Know Your Audience

Matt 1 22

Matthew Chapter 1

I remember in high school English classes the teachers talking about knowing your audience.  I really enjoyed math and science classes, but English and literature classes were a different story.  I really didn’t like figuring out the audience, the theme, symbolism, etc.  However, I now know that in at least some cases, the teachers were correct.  You gain a lot of extra understanding when you know the primary audience for a book.  I say primary audience in this case because I firmly believe that all of the Bible was written to everyone who will take the time to read it or listen to it.  However, the author had a primary audience they were writing to at the time.

Each gospel was written for a different primary audience.  Matthew was writing to the Jews who had a good knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures.  They would have learned the prophecies regarding the Messiah and were looking towards the fulfillment of those prophecies.

The first chapter of Matthew starts with the genealogy of Jesus.  This is the first step to showing that Jesus is the Messiah they are looking for.  Several prophecies are fulfilled in this.  The first is that the Messiah is a seed of Abraham (Gen 22:18).  The Messiah is a descendent of Isaac (Gen 21:12) and a descendent of Jacob (Num 24:17), and a descendent of Judah (Gen 49:10).  Then, skipping a few generations, the Messiah is from the line of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10) and David (Jeremiah 23:5).  All of these names are listed in the genealogy of Jesus recorded in the first seventeen verses of Matthew.

They may not have each known every one of these prophecies, but the people who first read or heard the gospel of Matthew probably knew at least some of them.

After we finish looking at the genealogy, Matthew moves on to the birth of Jesus.  Compared to the gospel of Luke (which was written primarily to the Greeks), the account of the birth of Jesus is very brief.  Why would this be?  It goes back to the primary audience, and what was necessary to show Jesus is their Messiah.

Matthew basically tells that Mary was going to have a baby, Joseph was told about it and listened to what an angel said to him, and Mary remained a virgin until Jesus was born.  Matthew then quotes an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”

We can read scripture and learn tons without understanding who the primary audience was at the time each book was written.  However, understanding the audience, culture, etc., can add a whole new dimension to our understanding.

-Andrew Hamilton


To Encourage Your Faith

Introduction to Hebrews

Hebrews 1 5b

This next week I, Kyle McClain, will be accompanying  you in reading the first six chapters of Hebrews, and the beloved Sarah Blanchard will close out the book of Hebrews the following week.  I am currently attending the Atlanta Bible College, and I will be graduating with my bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry this semester.  I hope you enjoy this week’s study of Hebrews, and I hope it positively impacts your life.

The book of Hebrews is found in the non-Pauline epistles section (Hebrews-Jude).  Many consider the book of Hebrews to be an epistle/letter.  However, it lacks all the normal marks of a New Testament letter.  If you look at the other letters/epistles from the New Testament, they identify the author and recipients, contain a formal greeting, and offer a prayer or thanksgiving.  However, Hebrews does not include any of these.  It could better be termed as an exhortation or sermon than a letter.  You can perceive Hebrews as one big sermon series; the chapters all flow together as one.  It is a stream of consciousness; it’s one flowing word of encouragement.

There are many discussions and debates as to who the author of Hebrews is.  There’s a plethora of different theories of who it could be: Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, a random follower of Paul, etc., and there’s a reason for that.  It’s because there is no clear indication in the book or church history as to who the author of Hebrews is.  It is ok not to know who wrote the book of Hebrews.  What’s important is that whatever was written was inspired by YHWH.  With that said, we do know that the author was Jewish, very well schooled in the Old Testament and Jewish philosophy, and knew Timothy.  There also seems to be a specific audience that the author wrote this for.  The audience is a group of wavering Jewish Christians.  These Jewish Christians were not confident in their faith and at times doubted the need for Christ.

Now let’s take a minute and step in the shoes of these Jewish Christians.  Ever since the time of Abraham, the Jews were looking forward for their Messiah.  For 2,000 years many came and professed to be the Messiah, but they all died and their followers soon died thereafter.  Then after 2,000 years of waiting another man by the name of “Jesus” claims to be the Messiah.  His story was different, as we all know, from the other false messiahs.  Hindsight, it is very clear to us that Jesus is the Messiah.  However, it was a very hotly debated topic back then as to if Jesus was the true Messiah.  It was not a popular belief among the Jewish population to believe Jesus was the true Messiah.  However, those Jews who did were scrutinized from their Jewish families, friends, and community.  All the people that these Jewish Christians knew, loved, and cared for despised and judged them.  Their lives were turned upside down.

