Read Matthew 3:3-17.
If you could pick just one story to sum up Jesus’ life, this would be a great choice.  In just a handful of verses, we discover that Jesus is God’s Son, who in great humility was born among us and committed to die for us to bring glory to His Father.  
The baptism of John the Baptist was one of repentance.  People came forward to seek forgiveness for their sins so that their hearts would be ready to receive this new thing that God was doing through the One to whom John pointed.  Jesus was that very One,  so it surprised John when Jesus came forward to be baptized by Him.  This was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world!  Why was He seeking baptism?  Jesus answered, “Let it be so for now; it is proper for us to do this now to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus’ death would fulfill the righteousness to which the Law pointed.  He would meet that righteousness that we could not, and He would graciously share His righteousness with anyone who would come to Him.  
Baptism is a symbol of the death of an old life in order to embrace a new life.  The descending into the waters represents the action of being laid in a grave.  Ascending from the waters is likened to being raised unto a new life.  Fast forward to the end of Matthew’s gospel, and we find the story of Jesus being laid in a tomb only to be raised to new life.   His baptism is a foreshadowing of this reality to come.  
Jesus’ willingness to be baptized by John not only pointed to the purpose of His coming but it also showed His commitment to fulfilling His Father’s will of laying down His life for the world.  Jesus’ actions were a way of saying to His Father, “Let Your will be done in Me.”    
After Jesus reveals His commitment to God, the Father shows His approval of His Son in two ways: the Holy Spirit descending on Him and His words of blessing.  It was not that Jesus did not already have the Spirit or His Father’s blessing, but these were affirmed at this pivotal moment that would launch His ministry.  
The story of Jesus’ baptism is also our story.  We too have died to a life without God in order to embrace a glorious life with Him.  We too have the Holy Spirit and the Father’s words of “This is My child whom I love, in him (or her) I am well pleased.”  As those who have been so blessed by Jesus, we are called to lay our lives down for others.  We take the call to be servants to the world on behalf and to the glory of God.  This is the most blessed life into which Jesus has invited us.  May each of us enjoy its fullness.
Praying Together:
“Jesus, I am in awe of You.  You became like us in order to reveal the Father’s heart for us.  You laid down Your life that we might live through You.  You have opened this amazing life with You.  It is a life of joy and blessing.  Help us embrace the call to become like You.  That work begins in our spirit as we are touched by Your grace.  Having been blessed by You, we desire to bless others.  With a renewed heart, we embrace the call to serve as You did; only then we will live lives that reflect You.  This is our prayer.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 4:12-16.
Shortly after being tempted in the desert, John the Baptist is arrested.  With John in prison, Jesus steps into His public ministry.  
Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee.  If you are interested in why Jesus moved, see Luke 4:14-30.  There’s nothing like trying to be killed by the people from your hometown to inspire a move.  Jesus’ new home reminds Matthew of the words of Isaiah 9:1-2.  
Verse 17 says that “from that time on, Jesus began to preach.”  These words tell us that Jesus’ taking up residence in Capernaum officially launched His public ministry.  The first act of His public ministry was to resume preaching the message of John the Baptist, proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Jesus did this for two reasons.  He was showing the people that He was the One to whom John was speaking.  He also preached this message to help the people see that in Him, the Kingdom was coming close to the people.  
While the concept of the Kingdom of God–or the Kingdom of heaven, which both speak to the same thing–is quite a lot to bite off for the space we have here, let me try.  God’s Kingdom is that over which God reigns.  Genesis 1-2 tells us that God created this world and reigned over it as King.  God gave humankind the unique responsibility of ruling over God’s good world as an extension of God’s divine authority.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned against God.  Their intent was to rule the world on their own terms, a coup of sorts.  The result was devastating as God gave a rebelling creation over to become what scripture calls “the kingdom of this world.” This worldly kingdom no longer reflected God or His gracious rule.  We’ve been living with the consequences ever since.  
The Good News of the gospel is that God did not give up on His beloved creation.  He continued to pursue us.  The entire witness of scripture points to all that God has done to be one with all who want to share a new life with Him.  All of that reaches its culmination in Christ, who came to reclaim this world as its rightful King.  Jesus brought the Kingdom near so that all who wanted to join in God’s gracious reign could enter in through Him.  This was what Jesus preached to the people.  
