The Gospel Sync | #19 | Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, Luke 3:21–22

Who Do You Think You Are?

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Welcome Back! Today, we’ll be combining the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as we look at the baptism of Jesus.

So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, Luke 3:21–22

At that time, when all the people were being baptized, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John too. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now. It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness in this way.” Then John permitted Him. After being baptized, as soon as Jesus came up out of the water, and as He was praying, suddenly He saw the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descending in bodily form like a dove and resting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!”

Some Thoughts 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wish someone could just vouch for you and tell everyone who you really are? Maybe you’re starting a new job or meeting people for the first time. Or even the awkward situation where someone is schooling you on something you’re pretty competent in and they don’t have a clue. We have a missionary friend in Egypt who is one of the most strategic thinkers I know. But men are constantly talking down to her because she’s a single female. It really ticks me off! I try to talk her up when I have the opportunity and let others know she’s more competent than you think. It’s always nice to have someone step in and let people know the real you.

Well, believe it or not, the Father did exactly this for His Son, Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is being baptized by John the Baptist and a booming voice comes from Heaven; 

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” (Matthew 3:17)

The Father is proclaiming to everyone who Jesus is and what He thinks about Him.  Imagine how Jesus felt when the Father stepped in and vouched for Him. But the Father had also spoken directly to His Son;

“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)

No wonder Jesus had so much confidence and authority. His identity was proudly proclaimed to the people and personally affirmed by God Almighty. And just like Jesus, we need to be affirmed in our own identity too. We need to know who we are and be confident in it, even if the world tries to tell us otherwise. 

It seems like the entire globe is going through an identity crisis. People are questioning who they are and what they stand for. It’s gotten to a point where people are paralyzed by pronouns for fear of offending someone. As disciple makers it’s our responsibility to help people embrace their God given identity and break the chains that so enslave the people in the lies of the world. 

Now we, as disciple makers, could tell people what their identity is ourselves but why be the middleman? Wouldn’t it be better for them to hear from the Father Himself on who He made them to be and what purpose He has given them? That’s why it’s so important to get them in the Word of God as soon as possible for themselves.

My Story

As a new believer, I quickly committed 2 Corinthians 5:17 to memory: 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 

This verse deeply resonated with me, as I experienced a significant transformation in my life shortly after accepting Christ. I became a “new critter,” as we used to say, and this verse also gave me hope for the future.

I only regret not memorizing the verses that immediately follow. 

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

Wow! Now that’s some serious identity and purpose! Not only are we new creatures but these verses speak of God’s reconciliation of humanity to Himself through Christ. He’s also given us the ministry of reconciliation. As ambassadors for Christ, we have a purpose to proclaim the good news of reconciliation and urge others to be reconciled to God.

As a disciple maker, I always make sure to emphasize not only our identity in Christ but also our purpose in Him. Through our faith in Christ, we are not only made new but also called to serve as His ambassadors, spreading the message of reconciliation to the world.

Our Action Plan

So how are we going to help disciples discover and live out their identity (and purpose) in Christ? Here’s some suggestions;

  1. Get in the Word and come up with 20 verses that talk about our identity
  1. Begin listening to the people we’re discipling and discern what they think their identity and purpose is in Christ.
  1. Lead them to Scripture that informs them of who they are and their purpose.

So disciples and disciple makers of Jesus embrace your God given identity in Christ, confidently pressing forward into the world with the same assurance that Jesus had. And the next time someone asks, “Who do you think you are?” Let our bold response be, “I’m a Child of God well pleasing in His sight because the Father told me so!”

The Gospel Sync | #18 | Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:2-8, Luke 3:1-18, John 1:6-8

Made You Look!

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Welcome Back! Today, for the first time, we’ll be syncing all four gospels. This is a rare opportunity to observe identical accounts in all of them, so let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:2-8, Luke 3:1-18, John 1:6-8

In those days; in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, there came a man who was sent from God. His name was John the Baptist. And the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John came as a witness, preaching in the wilderness of Judea. He came to testify about the Light, so that through him everyone might believe. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah. As it is written in the book of his words:

“Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way.” A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’” Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill made low. The crooked ways shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth. And all humanity will see God’s salvation.’”

John wore a garment of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region around the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his place of baptism, and the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham out of these stones. “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” John replied, “Whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Collect no more than you are authorized,” he answered. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He said, “Do not take money by force or falsely accuse anyone and be content with your wages.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John could be the Christ. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me will come One more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry or even stoop down and untie the straps. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” With these and many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.

