move from the victim mentality and don a praise mentality.  It’s time to move from the feeling defeated mentality to no matter what’s going in my life, “…Lord, I just want to thank You” mentality.

A praise mentality says no matter the situation we are going through I still have a reason to worship.  We still have a reason to lift our hands in utter adoration!  We still have a reason to fall to our knees in prayer!  We still have a reason to believe His grace and mercy is at work in our lives!  I still have a reason to say, “Thank You!”

Job is one of the most figurative Bible characters who we surmise as suffering outside of Jesus Christ our Savior.  So, I figured if anybody can teach us how to be thankful despite what we’re going through it could be Job.

Job was a man whom God describes in the Bible as being upright and perfect, Job 1:8.  He is known for turning himself away from the path of evil, not giving it a foothold in his life.  Yet, in his righteous living, he was still susceptible to being tested in some of the worse ways possible.  He lost everything from possessions down to the very people he loved the most in life.

Job’s experiences can be summed up in that one word: suffering. Job knew suffering.  Job knew what it was like to love and lose; to have and to have not.  What’s more is he lost everything at the same time, piling traumatic event after traumatic event on till he thought his heart couldn’t take any more (read Job 1-2 for greater detail).

Sitting in a pile of ashes with seemingly nothing left, could he at least find comfort in the good word of a friend? Will they speak encouragement to help him carry the weight of his burdensome troubles?

The answer sadly is, “No.”  His friends started out with good intentions but by the time they reach chapter 4, Job’s friends became what is known as “miserable comforters.”  They decided to chime in with their opinions of what was right and wrong.  This was where their attempts at comfort went downhill.  They berated Job and blamed him for all that he was going through.

Job literally had no one and the weight of the world was upon his shoulders, but his response to his trials is what blew my mind away.  When things first began to unravel for him, in the verses we read in chapter 1 he shaved his head, fell down on his face and he worshipped.

The words that came out of his mouth were of praise and thanks.  He said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD!

That word “blessed” is synonymous with celebrating God with praise in spite of.  That word blessed is acknowledging God is good no matter what the circumstances around me say.  That word blessed is also translated in the New and Old Testament to give thanks!  “Blessed be the name of the LORD!”  Job, with his shaved head of sorrow and humble spirit, gave God thanks amid the sorrow he was going through!

His response reminds me of Psalm 34:1 where the psalmist proclaimed, “I will bless the Lord at all times and His praise shall continually be in my mouth!”  I will thank God always and I will never stop celebrating His goodness!  I will show God gratitude always and I will never stop lifting Him up.  I will appreciate God even in this and I will never stop recognizing that He and He only is God of my life.

Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  My always for all things may not look the way I want it to right now, but Lord I thank You, is what he’s saying!  I am not saying thank you because I like problems, but I am saying thank You because I know the God I serve.  I am saying thank you because He is working on the inside to change things on the outside.  I am saying thank you because God is setting us up for a future that is glorious in Him!  Therefore, “…Lord, I just want to thank You!”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  I am in Christ; therefore I give thanks!  I have been washed by the blood, therefore I give thanks.  Yes, life hurts sometimes and yes, the walls come crashing down sometimes, but I owe God a praise.  I thank God for seeing me through every trouble, every storm that blows my way!  “…Lord, I just want to thank You!”

Job’s response went even further than this.  In Job 19, he said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Things were not exactly turning in his favor.  At that time, his today didn’t look any better than his yesterday.  His friends are still in his face challenging him with their accusations.  But, despite his personal persecutions, he emphatically declares, “I know . . .”

Knowing speaks of assurance. A declaration of knowing tells doubt there is no place here for you. “Know” is certain that this is what it is. And, what he is certain of is “my redeemer liveth.” God is alive and will always be alive. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty,” (Revelation 1:8).

“He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”  Job knew that God was and is the end-all of all authority, victory and power. Standing upon anything denotes mastery and dominion of said object.  Job knew where his trust lies.  In God who is victorious: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him,” (Psalm 68:1).  Paul, speaking of Christ said He, “hath put all things under his feet…,” (Ephesians 1:22).  Even this.

