John the Baptist: Preparing the way

By Narelle Atkins

John the Baptist was the last of the great prophets and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1). He was the messenger who lived in the desert and prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry.

John’s parents were Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth, a relative of the Virgin Mary. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (see Luke 1:11-20) and foretold John’s birth and mission. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and childless and Zechariah’s initial unbelief regarding the angel’s prophesy for his future son led to Zechariah becoming mute and unable to speak until the prophesy came to fruition (Luke 1:64).

John brought a message of repentance and baptism. He called the Israelites to repent from their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River. Baptism was a sign that they had turned back to God and received God’s forgiveness of sins.

John said he was preparing the way for one greater than him, who would baptise the Jews and Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. John baptised Jesus in the Jordan River and the heavens opened, bringing the Spirit down upon Jesus. God the father spoke to Jesus from heaven, saying ‘You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:11)

Jesus’ ministry started when John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod. Herodias held a grudge against John after John had told Herod it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. Herodias had been married to Philip, Herod’s brother, but had left Philip for Herod. Herodias and her daughter used an oath promised by Herod at a banquet to kill John. At their request, Herod ordered an executioner to behead John and present his head on a platter at the banquet (Mark 6:17-29).

Book Recommendation: Bathsheba by Jill Eileen Smith

Back cover blurb:

Bathsheba is a woman who longs for love. With her devout husband away fighting the king’s wars for many months at a time, discontent and loneliness dog her steps–and make it frighteningly easy to succumb to King David’s charm and attention. Though she immediately regrets her involvement with the powerful king, the pieces are set in motion that will destroy everything she holds dear. Can she find forgiveness at the feet of the Almighty? Or has her sin separated her from God–and David–forever?

With a historian’s sharp eye for detail and a novelist’s creative spirit, Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the passionate and emotional story of David’s most famous–and infamous–wife. Smith uses her gentle hand to draw out the humanity in her characters, allowing readers to see themselves in the three-dimensional lives and minds of people who are often viewed in starkly moralistic terms. You will never read the story of David and Bathsheba in the same way again.

Narelle: I really enjoyed Jill Eileen Smith’s fictionalised account of Bathsheba’s story. The story opens with Bathsheba’s struggle to overcome loneliness and disappointment over not providing an heir for her husband, Uriah. Uriah was one of King David’s mighty men who was often away at war, and Bathsheba didn’t have children to distract her from missing her absent warrior husband. We journey with Bathsheba as she makes choices that will ultimately have devastating and deadly consequences.

We also gain an insight into both King David and Bathsheba’s faith and relationship with God. We meet two people who, despite loving the Lord, are human and flawed like the rest of us. I recommend this book to those looking for a fascinating and insightful Biblical fiction story.

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Having a missionary heart

by Narelle Atkins

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

According to the Gospel of Mark, this is one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. The Gospel of Matthew also records The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

We are commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel to the whole world and share the good news about Jesus bringing salvation to the world through His death and resurrection. This was a new way of thinking for the disciples. They understood that the Israelites were God’s chosen people and the focus in the Scriptures (Old Testament) had been on God working out His purposes and plan for salvation through His covenant with Abraham and his descendents.

The ministry to the Gentiles (non-Jews) really kicked off after Jesus ascended into heaven. The early missionary activities of the apostles are recorded in the book of Acts. In Acts we learn about Paul’s mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

When I was younger I remember being quite intimidated by The Great Commission. How did this command impact the decisions I made? Did this mean I should dedicate my life to doing God’s work? And what would this look like? I had not felt called to be a missionary overseas or work for a Christian organisation. Was I selfish for wanting to live a so-called normal life as a wife and mother or should I have higher aspirations?

God created us with unique talents and abilities that we can use to bring Him glory. The body of Christ is made up of diverse people who work together to enable the gospel to be preached to all nations.

Whether we are serving on the front line as a missionary or playing a supporting role behind the scenes, we can all help in some way to reach people with the gospel message. And we can build relationships with those around us in our own mission field at home.

I can now see how my ‘missionary heart’ is revealed in many ways, including Bible studies, blogging and my Christian fiction writing. How is your ‘missionary heart’ revealed? What can you do to further the work of the gospel in our world?

Christ was not Jesus’ Last Name

by Deborah Horscroft

An old joke asked, “What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common?” They have the same middle name. I don’t quite know what Christopher Robin meant by “Pooh”, but John was known as the one who baptised.

Jesus was known by many names: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, even son of Joseph and Mary. He is now most commonly known as Jesus Christ, and here the word “Christ” is Jesus’ title.

“Christ” originating from the Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew – the closest approximation in English is “The Anointed One”. People and things were ceremonially anointed with oil to signify that they had been separated for God’s purpose: that is, made “holy”. The word was also used metaphorically to mean God had shown favour or the person was chosen to fulfil God’s special purpose. For example, Cyrus the Persian was “anointed” to subdue the nations (Isaiah 45). In its article on “Messiah” The New Bible Dictionary points out that Cyrus was a kind of Messiah figure bringing the redemption of God’s people, judgement on God’s enemies and dominion over the nations. Although he did not acknowledge God, he was God’s instrument.

The Old Testament points to another Messiah who will reconcile God and his people. The prophecies say he will be a deliverer like Moses, a conqueror like David, a servant like no other, a new Israel who keeps the new covenant, a prophet, priest, king and willing sacrifice for sins.

Much of the New Testament is the story of people wrestling with what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, or Christ. Many of his day welcomed the conquering king into Jerusalem but rejected the suffering servant of God, anointed to be a holy sacrifice for sins. The Jews and Samaritans both longed for the Messiah to come, but only a few recognised Jesus the Christ.

Book Recommendation: Shadowed in Silk by Christine Lindsay

Back cover blurb:

She was invisible to those who should have loved her.

After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.

Major Geoff Richards, broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France, returns to his cavalry post in Amritsar. But his faith does little to help him understand the ruthlessness of his British peers toward the Indian people he loves. Nor does it explain how he is to protect Abby Fraser and her child from the husband who mistreats them.

Amid political unrest, inhospitable deserts, and Russian spies, tensions rise in India as the people cry for the freedom espoused by Gandhi. Caught between their own ideals and duty, Geoff and Abby stumble into sinister secrets . . . secrets that will thrust them out of the shadows and straight into the fire of revolution.

Narelle: Shadowed in Silk is different to the typical historical romance and I really enjoyed reading a book set in India. The setting is exotic and the story is beautifully written.

Abby is a woman who suffered many hardships yet is resilient in her devotion to her wayward husband and beloved son. I was drawn into the story and loved watching Abby’s spiritual journey evolve. Geoff is a widower who has lost so much in The Great War and struggles in his desire to help Abby and her son.

The intrigue and suspense in the story against the backdrop of the native Indian people seeking independence from Britain captured my interest until the very end. I highly recommend this story to those looking for a fascinating, fast paced and unique historical romance set in India during the rule of the British Raj.

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