My Thoughts 

Remember playing the game “Made You Look” as a kid? We can’t help ourselves. This is why a simple fender bender on the freeway can delay traffic for hours. Everyone has to slow down and see what happened. And oh, if there’s a train wreck, look out! It seems like God uses this tactic to “make us look.”

It’s true, sometimes God uses strange ways to get our attention. Isaiah walked around naked for three years (Isaiah 20:2-4). Hosea married a prostitute named Gomer to illustrate how God felt about the people’s unfaithfulness to Him (Hosea 1-3). Ezekiel laid on his side for 390 days, playing with little army men to announce the impending doom of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1-6).

And then there’s John the Baptist, wearing fashionable camel hair with a leather belt, eating grasshoppers and wild honey. Yeah, that would “Make Me Look.” Maybe even twice! His message was one of repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. And if I’m honest, his delivery was a little spicy: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Now, I used to think he was only talking to the religious leaders of the day, but this is where the Gospel Sync comes in. He wasn’t just talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7), he was also diming out the crowd (Luke 3:7). Yikes! He exhorted them to grapple with their current reality and repent. 

In our contemporary culture, we often struggle to discuss opposing views or hear difficult truths. We are so sensitive to criticism and conflict that we often ignore or dismiss messages that challenge our beliefs or behavior. But it’s important to remember that God’s message can come packaged in ways we may not expect or necessarily like. Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable or difficult to hear, but it is ultimately for our own good.

Jesus came full of both grace and truth, and we need both in our lives (John 1:14, 17). Grace provides us with mercy, forgiveness, and compassion, while truth helps us see reality clearly and illuminates our sin. Truth provides a foundation to know what’s right and make positive changes in our lives. As disciple-makers helping people become more like Jesus, we need to exercise both grace and truth. We need to be both shepherding and prophetic.

The truth is that we tend to lean one way or the other. As someone who leans toward shepherding, I hear John the Baptist and want to take him aside and ask him to tone it down a little. Those of you who may lean toward the prophetic may be cheering John on; “Yeah, sic’em brother!” It’s essential to see that both approaches 1) are important and 2) can be overdone. We can’t muzzle the prophet. But that doesn’t give the prophet a license to indiscriminately blast everyone he sees (Ephesians 4:15). 

But as the consummate balancer, I digress. The main point here is that we need the truth. As disciple makers we need to hear from and be the prophetic messenger. Like a surgeon using a scalpel under a skilled hand, we may need to do some cutting to heal. This is part of truly loving people.  As the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy; 

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

Lastly, notice the end of the passage: 

With these and many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people. (Luke 3.18)

In other words, the good news, the gospel, came with some bad news. John called the people sinners in need of repentance. These exhortations apply to us just as much today as they did to the people of John’s day. Quite frankly, a lot of the people I’ve shared the gospel with don’t even see their need for a Savior until they acknowledge they have a sin problem. Addressing the “sin problem” is part of sharing the gospel. Otherwise, why do we even need Jesus?

My Story

I hadn’t seen Ed for five years. We had been part of the same unit at Fort Campbell, and now we were attending the ten-week-long Advanced Non-Commissioned Officers Academy. I was a young believer when Ed and I had first met, and I hadn’t shared the gospel with him. I had ten weeks to drop the good news on him, and I planned to go slow and just rebuild a relationship with him first.

Eight weeks had gone by, and I still hadn’t found the “right time” to share. We were sitting in class waiting for the next block of instruction when a guy walked up and slammed a New Testament on the table in front of Ed and said, “You got one of these?” Ed responded very matter-of-factly, “No.” To which the guy responded, “Now you do, read it!” I was mortified. I was thinking to myself, “This guy just blew up eight weeks of hard work to win the right to share the gospel!” Jumping in to do a little damage control, I asked Ed, “Hey man, what are you thinking right now?” Ed responded, “Wow, I needed a good kick in the pants. I’m going to start reading this today.”

God not only works in mysterious ways, but He works in shocking, weird, and prophetic ways.

Our Action Plan

What do we need to do in order to embrace the uncomfortable truths of God that may come in some pretty strange ways? Maybe we need to…

  • Personally acknowledge that God often uses unconventional and uncomfortable methods to get our attention and the attention of others.
  • Practice the appropriate application of grace and truth in the lives of the people we are discipling.
  • Train disciples to share uncomfortable truths and confront sin as they share the gospel.

So, let us be open to hearing and delivering God’s message in whatever form it may come, even if it’s through a “strange” messenger like John the Baptist. And let us strive to balance grace and truth in our own lives so that we can fully live out our purpose and calling.