“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”  There is hope beyond the here and now. Physically, it didn’t look good for Job. He had “sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown,” (Job 2:7).  He, in dealing with the pain of his body and the pain of his heart must have thought there is not that much more time left. At one point of desperation, things had gotten so bad, Job prayed for death (see Job 6:8-9).

Despite it all, he knew that there was a better day beyond the corruption of his flesh.  His body, when the time came, would lie in the ground and the worms would have their way with him, but he looked forward to another glorious time when “in my flesh shall I see God.”  Things were hard for Job, but in his speech, you can still see his faith alive and active in what he believes: and he believes GOD!  Therefore, “I bless God!  I give God thanks!”

Job teaches us how to respond to God in midst of trials and troubles.  He may have been down, especially when his friends attacked him, but he still recognized God for who He is.  He basically transitioned his mentality to shift his focus from what was before him to the God who can save Him.

Yes, he grew weary and even questioned why he was going through what he was going through.  Who wouldn’t?  But, through it all you still see his faith in God come to the forefront in the midst of his story.

In the end, Job was blessed with a double portion of blessings.  God testified of Job to his friends.  God spoke up for Job and said, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath,” (Job 42:7).

It’s not too late for God to turn it around and to testify on your behalf.  The week of Thanksgiving is here, and this year is not over yet.  There is still room for a blessing.  And, even if not – if God never does another thing for us, can we say, “Lord, I thank You?”

At the end of the day, as hard as it may be sometimes, we must transition our thinking and say “… But Lord, I thank YOU!”

 

“Today is a new day of GRACE!”

Friends, almost from the time I opened my eyes this morning, grace has been on my mind. As soon as I started my day, I really felt God telling me that today is a new day of GRACE. While we hear it often, I think we take it for granted what that really means. God has chosen to favor us with this fantastic gift. No matter what yesterday looked like, it could have been the best day ever or the worst day, but it isn’t today. Today, when we woke up, we woke up to something new, and wonderful, and fresh, and gifted to us directly from God. We woke up with grace. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t He lovely for smiling on us in such a way? Good and bad days will come and go, but it is God’s grace that will keep us through it all. May you all have a wonderfully, blessed Saturday filled with the grace of God.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” (Psalms‬ ‭90:17‬).

It all happens through the beauty of His grace and favor at work in our lives.

Sunday School Lesson Series: “Jesus and His Followers”

When they were called, we see how we are called.  When Jesus teaches and prays for them, we learn He does the same for us.  When Jesus empowers them, in that we learn how we are empowered as well.  When Jesus wants them to focus on following Him, He speaks the same words to us.  And, when Jesus sends them out to work the Great Commission, we learn that we are not exempt from this part of the calling; rather, with one foot in front of the other, we are to go and reach the world for Christ.

Each of these lessons is designed to be used as individual lessons, or as seen here,  they can be grouped together to be used as a series.    Below you will find six links to the lessons I offer in this series.

As always, while I provide resources and activities for lessons and lesson development, I encourage my readers to do their own personal studies as well.

To access the lessons, simply click on the links below.

Jesus Calls His Followers

This lesson explores the calling of the original twelve disciples/apostles, and it also calls us, as individuals, to follow Jesus as well.  Father God, may our hearts be tied to our Savior and may our feet follow wherever He calls us. Thank You for welcoming us into Your family. Thank You for making us a part of Your holy calling. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray, AMEN!

Jesus Teaches His Followers

What does Christianity look like to you? Many have a wrong idea of what it truly means to be a follower of Christ. Jesus set about in this lesson to instruct His followers on how they should live. And, the awesome thing about Jesus, He didn’t just teach it, but He lived it Himself.

Jesus Prays for His Followers

Jesus prayed for His disciples and Jesus prayed for you, too.  We who have believed are covered by the prayers of Christ that we might go out into the world and help others believe also.

Jesus Empowers His Followers

We all need to be empowered with His Spirit to do His work! We cannot do this alone.