Jesus offers everyone an opportunity to come near to God again.  He invites us to participate in God’s Kingdom.  The requirements for entrance are that we desire Jesus as our King and we willingly place ourselves under His loving reign.  Jesus has proven that He is worthy of our allegiance and that He can be trusted.  It is this life of submission to Christ as our King that opens up for us the floodgates of this most blessed life.   
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, I believe that You are the King who has come to reclaim this world as Yours.  Thank You for revealing the wonders of Your Kingdom to me.  It is a joy to surrender to Your Lordship and experience life under Your grace.  Help me to enjoy all the blessings of this new life with You.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 4:17.
What would it be like to stand before Jesus and hear Him say these words: ”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”?Never before would you have heard that there was a connection between the earthly kingdom where you lived, steeped in what seemed like unresolvable sin, and the Kingdom of heaven, where our faith in God could make the wrong right again.  Jesus had just made a claim that He was that connection–that finally there was a way to be forgiven of our sins.  
On that day, all who heard His proclamation learned that the transformation of the world began with each of them. It did not matter how corrupt the community leaders were, how they treated others, what idols had taken priority over God, or how mean they had been to one another in general. Jesus stated for the record that they were closer to God than they had ever been in that moment through Him.  That day was the day that Hope began to enter the world of sin like a light in the darkness. In a whole new way, they were being held accountable for their sin, and their eyes were open to new ways they could be the change that Jesus could already see happening in the world through forgiveness and the grace of God.
I wonder if you have encountered a moment of clarity about what you must do to serve God and serve others in a world like ours. What can others learn about Christ from your actions and your words?
Praying together:
“Lord, it is so easy to invest more of our time living in this world of sin.  It is so easy to focus on being nice to our circle of friends instead of building relationships with those different from us. We heard You when You said that hopeful times are coming, but did we stop to think about our responsibility in getting there? We know Your power in forgiveness.  We know Your grace is overwhelmingly present. But knowing this means we must do all that we can to accept our wrongdoing, apologize when we are wrong, and do all we can to take this second chance of forgiveness and do better. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Read Matthew 4:18-19.
In graduate school, we had to ask a professor of our choosing to be the one to guide us through writing our dissertation.  (A dissertation is the last research paper written and often published under the guidance of a chairperson in order to achieve a doctorate degree.) Students had to prove to these professors that we were worth the time and effort and that we would finish writing the dissertation and graduate, regardless of how many times we had to rewrite it and resubmit it.  This whole process prepared us for publishing as a professor.  
 As students, we had to work hard to get the preferred professor to say yes. In a similar process, when a student wanted to learn under a rabbi, they had to “apply” to be chosen as his student.  Here in verse 18, we see Jesus taking the initiative to pursue disciples. Jesus sees Simon and Andrew fishing, and He approaches them. He speaks first and they listen. 
What Jesus says to them is significant in two ways. First, the words “Follow me” are his command for these fishermen to become disciples. Over time, we will learn that Jesus will repeat this command when offering discipleship to others.  Second, “I will make you fish for people” is a promise. This statement comes from an image that was used in pagan and Jewish traditions.  The fishing image seems to represent a god’s calling of his people to new life and to participate in a divine mission for humanity. These fishermen were being called into a life of service to work alongside their Savior to love and serve others—just as we seek disciples in our own lives, regardless of how different they may seem from us.
I wonder how many of us fulfill the promise to love others, serve others, and make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Praying together:
“Precious Lord, You hold the key to our salvation in Your hands.  We know that through You, we can know God better.  Show us how to live and love as You do so that we too can be fishers of men.  Open our hearts so that we can invite others to join us as Jesus’ disciples.  Guide us as we encourage others to know You better, one command and one promise at a time. In Your Name, Amen .”
FRIDAY, 8/12
Read Matthew 4:21-22.