The Gospel Sync | #17 | Luke 2:41-52

An Awkward Season of Maturity

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Welcome Back! Today, we’ll be looking at the Gospel of Luke and see how Jesus and His parents navigated an awkward season of maturity

So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Luke 2:41-52

Now every year Jesus’s parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the Feast. When those days were over and they were returning home, the boy Jesus remained behind and His parents were unaware He had stayed in Jerusalem. Assuming He was in their company, they traveled on for a day before they began to look for Him among their relatives and friends. When they could not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him. Finally, after three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and His mother said to Him,“ Child, why have You done this to us? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.” And He said to them, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand the statement He was making to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Some Thoughts 

As disciples of Jesus Christ, our goal is to become more like Him in every aspect of our lives. We strive to emulate His character, His teachings, and His relationship with the Father. Our mentors play a huge role in helping us achieve this goal. However, as we grow in our faith, there comes a point where we begin to rely less on the guidance of our spiritual mentors and more on our personal relationship with God. It’s a natural part of the journey, but it can be challenging for those who have invested time and energy in discipleship.

Jesus Himself experienced this shift in His relationship with His earthly parents. At the age of 12, He stayed behind in the temple after the Passover celebration without informing Mary and Joseph. When they eventually found Him, they were understandably upset, but Jesus’ response was, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Jesus saw His relationship with the Father as the highest priority, and it seemed obvious to Him that His parents would understand this.

As disciple makers, we must understand that disciples can grow beyond our influence. We cannot be helicopter mentors, hovering over our spiritual children and trying to control every aspect of their lives. Instead, we must point them to Jesus and teach them to love God first and foremost. When we prioritize this relationship, Jesus Himself will instruct the disciple on how to live out their faith.

It’s essential to remember that when a disciple grows in their relationship with God, it’s not a sign of rebellion or disobedience. Instead, it’s a sign of spiritual maturity. As mentors, we should celebrate this growth and encourage the disciples to continue seeking God with their whole heart. It’s a beautiful thing to see a disciple becoming your peer.

Ultimately, we must trust that God is the primary mentor in every disciple’s life. While we may have played a role in their spiritual formation, our influence will never compare to the guidance and wisdom that comes directly from God. As we continue to disciple others, let us remember to prioritize God above all else, pointing our spiritual children to Him and celebrating their growth as they mature in their faith.

My Story 

As we journey through life, we often come across people who impact us in profound ways. Sometimes, these individuals become our mentors, guiding us through challenges and helping us to grow into our full potential. For me, one of those mentors was a man who played a significant role in my spiritual journey. However, there was a time when I disappointed him, and it’s a memory that still lingers with me today.

At the time, I was wrestling with a sense of calling to become an Army chaplain. I knew that this was the path that God was leading me down, but I also knew that my mentor wasn’t going to be too thrilled about it. He had a different vision for my future, and I could see the discouragement in his eyes when I shared my plans with him.

Despite his frustration, my mentor was wise enough to hold his tongue. He recognized that this was a test of my supreme loyalty to God and that I needed to follow the path that was laid out for me. Over time, my calling was authenticated with fruitful ministry, and he could see the hand of God at work in my life.

Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for my mentor’s wisdom and restraint. He could have tried to dissuade me from pursuing my calling. He stepped aside when it was time for me to move on to the next phase of my journey. He could have tried to hold me back or exert control over my future, but he recognized that his role was to guide me, not dictate my path.

Our Action Plan

How can we apply this as disciple makers? Consider these suggestions:

  • Start by praying for wisdom and discernment. Ask God to alert you when you may be giving advice that goes beyond His intent for the disciple’s life.
  • Delve into the Scriptures and examine examples of leaders who have appropriately or inappropriately wielded their influence.
  • Seek the experiences of other disciple makers who have encountered similar situations and learn from their circumstances.

As disciple makers, we may experience disappointment with the choices our mentees make, but our response is crucial. Our goal is to instill in them unwavering loyalty to God and guide them on the path He has set for them. Gratitude is also due to the mentors who have helped us on our own journeys, even the unexpected twists and turns along the way. It is the journey that molds us into true followers of Christ, and we should strive to aid our mentees in following the path that Jesus has laid out for them.

The Gospel Sync | #16 | Matthew 2.22b-23, Luke 2:39b-40

No Microwave Discipleship

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Welcome Back! Today, we’ll be combining the gospels of Matthew and Luke and looking at Jesus’ process of maturation.  

