If you’ve been around here before, you’ve likely seen this little eBook. But here it is again. This short guide is designed to help you, well, make the most of your devotions. It’ll take you a 10 minute investment to read. My hope is that it brings a lifetime worth of change for your Bible reading and prayer times.
I’m happy to share with you a little devotional I wrote for Advent, We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent. There are twenty-five readings with related Scripture passages and questions.
I pray it’s a blessing and that it helps you worship Christ this Christmas!
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician,
but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
I recall one time I went to the doctor for a physical exam. I was there because, I thought, this is what responsible adults do. The doctor came in, looked at my chart, noticed my age (I was about 25 at the time) and said, with a condescending tone, “What are you here for?” “For a physical,” I replied. “You don’t need a physical,” he said. “You are healthy.” Whether he knew it or not, he was communicating a spiritual truth: only sick people need a doctor.
Jesus often crossed paths with a group of incredibly stuck-up religious people called the Pharisees. The Pharisees thought they were better than everyone else. Do you know what? They were. Unfortunately for them, their kind of “better” didn’t matter all that much to Jesus. The Pharisees made a profession out of external morality. They couldn’t see that they were spiritually sick and in need of a doctor. In reality, they were not healthy—no one is. They thought they were. Matthew (also called Levi), on the other hand, was a corrupt tax collector—not religious by any stretch of the imagination—and yet was attracted to Jesus because he saw him as a spiritual doctor who was able to heal his sin-sick soul.
Paradoxically, it’s those who see their silliness in trying to save themselves and realize they are hopeless on their own who actually have reason for hope. It’s the people who know they have a spiritually fatal disease who repent and go to Jesus. When the light of the cross shines on you, by God’s grace—not your intelligence or religion or anything else—you see your darkness. You face it. You own up to it and you humbly go to the Doctor.
Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 5:27-32
- What do you think about Matthew “leaving everything” to follow Jesus? (Consider that Matthew had a very lucrative business as a tax collector!)
- Tax collectors in the first century were not well-liked. They were crooks who added to government taxes to supply their income. Imagine Jesus eating with a whole host of them. What could you compare that to today? How does this shape your thoughts about Jesus?
- Do you identity more with the Pharisees or Matthew? Why?
- How can you ask the Lord to open your eyes to your spiritual sickness today? Where do you need him to do his divine surgical work?
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68)
Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist. He sings a wondrous song at the birth of his son about another son—Mary’s son. His song has a simple, yet earth-shattering message: in the baby Jesus, God has come to town. This isn’t anything new of course. God had been coming to save his people for centuries! Zechariah begins, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (v. 68). These words “visited” and “redeemed” are reminiscent of the Exodus and how God saved his people when they were slaves in Egypt. Showing up to save. That’s what God does.
Why did God visit and redeem his people? Zechariah mentions two reasons. Enemies (v. 71) and sin (v. 77). Whether it’s ancient Israel, Zechariah, or us today, we’re all in “Egypt” apart from God’s grace. We are all are shackled from embracing God because of sin, evil, death, and Satan. We are all slaves to the kingdom of darkness and are desperate for freedom.
And everyone is trying to tell us how we can be rescued. Politicians, economists, educators, celebrities, even athletes. Everyone has a solution. What’s more is that we continually try to save ourselves. We see the brokenness in us and in the world around us and we create our own system of salvation. It might be through religious practice, personal morality, making money, romantic relationships, good grades, or professional resume. Anything. Ask yourself, “What do I look to for safety and security and freedom?”
It doesn’t take long to realize that self-help simply won’t cut it. Self-help couldn’t help Israel under the dominion of the Egyptian empire. It couldn’t help Zechariah. And it won’t help you or me either. It’s all too easy to try to climb ladders to get up to God. Yet what we need is God to come down to us. If the world is broken, no solution in the world will suffice. It has to be God. Only God can clean up the mess we’ve made. Only God can free us from our enemies, both inside and out. Zechariah’s song reminds us that God has come to town. And when he comes, it’s the end of self-help.
Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 1:57-80
- In what ways do you try to save yourself?
- Read. v. 68. The word “redeemed” means to be bought back. What are some areas of life where you need to see God’s redemption?
- Read v. 69. Why is phrase “the house of his servant David” important? Does it matter that Jesus has come from a real-live human family?
- What enemies do you have? Where do you need to ask God for help from your enemies?
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53)
Imagine that you are teenage Mary when an angel of the Lord appears to you announcing that you will conceive the Son of God. Yikes! Understandably, Mary is nearly in shock when she hears the news. This is the biggest day in her young life—any young life.
But she recovers quickly. She realizes that God is up to something. Something bigger than her. So she sings. And what does she sing? She sings that in this miraculous conception of her baby, God is making good on his promise to raise the humble and crush the proud. The religious people, the PhDs, the stock brokers, the politicians—they will be brought to nothing. This is the story of how God has always worked in the world. It’s just now happening in the most incredible way possible. A way no one expected. The God of the whole universe is going to become small. Very small.
If in God’s economy, the mighty will be brought down, then it begs the question: do I want this story to be my story? Do I want to be low and humble rather than important and exalted? Mary embraced this. Will you? How did she do it? Her eyes were on her own son—God’s Son. In Jesus, we see the God who not only exalts the humble, but humbled himself to the point of having an umbilical cord—then growing up and going to a cross to die for sins not his own, but mine. Yours. The world’s. It’s the great reversal. And through Jesus, the poor would become rich; the lame would walk; the blind would see; the guilty would be pardoned; the slave would go free; the orphan would find a home.
This is the greatest reversal, indeed. And when you look at the baby who makes it all happen, you will be humbled and ready to embrace God’s story and make it your own.
Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Luke 1:46-56
- What is so amazing about this prayer from Mary?
- Do you want to be low and humble in the world’s eyes in order to be exalted by God?
- Read vv. 54-54. Why is it important that God keeps promises? Do you believe him when he promises something?
- Jesus flips the values of the world on their head. Where do you see this happening in your own life? Where are some of your values that you need to re-evaluate in order to faithfully follow Jesus?
- How does Jesus’ death for you move you toward humility? What pride must you confess?