Jesus’ Followers Follow Him

As Christians, God expects us to follow Christ in every sense of the word.  Christ is our guide in everything.  As He lived, so too are we called to live.  1 John 2:6 tells us, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked,” (see also John 13:15).  Christ is our ruler whereby we measure the life we live, and His standards are the guide to our pathway.

Jesus Sends His Followers

Each Christian believer now has the role and responsibility to, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled,” (Luke 14:23). The call of the Great Commission belongs to all who are in Christ. And with that, He sends His followers, and tells them to, “Go!”

I hope you enjoy these lessons.  My prayer is that these lessons will be helpful to you personally or to use in your own classroom settings.  Many blessings to you all!

A Word for Today: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

There may be things you face today; things that don’t seem favorable or in your best interest.  There may be mountains you have to face, making your dreams seem out of reach.  There may be people you have to deal with who work against you and not for you.  In everything, I hear that whisper from Psalms saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When everything within wants to fight with human intuition, He whispers,  “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When everything wants you to quit and give up, He encourages, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When faced with seemingly insurmountable situations, He speaks, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When the undeserving comes your way, He comforts with, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When enemies lift up their voice against you, He boldly states,  “Be still, and know that I am God.”

God is there for you.  God is fighting for you.  God sees every unfair thing that tries to attack you and bring you down.  In it, He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  We can trust Him with our daily concerns and struggles.  Troubles don’t last always, but God does, and He said, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

For everything you face today, I urge you to stop and take a breath in the midst of it all and remind yourself of this powerful verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Say it over and over again to yourself throughout the day.  Let the truth of His Word do the fighting for you.

“Lay it all down!”

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1

Lay those burdens down!  Give yourself permission to release it, and let it all go.  Grab hold of the confidence of His Word, and cling to it for dear life.

This world is raging.  Things we’ve never seen before are unfolding at a frightening rate.  Hurts are dissimulating families.  Distresses are speaking despair into lives.  Lay it all down!

Refuse to pick it up today!  That fear; that feeling – refuse it space in your world today.

Who does God say I am?  What does His Word speak over my life?  That’s what I choose to pick up today.  That’s what I am choosing to carry with me.  Not these burdens.  Not these worries.  They are hindrances to my progress.  They’re deflating my steps.

I want to run!  I want to run for You, Jesus!  I want to run my race well and effectively.  But, in order to run, I have to release some things that’s been holding me down.  I must cast disappointment aside.  I have to get rid of any sin that’s stopping me from running full speed ahead for the Lord.  I have to throw away everything that’s not working for my heavenly good and trust in God the Father who is.

Lay it all down, dear friend, lay it down.  The heaviness it holds it’s not worth it.  Don’t coddle it.  Don’t get comfortable with it.  Don’t declare this is how it is now.

No, get rid of it.  By faith, be determined.  By faith, walk in the confidence of the God who has spoken beautiful things over your life.  By faith, don’t just claim His peace – live it, because it’s already yours!

The weight is not yours to carry, but His peace is.  Run your race with Him and be blessed.

Sunday School Lesson – “Jesus Sends His Followers” Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8

VERSE DISCOVERY: Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8 (KJV, Public Domain)

When Jesus called some of His disciples, He told them they would be “fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19; see also Mark 1:17 and Luke 5:10).  In this lesson, He is instructing them to launch out into the deep of not the waters, but of the world, and catch people for the Kingdom of God.

Romans 10:13-15 tells us, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be savedHow then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (emphasis mine).

Salvation is the goal.  In order for that to happen, an unbeliever must be converted into a believer.  For that to happen, the unbeliever must hear a word that pushes their heart toward repentance and the offer of a new life in Christ.  But, if there is never a “preacher”; if there is never one “sent”; if there are never “beautiful… feet” preaching the “gospel of peace” and “glad tidings of good things”, then how can the original goal of salvation, of a sinner experiencing a new birth, become a reality?  How can that one become a saint?