So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Matthew 2.22b-23, Luke 2:39b-40

Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in their own city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

My Thoughts 

Let’s focus on Luke 2:52;

“The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”

This verse highlights an important aspect of the life of Jesus, as it shows that He went through the natural process of growth and development. He did not come into the world as a fully-formed adult, but instead, He grew and matured like any other human being.

That means He cried when He needed to be fed, had messy diapers, skinned His knees, and went through puberty (that would have been a nice season of life to skip).

This aspect of Jesus’ life can be somewhat perplexing. After all, He was the Son of God, and one might assume that He would not need to go through the same process of growth and development as ordinary humans. However, this verse shows that Jesus was not exempt from the natural process of maturation.

In fact, Jesus’ growth and development serve as an ultimate example for us. He did not take any shortcuts or skip any steps along the way. Instead, He went through the process of growth and maturation just like everyone else. As disciple makers, we can learn from Jesus’ example and understand that we cannot take shortcuts when it comes to helping others grow in their faith. We cannot speed up maturity. This is because growth and development take time, and we must be patient with ourselves and with others. We can’t microwave what it takes a crockpot to do. 

Here’s some things a disciple maker can do to promote spiritual growth and transformation;

  1. Point to Jesus: As disciple makers we can unwittingly get in the way of a disciples relationship with God. Their loyalty belongs supremely to Him and we are trying to help them become His disciple not ours. Jesus pointed to Himself as the way to the Father. (John 14:6)
  1. Emphasize the importance of the Word and prayer: Disciple makers should encourage the person they are discipling to prioritize being in the Word and prayer in their spiritual journey. This can include modeling these practices, offering resources and guidance, and celebrating the person’s progress. (Matthew 4:4, Mark 1:35)
  1. Appropriate application of grace and truth: Disciple making is a lot like parenting. If the parent is too permissive and doesn’t teach adherence to Biblical principles, the children become self absorbed and unruly. If a child is raised by overbearing and demanding parents, it crushes the spirit and stifles initiative and creativity. Disciple makers need to apply both grace and truth appropriately. Jesus personified grace and truth. (John 1:14,17)
  1. Provide personalized attention: Disciple makers should take the time to get to know the person they are discipling and provide personalized attention to their spiritual needs. This can include asking questions, listening actively, and offering support and encouragement. Jesus spent significant time with His closest disciples. (Mark 3:14)
  1. Giving information in digestible chunks: Disciple makers should be mindful of the amount of information they provide at once, and break it down into digestible chunks that the person they are discipling can process and apply to their lives. Jesus told simple stories and discussed them with His closest disciples. (Mark 4.1-20)
  1. Encourage personal exploration: Disciple makers should create space for the person they are discipling to explore and discover their own spiritual journey. This can include asking open-ended questions, offering diverse perspectives, and encouraging experimentation. Jesus asked a lot of questions and often challenged traditional ways of doing things. See how Jesus answers a question with a story and a question of His own in Luke 10:25-37.

By focusing on these areas, disciple makers can create an environment that fosters spiritual growth and transformation in the people they are discipling.

While we cannot accelerate maturity, we can hinder it through actions that slow down the growth process. This often happens when disciple makers ignore some of the elements above and run the risk of impeding their growth.

And notice the phrase “the grace of God was upon Him” in Luke 2:40. It shows that Jesus had the favor and blessing of God throughout His life. This grace helped Him to grow and develop in wisdom and stature. As disciples and disciple makers, we too have access to God’s grace, and it will help us to grow and mature in our faith.

My Story

During my early days as a believer, I experienced tremendous pressure and guilt for taking a long time to memorize a set of 36 Bible verses. This discipline was a common practice among the people in our ministry, and most had already memorized the verses in just a few months. However, it had been three years, and I still hadn’t completed them. I felt like a failed disciple of Jesus.

Thankfully, I had a wise mentor who helped me out. He asked me a crucial question: “What other ways are you actively engaging with the Word of God?” At that time, I was reading the Bible every day, spending several hours a week studying it intensely, attending Sunday chapel to hear the Word preached, and constantly reflecting on what I learned. He reassured me that I was on the right track and advised me not to give up on scripture memory but not to worry about memorizing as quickly as others. He applied both grace and truth, emphasizing the importance of engaging with Scripture and encouraging me to focus on my relationship with Jesus, elevating the principle above the method. 40 years later, I’m still memorizing Scripture and love it!

Our Action Plan

How can we implement the crucial principle of being patient with the process of maturing? Here’s some ideas;

  • Do a study in one of the gospels and look for ways Jesus practiced “grace and truth.”
  • Check in with the people we are discipling and ask relevant questions to assess if the pace of their development is suitable.
  • Evaluate the amount of time dedicated to those we are discipling and whether we have sufficient knowledge of their personal lives and circumstances.