It’s easy to point our fingers at these Jewish Christians and discredit them for their lack of faith in Jesus at times, but they were truly going through a lot.  The writer of Hebrews had a select group of Jewish Christians in mind who were wavering, and the author wrote Hebrews to encourage them and reassure them of the need for Jesus.  I hope that as we go along through the book of Hebrews that you too may be encouraged and reassured of the need for Jesus.

In Christian Love,

Kyle McClain

Who is the Son of God?


Luke 22

luke 22_46

Yesterday, in Luke 21 Jesus was warning the disciples (and those who would follow) of persecution while encouraging them to stand up under it.  And today, in Luke 22 Jesus himself is cast into a fierce storm of persecution.  He will now be showing – not just telling – the disciples, his contemporaries, and all those who would come after him how to stand up under persecution.

But first, a private dinner with his closest disciples to commemorate the Passover – when God saved his people from slavery by the blood of the lamb.  And very soon a new lamb would be sacrificed to save God’s people from slavery to sin.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat the Passover meal, or drink of the cup again, until the Kingdom of God comes.  Communion services are a great reminder of this promise.  At the dinner, he uses the opportunity to remind them once again the secret to great leadership – be a servant.  Stop fighting over who is best…just serve.

I love how even though Jesus knew ahead of time that Peter would fail him, he had still prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail.  And even though Satan would have the opportunity to “sift all of you as wheat,”  Jesus saw a future for Peter in which Peter would be using those painful experiences to help strengthen his brothers.
And then, in the garden while Jesus is pouring his heart out in prayer – his disciples are sleeping.  I wonder how many times he would prod me and say, “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  How much better would Peter – or I – stand Satan’s arrows if he – or I – were fully filled up with prayer rather than whatever feels good or most urgent at the moment?

Enter, Judas – and the chief priests and the guards and the great betrayal!  And even in the midst of the hurt and personal persecution – Jesus gives healing as he restores the servant’s ear.

Early the next morning, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and elders and is questioned about who he is. Is he the Messiah?

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

They didn’t expect the Son of God to have appeared as a baby in a manger.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to have a rag-tag group of followers in the countryside.  They didn’t expect the Son of God to be persecuted at their own hands.  Beware of what you expect from the Son of God.  Keep reading the gospels – and all of God’s Word to see who God really is, and who the Son of God is!

-Marcia Railton



The Boy who Changed – and Is Still Changing – the World

Luke 2

Luke 2 final

“Do not be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-12


Today, we are reading through Luke chapter 2 which contains one of the most popular accounts written in the Bible—which is the birth of the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. Regardless of our religious affiliation or background, we are familiar with the story line. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be registered under Caesar Augustus’s decree. While there, it comes time for Mary to give birth. Because there is no room in any inn, she must give birth in a stable.


For us, this narrative is important because it is the beginning of the story of a man who turned (and is still turning) the world upside down. We can skip forward and see how much of an impact Jesus had on so many, and we can also see how he works in our lives today.


But imagine being in the shoes of Mary, Joseph, and even the shepherds. They weren’t able to skip ahead, they had to live it out. For Mary and Joseph, they had to trust in God that he would see them through. They had to have strong enough faith that God would do what he said he would do. For the shepherds, imagine going from a normal day to having an angel tell you that the Son of God has been born. The Messiah is here! It is even written that they were terrified (Luke 2:9).


Why does this matter? I just think it’s important for us to realize that these heroes we read about in the Bible were more than just characters. They were real people. They didn’t get the luxury of knowing what was written on the next page. They had fears, and they weren’t perfect. They had to trust in God and his purpose. They had to believe that God was going to hold their hand through everything. Imagine the trust! Imagine the faith!


So as you read today, place yourself in their shoes. Because if we can understand what Mary and Joseph went through, maybe we can learn to emulate their faith in our own lives.


-Leslie Jones



News Too Good to Keep Silent

Mark 10 52a

As we continue to work our way through Mark, we approach the end of one of Mark’s most intriguing themes: Jesus’ emphasis on keeping his identity secret.  So far in the gospel, whenever Jesus has acted in a way that would point out that he is the messiah, he has quickly followed his action with a command for those in-the-know to be silent.