Like dominos in a row, ready to fall into place and urge the other on to form the big picture, so too does Jesus command all His followers to take their places, to go out into the world, to fulfill the Great Commission.

All the commands in today’s text are red-lettered words in the Bible.  What that means is they are all words that came out of the mouth of Christ.  These were His marching orders when He sent His original disciples out to witness the world for the Kingdom of God, and they are still His marching orders for all His followers today.

 The Matthew 28:16-20 Command

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.  And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Other red-lettered words that are companion verses found in Luke show that in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts that the mission for Jesus’ followers is the same: go, be a witness, and evangelize the world.  Luke records these words of Christ: “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48; emphasis mine).

Christ suffered.  Christ died.  And here, as well as the verses in Matthew (our covered text), and beyond, we see that Christ rose.  Everything that the enemy tried to throw at Him, He overcame and was victorious.  As the prelude to today’s lesson shows, death could not hold Him down.

When “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1) went to visit the tomb of Jesus, they found He wasn’t even there!  Being greeted by an “angel” they were told, “He is not here: for he is risen,” (Matthew 28:5-6).  Standing, in what must’ve been awe and wonder over everything they were witnessing, they were instructed by the same angel to “go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the death; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you,” (Matthew 28:7).

With many things occurring between that point and the point of where our lesson picks up, as we arrive at our text, the remaining “eleven disciples” are gathered in “Galilee,” into a mountain where “Jesus had appointed them.”

Their calling to that particular “mountain” had been by divine appointment.  The mission they were soon to be sent on was also a divine appointment.  When one is commissioned by Christ, their life is no longer their own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  They follow the marching orders of their Savior and go where and when He says go.  What He ordained and set must be followed through by His disciples.

When they gathered themselves where He “appointed them,” it was then “they saw him.”  And, when they saw Him, “they worshipped him.”  They bowed prostrate before their risen Lord.  They bowed in awe and wonder of His majesty who spoke of His life, saying, “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18).

It is supposed by many that the group gathered there that day consisted not only of the eleven disciples/apostles but many others as well.  When the Apostle Paul stated and testified that many had seen the risen Lord, including “five hundred brethren at once,” (1 Corinthians 15:6), it is believed that it was on the occasion of this lesson when this account occurred, and why some gathered there may have “doubt.”

Jesus, not only bringing light to their confusion of who He is and on what has occurred, also is bringing light to their hearts regarding His own authority when He speaks these words unto them: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”  Wherever a king reigns, that’s where he has power.  Jesus reigns over all!  As a matter of fact, it was also the Apostle Paul who stated that God is the one who “hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name,” (Philippians 2:9).

And speaking of that power given to Him by God, he goes on to state, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2:10-11).

What all that means is the same thing Jesus is asserting here in this text: He has been given, by God, “all power!”

All power means it, or He, cannot be contended with.  Jesus Christ has already gained the victory over everything (see John 16:33).  He has “everlasting dominion” over all (see Daniel 7:13-14).  Peter says that He has “gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him,” (1 Peter 3:22).  There’s no way around it – JESUS HAS BEEN GIVEN ALL POWER!

As the risen Lord is getting ready to commission His disciples into their next level of work for the Kingdom of God, He shows them that the mission is His to give.  The authority to command the work that is to be done is His.

With that, He lays out the grand work for what we have come to know as the Great Commission.  And the first words that Jesus speaks to them regarding this mission is, “Go!”

“Go” is a verb which means it requires action.  There is no such thing as a stagnant saint.  Our faith is not stale or at a standstill and neither should the declaring of our faith be.  We, who have an active relationship with the Lord, should be pursuing actively His purposes and mission.  And, the number one mission overall is the winning of souls for the Kingdom of God.  That is the top priority.  Days are short and eternity is long – we must “go!”

When Jesus says, “Go,” He wants you to get involved in His plan for reaching out to others.  He doesn’t save individuals for them to loiter around the church.  He wants us to stretch beyond the comfort of our own salvation; stretch beyond the comfort of the pews, to help save others.