Jesus’ growth and development serve as an ultimate example for us, as He went through the process of growth and maturation just like everyone else. As disciple makers, we cannot take shortcuts when it comes to helping others grow in their faith, but we must understand that growth and development take time, and we must be patient with ourselves and with others. We must focus on pointing others to Jesus, emphasizing the importance of the Word and prayer, applying both grace and truth appropriately, providing personalized attention, giving information in digestible chunks, and encouraging personal exploration. By focusing on these areas, disciple makers can create an environment that fosters spiritual growth and transformation in the people they are discipling. We have access to God’s grace, and it will help us to grow and mature in our faith, just as it did for Jesus.

The Gospel Sync | #15 | Matthew 2:13-22a

Explaining the Existence of Evil

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Welcome Back! Today, we’ll be Looking at Matthew 2:13-22a and discussing why God allows the existence of evil. As disciple-makers, sooner or later, we are going to have to explain why God allows evil in the world.

So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Matthew 2:13-22a

When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up!” he said. “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.” So he got up, took the Child and His mother by night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

“Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” he said. “Take the Child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those seeking the Child’s life are now dead.” So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.


Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2.16)

According to the text, Herod was threatened by the news of the birth of a new king, who was said to have been born in Bethlehem. To eliminate this threat, Herod ordered the massacre of all male children two years old and under in the town.

The question of why God would allow such a horrific event to occur is a complex theological issue but as disciple-makers it’s a question we will have to answer. Part of the answer is that God gave humans free will, including the ability to make evil choices. With freewill comes relationship. If we choose to obey, we love. If we choose to disobey, we hate. We are not robots that mechanically comply with the Creator’s instructions. We have a choice. In this case, Herod chose to commit this heinous act.

On the other hand, God allows suffering and evil to exist in the world as a consequence of human sin and disobedience. The Bible teaches that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and its effects continue to be felt in the world today. From this perspective, the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem was a tragic consequence of human sin and evil. In other words the question is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The real question should be, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” When we consider the total depravity of man it puts things in perspective. 

What did Jesus say about it?

There is no record in the Gospels of Jesus directly addressing the specific event of Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem. However, Jesus did teach about the broader issues of suffering, evil, and God’s sovereignty in the world.

For example Jesus and his disciples encounter a man who was born blind. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind. Jesus responds by saying that neither the man nor his parents sinned, but that the man’s blindness was an opportunity for God’s works to be displayed in him (John 9:1-3).

On another occasion, Jesus responds to a question about a recent tragedy in which Pilate had mixed the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices and another incident where a tower fell and killed 18 people. Jesus says that those who died in the tragedy were not more guilty than anyone else, but that all people must repent or they will likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5).

Jesus’ teachings emphasize the importance of repentance, faith, and obedience to God, regardless of the circumstances we may face. He also emphasizes the importance of trusting in God’s sovereignty and his ultimate plan for the world, even when we don’t fully understand it. 

The simultaneous presence of freewill and sovereignty, both of which are found in the Bible, may appear to be contradictory to us. However, this conundrum is what I refer to as a “divine tension.” It cannot be explained by human reasoning, yet God transcends human logic. He is not confined by the limitations of our understanding or the laws of nature that we perceive. As the creator of all things, he operates within and beyond the confines of natural law.

Here’s some more verses that help explain the existence of evil;

Free will and human responsibility:

Genesis 3:1-7 – Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 – God gives humans the freedom to choose between life and death.

Joshua 24:15 – Joshua exhorts the Israelites to choose to serve God or other gods.

The effects of sin and evil in the world:

Romans 5:12-19 – Sin entered the world through Adam, and its effects are felt by all humanity.

Galatians 6:7-8 – We reap what we sow; our choices have consequences.

James 1:14-15 – Temptation leads to sin, and sin leads to death.

God’s justice and love:

Psalm 33:5 – God’s love and justice are inseparable.

Isaiah 55:8-9 – God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

Romans 8:38-39 – Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

My Story

After following Jesus faithfully for three decades, I encountered some tumultuous waters. Without any apparent cause, I began to limp, followed by significant cognitive issues and muscle spasms. This led me on an eight-year journey of medical appointments and tests, eventually resulting in a diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has an average life expectancy of 2-5 years. Despite the daunting prognosis, my faith in Jesus remained unwavering due to the discipleship I had received regarding suffering. I understood that God was not punishing me, but rather that He was aware of my condition long before I was born. Having walked with Him, I knew that He would provide everything I required to not only survive but to thrive in my relationship with Him. Though my convictions had been tested in small ways previously, I had never been through a trial of this magnitude. I am grateful for the biblical instruction I had received throughout the years and for the individuals who invested in my life as a disciple. Now, a decade after my diagnosis, I have not blamed or rejected God for this “evil” and my faith in Jesus remains steadfast due to my biblical viewpoint and excellent mentors.