Jesus calls out to a second set of fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The difference between the first two fishermen (Simon and Andrew) discussed in yesterday’s devotional and these two is that they left their father behind in the boat to follow Jesus! Just like the first set, without saying a word, they drop what they are doing and follow Jesus. Keep in mind that they had never seen Him before that moment and they had never heard Jesus preach.  No miracles.  No healings.  No exorcisms. No explanation given, nor have their futures as disciples been defined for them.  It is Jesus who takes on the responsibility for making them disciples and showing them how to build the church.
It’s so easy to want to seek out ways to explain how all four of these fishermen knew Jesus before they followed Him, but to do so would be missing a very important point. People become believers by the power of Jesus‘ word. They follow Him because He takes the time to speak to them, and it’s His word that generates faith. One theologian describes it this way: “For Matthew, Jesus’ call to discipleship was spoken not only to a few disciples in first century Galilee but to the church throughout history (28:20). He’s the one who sows the word that produces good fruit (13:3,18,24,37). He is also the one who builds the church (16:18) through His spoken word.”
I wonder what part of Jesus’ spoken words resonate most in your life right now. What sacrifices have you made as you walk in faith as a disciple?
Praying together:
“Gracious God, we often forget the power of words. The words we say matter in ways we can’t even comprehend.  If no other lesson is learned from this scripture, I pray that we remember the power of Christ’s words to change us as Your people, to change our church, and to change our local community and beyond. Amen.”
Read Matthew 4:23.
As we move closer to the Sermon on the Mount, we see that Jesus’ words are expressed in three ways: preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus focuses on the Good News of the Kingdom of God when He preaches.  In Matthew, Jesus’ teaching content includes the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, the Great Commission, and parables describing the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus taught within the synagogue and was well aware that what He taught was often at odds with the beliefs in the community. 
Healing in the community presented an opportunity for people to see the brokenness up close and to see God’s mercy and grace work through Jesus to heal the faithful.  There are different types of healing that Jesus addressed in his ministry, including physical (ailments and deformities), social healing (overcoming social injustice and return to community post-healing) and spiritual healing (lack of faith, exorcisms). It is often the healing of others that we remember most in scripture, especially when their healing seemed unreal but made possible through Jesus.  Jesus made healing a way to demonstrate the power of God’s kingdom in their lives.  
It also gave Jesus a way to speak the gospel to the crowds that gathered around him to watch or experience healing.  It led many to experience that God-given power to heal their brokenness. It also encouraged others to speak of what they saw and heard while in the presence of Jesus. 
I wonder how you have experienced God’s healing in your own life.
Praying together:
“Lord of All Things, we have been blessed by the opportunity to be healed in multiple ways. We are often humbled by how and when we are healed. Give us the strength, courage, and patience for healing to happen. Over and over in scripture, we are reminded that the timing of our healing is not up to us. Let us receive the hope that comes from knowing that our brokenness due to sin can be transformed for the better as long as we freely and openly submit to Your will over our own. Guide us. Show us. Speak your words over us, Lord. Amen.”
SUNDAY, 8/14
Read Matthew 4:24-25.
It did not take long for news to spread about Jesus’ message of hope and healing. People arrived wherever Jesus went to experience this healing that seemed impossible at the time. He represented mercy in a merciless world, kindness is a world filled with hate and dishonor, respect for all of God’s people regardless of race, ethnicity, country of residence, religious beliefs, social status, or gender. All were welcome to be healed, without the requirement of faith. All of this was initiated by Jesus for the people of God.
As a result, the demon-possessed, the paralyzed, those with seizures, those with chronic pain–all of those needing healing– approached Jesus and He healed them, no questions asked. Large, diverse crowds from far and wide, followed Him to witness the healer and the teacher at work. As Christians, we listen for His guidance, we look for His grace, and we pray for His presence to heal us as He has healed others in scripture.  We know we are a broken people in need of divine intervention.
The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear how we may heal and take part in the healing of others. In what ways have you found healing in your faith? How have you contributed to the healing of others?   
Praying together:
“Lord, have mercy on us. Turn our heads to follow You as faithful disciples. Show us how to most effectively reach out to others in Your name. By our gifting, teach us how to reach out just as You did by preaching, teaching, and healing. We know who You are, Lord.  We know what You can do in our lives and we need You.  Without You, there is no healing from sin.  Without You, a dark world remains dark. Teach us to be that light of hope so that others will know healing is possible.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”