“And teach all nations.”  Probably the most beloved and the most memorized verse in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God’s mission and reasoning behind the crucifixion of Christ is for the whole “world” to have a chance to be saved.  There are no “nations” that are off limits for receiving the teaching of the gospel and what Jesus has done for them.  There are no restrictions to be placed on whom we deem worthy to be baptized in His name.  The command is not ours to give of who and who cannot be reached, but the command and mission is ours to follow – and He says for us to reach “all nations” with it.

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  When a baby is born, one doesn’t give them a bottle, wish them luck, and send them off on their own to figure this new life out.  No!  They are trained about the rights and wrongs of life.  They are raised with guidance, love, care, and instruction on all things necessary, and the Lord says that others whom we reach out to need the same care and attention.  They need to be taught in “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

“And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”  They were not in this mission alone. We are not on this mission alone.  Those whom Jesus was instructing, and those of the early church suffered much in order to spread the gospel throughout all regions of the world.  Many were dispersed from their homes, fled for their lives, suffered persecution, and even martyrdom.  Many today, in varied areas of the world, suffer tremendously for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  To spread His cause throughout the world, many feel physical pain, emotional distress, and more.  No, Jesus didn’t say it was going to be a bed of roses.  He didn’t say it would be easy, but His promise is that no matter what obstacles, hurts, and pressures one may face, He is there with you in the middle of it all.  We are not walking this world and fighting this fight on our own.  Our Savior has risen in victory, and although He has ascended to be with His Father, His presence, care, and love for us is still promised us.  “I am with you alway,” Jesus promised, “even unto the end of the world.”  Even until He comes back again, we are never alone.

The Mark 16:15-16 Command

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Since verse 15 is very similar to what we covered in the previous section regarding the description of the Great Commission, I won’t elaborate on it further, but I did want to include it here that we might see those “command” words are still present and relevant in this section.

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  Here we see that the original goal of the calling and sending of disciples, that souls would be “saved.”  People are not called and sent for themselves.  Nor is it for popularity and the like.  The followers of Christ are sent that someone else might hear the Good News, believe in the Good News, and be “saved!”

To be saved means to be “delivered.”  While there are a variety of things for people to be delivered from, the main thing they need to be delivered from is sin.  That deliverance will not come to pass because of you or me, but we are messengers that are sent to tell them about He who can save.

Do you remember when you were first born again, or got “saved”?  Do you remember the feeling?  Sometimes there’s a wholeness that is felt.  Sometimes there’s peace.  In some areas one may feel light and on top of the world (not in a self-centered, braggadocious way).  People, when they have accepted Jesus Christ and experience the new birth, tend to feel positively different.  A freedom that can’t be explained as the feeling of those shackles that kept one bound begins to fall away.

How many others are there out there who would like to know what that feels like?  How many would like to experience what you have experienced?  How many would like to be saved?  That can’t happen unless those that are sent, go.

Personal Testimony:  I remember not too long before I was saved, there was a time when I was sitting on the front steps of my house.  There was a church the next block up from our house that caught my attention.  It wasn’t the people, for I had never met them.  It wasn’t the program, for I had never been in their building.  I just remember that I wanted what they had.

People may not always be able to articulate what they are feeling, but there are still many who have not been introduced to Jesus; there are still many who want what you have.

Here in Mark, Jesus shows His desire for people to be “saved.”  And, until the end of the world, that harvest is not done being reaped (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2; John 4:35).  There is still room in heaven for more, so to speak.  The time for the work of the Great Commission has not yet come to an end.  He wants, and we should want, more people that believe!

While the work to evangelize the world with the Good News must go on, there will be those who reject the invitation of Christ.  Jesus said, “He that believeth not shall be damned.”  Unfortunately, some will not believe.

Despite the love, despite the cross, despite the resurrection, despite the Good News – sadly, some will still refuse the new life offered through Jesus Christ.   Some will turn away their hearts and their lives from this great spiritual rescue.