Our Action Plan

Answering tough questions is an important part of our role as disciple makers. One of the most challenging issues we face is the problem of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. To prepare ourselves for these difficult conversations, there are a few steps we can take:

  • First, we can delve deeper into the Bible and study topics like the free will of man, the sovereignty of God, and the origin and effects of sin. By gaining a better understanding of these concepts, we can be better equipped to address questions about why evil exists in the world.
  • Second, it’s always helpful to seek advice from other experienced disciple makers. They may have encountered similar questions and can provide insight into how they have tackled the tough questions in their own ministry.
  • Finally, we can talk to people of faith who have faced significant trauma or suffering and ask them how they were able to maintain their faith during those difficult times. Their personal stories can provide us with valuable perspective and inspiration as we seek to guide others through their own struggles.

The question of why God allows evil is a complex theological issue, but as disciple-makers, we must be able to answer it. The story of Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem provides a tragic example of the consequences of human sin and disobedience. While God allows free will, including the ability to make evil choices, He also allows suffering and evil to exist as a consequence of human sin. Jesus’ teachings emphasize the importance of repentance, faith, and obedience to God, regardless of the circumstances we may face. We are called to trust in God’s sovereignty and his ultimate plan for the world, even when we don’t fully understand it. Ultimately, we must accept the divine tension of God’s simultaneous presence of freewill and sovereignty, recognizing that God transcends human logic and operates within and beyond the confines of natural law.

The Gospel Sync | #14 | Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 2:39a

When God Supplants Our Leadership

Welcome Back! Today, we’ll be looking at Matthew 2:1-12 and Luke 2:39a and shedding light on how we should respond when as disciple makers we feel like God is taking the reins in the disciple-making relationship with others.

So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

The Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12, Luke 2:39a

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, and when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, (during the time of King Herod) Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem in Judea, for this is what the prophet has written:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the Magi and learned from them the exact time the star had appeared. And sending them to Bethlehem, he said: “Go and search carefully for the Child, and when you find Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great delight. After coming into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they withdrew to their country by another way.


Let’s focus on Matthew 2:3 

When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

King Herod, also known as Herod the Great, was an Edomite who fully embraced Hellenistic culture. Despite any potential Jewish ancestry resulting from interfamily relations, he did not show any significant adherence to the Jewish faith. Additionally, he exhibited a paranoid streak, as he executed three of his sons for alleged plotting against him, as per the accounts of Josephus. It would be safe to say that Herod saw any potential messiah as competition. 

The passage raises a more intriguing question: Why were the people of Jerusalem disturbed by the news of the Messiah’s arrival? After all, one might expect the Jewish people to be overjoyed at the prospect of the long-awaited Messiah. There could be several reasons for this reaction, and here are three possibilities that come to mind:

Political threat: King Herod, who was the ruler of Judea at the time, would have seen the birth of a new “king of the Jews” as a direct threat to his own authority and power. He would have been concerned that the Messiah would challenge his rule or seek to replace him as the king of Judea.

Social threat: The arrival of the Messiah was seen as a significant event that could potentially bring about huge changes in society. The people of Jerusalem may have been concerned about the potential disruption to the existing social order that the Messiah’s arrival could bring.

Religious threat: The religious leaders in Jerusalem could have been disturbed by the news of the Messiah’s birth because they may have seen it as a challenge to their own religious authority. They may have been concerned that the arrival of the Messiah would undermine their traditional teachings and practices (and ultimately Jesus did!).

Jesus Christ was a threat to their way of life. The government and the people of Jerusalem’s systems and life-styles would be seriously disrupted. News of the Messiah’s birth was only the beginning. Most people tend to be comfortable with the status quo and the established religious and political systems. And most people are reluctant to embrace change. The arrival of the Messiah would have represented a significant shift in leadership, as promised in the Scriptures; 

Listen to this Messianic prophecy in Micah 5.2 again;

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.’”

No wonder Herod and some others may not be so excited about the coming of the Messiah. Their leadership and life-style will be supplanted. 

Now this may seem like a completely ludicrous question, but as disciple makers are we in danger of competing with Jesus’ leadership in a person’s life? Will we be “disturbed” like Herod and the people if God chooses to supplant our leadership or lifestyle? 

To supplant means to take the place of something or someone else, often by force or through competition. It can refer to the displacement of an existing thing or person, or to the act of replacing something that is no longer effective or desirable with something new. The word can also suggest an element of unexpectedness or surprise, as the new thing may come from an unexpected source or be a departure from what was expected. Overall, to supplant is to replace or displace something or someone in a significant or impactful way. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus Christ the Lord has purposed to do in every man, woman, and child’s heart?

My Story

Many times I’ve had to bite my tongue when a person I was discipling said something I wouldn’t have said. I’ve had to stand idly by as they do something I wouldn’t have done. I’ve had to remind myself that when they drop the ultimate trump card; “God told me to…” that Jesus is their primary leader not me and step aside. 

Now I’m not talking about clear cut sin. We have every right and responsibility to step in and counter a “God told me so” statement or action when we know for sure it’s unbiblical. I’m talking about you having done your job as a disciple-maker and they are actually going to Jesus for direction rather than you! This can be scary.  You may feel like you’re losing influence. Or humbling, as they disagree with you and you’re supposed to be the “leader.” How should we respond when it looks like God is supplanting our leadership?

Our Action Plan

It may be helpful to remind ourselves of the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30) As mentors, our ultimate goal is to help the person we are guiding to grow in their relationship with God, even if it means taking a step back and allowing God to supplant our leadership. Here are a few possible responses:

Humility and Acceptance – We need to recognize that our time in leadership in those circumstances (or our influence all together) has come to an end and humbly accept God’s will, trusting that He has a plan for our life and the lives of others.

Gratitude and Support – We should feel relieved to be released from the burdens of leadership and grateful for the opportunity to step down and let Jesus lead. We may end up supporting a new leader in their lives and pray for God’s guidance in their future endeavors.

Confusion and Questioning – When our leadership is supplanted it may be unexpected or unclear, leaving us with questions and doubts about what happened and why. This is natural and perfectly normal. We need to seek God in prayer or maybe even seek counsel from others.

Avoid Resentment and Resistance – We need to steer clear of feeling a sense of injustice or disappointment at being removed from our leadership and resist the change, either by trying to maintain control or by lashing out at others.

Until next time, Keep Making Disciples of Jesus!

The Gospel Sync | #13 | Matthew 1:25b, Luke 2:21-38

Illuminating Jesus’ Identity and Purpose

Welcome Back! So far, we’ve been working on putting the gospels in sequence to harmonize them. Today, we’ll be combining the gospels of Matthew and Luke to gain a deeper understanding of the birth of Christ. Interestingly, Matthew, Mark, and John don’t offer much background information on this topic, but Luke steps in to fill the gaps with a more detailed account. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the insights provided by Luke and enrich our understanding of the Gospel. So let’s dive in.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

Matthew 1:25b, Luke 2:21-38

And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.

And when the time of purification according to the Law of Moses was complete, His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer the sacrifice specified in the Law of the Lord: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what was customary under the Law, Simeon took Him in his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was spoken about Him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will even pierce your soul as well.”

There was also a prophetess named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was well along in years. She had been married for seven years, and then was a widow until the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, but served night and day with fasting and prayer. Coming forward at that moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Today, our discussion revolves around comprehending the character and nature of God, which is closely linked to our own identities and life purposes since we are created in His image. By exploring who God is and what He represents, we can gain a blueprint to follow.

In Luke 1:31, the angel informed Mary about the conception and birth of the Son of God, instructing her to name Him Jesus, as Joseph did in Matthew 1:25b. The name “Jesus” is from the Latin form of the Greek name “Iesous,” which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” meaning “God is salvation,” revealing the identity and purpose of Jesus as the embodiment of God’s salvation.

Further details about Jesus’ identity and purpose are revealed through Simeon’s encounter with Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus in the temple courts. Simeon declared Jesus to be the light for the Gentiles, the glory of Israel, and the One who would bring revelation to the thoughts of the heart. He also reveals that Jesus will be a “sign to be spoken against” and “even pierce the heart of His own mother” with the truth.

Anna also acknowledged Jesus as the Redeemer who would provide salvation to Jerusalem.

The reaction of Jesus’ parents to Simeon and Anna’s declaration highlights the wonder and amazement that comes with comprehending the identity and actions of God. As we aspire to emulate Jesus, we should reflect His identity and purpose by shining as a light in the world, bringing glory to God, and speaking the truth, even if it may offend those closest to us.