Everything He did, everything He experienced and went through from birth to the grave and beyond, was to rescue mankind from being lost forever.  For those who turn away that great salvation, they will remain in that lost state and be “damned” because they don’t believe.

Just as eternity is set and settled for the believer, so too is eternity set and settled for the unbeliever.  Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  The believer, in Christ, has been released from condemnation.  For the unbeliever outside of Christ, their condemnation or “damned” state remains.

Knowing this, and teaching this to His disciples that they and we might understand the importance of the mission – He sends His followers out to reach as many people as possible in hopes that they who have yet to believe will hear the Good News, and believe, that they might dwell in life eternal with Him.

That’s the mission.  That’s the goal.  That’s the reason for the sending.  It doesn’t matter if one is receptive to the gospel or if they reject it, the disciples, and we, are commanded to still go and tell it.

Not matter where people are from or what their background is, God wants to see people saved.  But they must make the decision to want to be saved; to want to truly repent and be reconciled back to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please Note:  During His earthly ministry, when Jesus delivered a message, often He would say, “He that hat ears to hear, let him hear,”  (Matthew 11:15; see also Matthew 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8 and 14:35).  There must be a personal willingness to open oneself up to take in the message of salvation for themselves.

Nonetheless, we are still commanded to go and tell it.

The Acts 1:8 Command

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

This was the last time Jesus would speak to His disciples face to face before He ascended, and the mission and the message were still the same: “ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  You shall evangelize about Me to the whole world!

This will be done and able to be accomplished because of the “power” of the “Holy Ghost” each believer will be equipped with.  In earlier times, the Holy Spirit would come upon people temporarily, and for an appointed time and/or task.  When Pentecost would arrive, those gathered would be fully and completely engulfed and equipped in His power through the outpouring of His Holy Spirit (see Acts 2).

The fact is, this mission is His mission and He is the one that empowers each of us to fulfill the call He has summoned us to; He is the one that strengthens us and gives us all the tools we need through the power of His Spirit working in us to witness the world for Him (compare Luke 24:49).

To reach others on the level that He calls means we need to depend on sources outside of our own selves in order to literally get the job done, and the only source we need for a job/commission such as this is the source of the “Holy Ghost.”  We cannot perform this duty or do what He has called us to without the power of His Spirit (compare Zechariah 4:6).  We need to rely on He that works on the inside of us in order that we may be able to do the greater outside work (refer to the Explore section of this lesson packet).

Each Christian believer now has the role and responsibility to, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled,” (Luke 14:23).       The Master is looking for each of us to go, but when we do, we go in the “power” of the “Holy Ghost.”  We go in His power!

Once, the Apostle Paul testified of his own mission, saying, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ… But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God,” (Acts 20:20-21, 24).    May we all be as tenacious in our faith and devotion to witness the world for Christ.

The call belongs to all believers, and to all His followers, Jesus says, “Go!”

PDF Printable Sunday School Lesson Pack (With easy to read instructions following the P.E.A.R.L. format on how to conduct each lesson with areas for adding personal notes): Sunday School Lesson – Jesus Sends His Followers

Suggested Activities:

Draw the Scene: Jesus Sends His Followers Draw the Scene

Memory Verse: Jesus Sends His Followers Memory Verse

Blank Journal Pages: These pages, one designed for adults and one for children, can be used to bring out, remember, or write a particular part of the lesson you wish for you and/or your class to focus on.  Click>> Blank Adult and Kid’s Journal Pages to access the journal pages.

Matthew 28:19 Earth Craft: Earth Craft Matthew 28 19 This craft serves as a reminder and our responsibility as Christians to take the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world and do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.  (This page can be used simply as a coloring page or to make an easy craft.  You can print on cardstock paper and attach it to a craft stick for a fun project.  Also, you can print it on cardstock and color.  After coloring simply cut it into many shapes to be reassembled again and again as a quick and easy puzzle craft.)

Word Search: Jesus Sends His Followers Word Search  Answers: Jesus Sends His Followers Word Search Answers

Crossword: Jesus Sends His Followers Crossword  Answers: Jesus Sends His Followers Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Jesus Sends His Followers Word Scramble  Answers: Jesus Sends His Followers Word Scramble Answers

 

“God is Working it Out!”