As disciple-makers, our role is similar to that of Simeon and Anna. We have the responsibility of illuminating the character and actions of Jesus to those we are discipling, enabling them to see Him more clearly and follow His example. Encouraging them to read a portion of the gospels every day is the best way to achieve this objective and go straight to the source.

My Story

I’ve shared this story before, but let me tell you how I really got serious about making Jesus the center of my discipleship. My mentor had already called me out on my fixation with peripheral theological issues, but I still had a ways to go. I realized I was pursuing “good things” but missing out on the “best” – Jesus Himself. So, I made a commitment to read nothing but the gospels for a whole year. I know, I know, the entire Bible is important, but I needed to reconnect with Jesus, the Master Himself! Let me tell you, the results were immediate and permanent. Now, every time I meet up with the people I’m discipling, they’re getting a big ol’ helping of Jesus and what He’s all about.

Our Action Plan

How will you illuminate Jesus’ identity and purpose for those you are discipling?

  • Maybe going back to the gospels yourself like I did in order to get a good dose of Jesus and reestablishing the foundation.
  • Do a Bible study with those you are mentoring and specifically look for the identity and purpose of Jesus in one of the gospels.
  • Or just make sure you talk about Jesus every time you get together.

It’s crucial to explain who Jesus is and what He modeled. When we understand Jesus’ identity and purpose, we can better follow His teachings, example, and help others do the same.

The Gospel Sync (Ep. 12) Luke 2.8-20

Hi friends, we will be continuing our study of the gospels, which includes all four accounts of Jesus’ life in a single narrative. I have provided a link to a document in the description below, so that you can follow along. Last time, we covered Matthew 1:1-17. Today, we will be focusing on Luke 2:8-20. Deb will read the passage for us, and then we will dive into our discussion.

(Click here to get a copy of the Gospel Sync document) 

Scripture – Luke 2.8-20

And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:

 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby, who was lying in the manger.

After they had seen the Child, they spread the message they had received about Him. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which was just as it had been told them.

Today’s key discipleship lesson is to not be surprised at who God uses, as we can learn from the passage we just read. Let’s take a closer look at Luke 2:15-17, where we see the shepherds as the first messengers of the Gospel. After the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They went and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger… After seeing the child, they spread the message they had received about him.

This may be surprising to some, because in Jewish society, shepherds were considered to be on the lowest rung of society. They spent their days and nights tending to sheep, and as a result, they even smelled like sheep. However, we shouldn’t be surprised that God chose to use shepherds to spread his message. Throughout scripture, we see that God uses all kinds of people to spread his fame, glory, and message.

For example, in John 4:1-42, God used a woman with a questionable past to reach an entire village, and in Mark 5:1-20, God used a man possessed by thousands of demons to reach ten cities. Even the Apostle Paul, who was a murderer and blasphemer, was used by God to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, as mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:13.

Therefore, we should not be surprised by who God chooses to spread his good news, as he can use anyone who is willing to be used by him.

As a child, I was introduced to Jesus and I had a deep affection for him. However, my trust in Jesus began to deteriorate as my family faced challenging circumstances. My mother abandoned my father and my three brothers when I was eight years old. My father, who served in the Army, struggled to take care of us, and we ended up bouncing in and out of Children’s Homes throughout our childhood.

One day, while in a Children’s Home, I found a framed picture of Jesus, which I placed next to my bed. I prayed every day, asking God to take us out of the Children’s Home. Eventually, my father promised that he would take us out by the end of the summer. We eagerly anticipated our departure from the home, but my father broke his promise. I was so angry and frustrated that I marched upstairs, looked at the picture of Jesus, and kicked Him right in the face, shattered glass flew everywhere.

A few years later, while serving in the Army, I heard the gospel, repented, and began to follow Jesus. I was surprised that God would use someone like me – an orphan with a lot of anger who had kicked Jesus in the face – to spread his message of love and salvation. But looking back, we should not be surprised at who God uses to spread his message, regardless of their past.

Now it’s time to put our plans into action. First, we need to ask ourselves: are we the ones choosing who to disciple, or is God leading us to specific people? As disciple makers, are we reminding those we disciple not to be surprised at who Jesus chooses to use? Lastly, we should ask ourselves if we truly believe that God can use anyone, even those we may doubt or think are insignificant. That one-eyed, three-legged lamb that you may be shepherding might just become a mighty warrior that spreads the message of Jesus far and wide.

That’s all the time we have for today. Remember, until next time, keep making disciples for Jesus!

Link to the Gospel Sync G-Doc: Click here