Here’s a little bit of encouragement for you to start your day: “God is working it out!”

Reading in the book of Ruth, I couldn’t help but rejoice with happy crying in my heart. When I see her story I can’t help but to be encouraged by what God did for her.

Let’s face it. She, according to those in the land, was really a nobody.  She was a woman of sorrow having lost her husband, her support, and now she has walked away from her homeland to follow Naomi.  Living in a strange place as a foreigner to all around she tried to acclimate to her new surroundings and help Naomi the best she could.

What the story doesn’t tell us are all the emotions that must have been going on with Ruth. Did she question her life?  Her decisions?  Did she feel lost sometimes as she sought to do the right thing out of love?  Did she ever pray in her heart for an understanding of all the why’s that was going on in her life at that moment?  Did she look at her adversity and think there was nobody to care; nobody who really pays attention to little old me?

She had a rough go at it but her story is so encouraging to me. As I look through the pages that tell the events of her life I can’t help but to see God in the midst of it all.  It may not have been immediately prevalent to her at the moment, but for us who read her story, we can see Him at work orchestrating the events until they come to the fruition of a blessed end.

The whole time – through all her sadness, doubt, discouragements, and feelings of hopelessness, God was there, in the midst,  working it out.

This leads me to question our life today. What is it that we are going through?  What is attacking us today with doubt and questioning?  What sadness are we battling with?  It’s so hard to think with a clear mind sometimes when we are in midst of our own struggles, but after reading her story I can’t help but believe that God is standing in heaven, looking down, and working it out for us as well.

We may not see it immediately, but like Ruth, during the time of harvest our Boaz (which stands for our blessing – not necessarily the man himself) will appear and we will reap the promises of God. We just have to hold out for the harvest, and keep being faithful, keep working, and keep gleaning the fields until our time of blessings comes to pass.

God is putting all the pieces together.  He is working it out for us!

“God Has the Power to Help!”

 

We quote it, sing songs about it, outwardly rejoice in it; but, how much do you really believe it or apply it to our lives, circumstances, and troubles?

If we were to review some of the marvels of God as we know it, we would see out of nothing a world being brought into existence.  We would see where there is no life, the dead have been raised to life.  We would see on the strength of nothing but His command, stars and planets being suspended in midair, hanging on absolutely nothing, as if an invisible hook were holding them in place.

All of these events testify to His power and strength to do what we readily admit is the impossible.  But, God’s power goes beyond Creation, performing miracles, and shocking us with the impossible that becomes very possible in His hands.  God’s power is also alive and very available to help each and every one of us in our lives today, as well.

And, here is the beauty in that.

His power to help is not contingent on anything we bring to the table.  It does not matter our skills or abilities, our wealth or the lack thereof.  It doesn’t even matter the number of this or that that we try to bring into the mix of everything He wants to do in our lives.

In 2 Chronicles 14:11, we see where it says, “And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee,” (emphasis mine).  This Scripture prayer has often been my own that I have personally prayed and incorporated in my requests to God when I felt totally overwhelmed.  For many of times I know I had nothing to offer.  I know I had no power to personally make a change in a certain circumstance.  I didn’t have the numbers that would chalk up to win on my behalf.  There were times when I know I didn’t have the experience that says I was qualified to do this or that.  I had absolutely nothing to add to the mix to benefit me for a positive outcome.  Yet, it is nothing for God to still step in and help and to show His power strong in my life and yours.

If you are struggling with the same feelings or dealing with a daunting situation, know that God’s power can and will still work for you today.  What we have is not as important as what God has, and what He can do in our lives today.  He is the one who has the power to help!

“Seek God First…”

God knows what we really stand in need of; He knows the good that will help us the most. Seek Him first, with a heart of faith, and let Him work out the blessings that come to us. Even the strongest of the strong will eventually know lack but they that trust in God, shall not want any good thing! “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.” Psalm 34:10