Biblical scholars call this the “Messianic Secret” of Mark.  And honestly, it’s still largely a mystery as to why Jesus does this and why Mark records it as a prevalent theme throughout his gospel.  In fact, Luke was so uncomfortable with this idea that it was explained as an attempt by Jesus to not be overwhelmed by large crowds (Luke 5:15-16).  Remember, Luke and Matthew based their gospels off of Mark’s framework.  So the healing of the leper in Mark 1 shows up in Luke 5 and Matthew 8 from their perspective.

I say all of this to point out that Mark 10 marks (ha!) the end of the Messianic Secret.  In verses 46-52 we have the story of the healing of Bartimaeus.  In the final verse, Jesus says, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  That’s it!  Before this, we would have expected Jesus to say something like “Be healed, but shush!”  No, instead Jesus heals him and that’s it.  The missing admonition is emphasized even more because in the opening of the scene, it is all of Jesus’s followers who were telling him to be quiet…very interesting… But, Jesus himself says nothing.  While Jesus may be the first example of being emo (‘I liked being quiet before it was a thing.  Now that it’s a thing, don’t.’), I don’t think that’s what Jesus or Mark had in mind.

If we look back at chapter 1 of Mark, Jesus’ first miracle happens in the synagogue (church).  He casts an unclean spirit from a man (Mark 1:23-28) telling the spirit to “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Whoa!  The first thing Jesus says is shut it!  Now, in Mark 10, Jesus’ final miracle is the healing of Bartimaeus and he doesn’t say anything about silence.  And, it’s a miracle where a man’s sight is restored!  If Jesus is trying to hide his messiah-ship, then the restoration of sight (seeing that Jesus is the messiah) is the perfect way to emphasize it’s end.

So, what happens next?  The triumphant entry into Jerusalem where EVERYONE sees and claims the messianic nature of Jesus.  Whoa!  Mark is doing some crazy, mind-blowing stuff here that would work on even the best dramatic television shows today.

As we continue to explore Mark, we’ll get to see how this theme becomes a critical foundation for what is to come and for Mark’s final message to his reader.  So, stick around and we’ll keep digging through this amazing text together.

-Graysen Pack

Why Am I Reading This?

John 20-21


Saturday, June 3

If you are in high school, you have asked this question sometime this year. If you are in college, the question probably gives you flashbacks of finals. If you are like me, you are 300 pages deep in a 400 page textbook by the time the question comes up. By that point, you are too doggedly determined to put the book down. “By gum, I’m gonna finish it!” the stubborn, stalwart voice in my head says.
Truthfully, it is a great question. When we ask, “Why am I reading/watching/listening/responding to this?” we ask a bunch of questions at once. What do I hope to gain from this? How will this knowledge inform my future actions? In what way does this information or content contribute to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial success and well-being? And the answers to “why am I reading this?” may be diverse. Maybe, like us college & graduate school students, you read something simply to gain the information from it for a test or project. Maybe you are reading to make wiser decisions in the future. But beyond these questions, which we ask of ourselves, this is also a question we ask of the author. We are also asking, “Why did you write this?” Why did J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to paper and craft some of the most iconic stories ever? (Lord of the Rings) Why did C.S. Lewis tell of magic (The Chronicles of Narnia), of angels and demons (The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy), and teach through his lovable, accessible, British way (Mere Christianity)?
In the Bible, this question doesn’t get answered too often. The Book of Job doesn’t tell us why the author wrote it. Sure we have very informed guesses, like, “The good and righteous will suffer. That is the way of this world.” But never once does the author tell us WHY he (or she) wrote the text. The authors of Matthew, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, similarly did not take the time to tell you why they wrote. Again, there is a case to be made that the purpose can be found, like “to record history.” But then, why is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life so different than John’s, and why do 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles differ so greatly in their retelling of the same events? (There are answers to these questions. They are not easy answers, but they help us in understanding the text, if we are willing to do the work.)
All this is to point to two of my favorite verses in the entire Bible, John 20:30-31. If you have never memorized a verse in your life (John 3:16?), seriously, start with these two in John, because they could basically sum up the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. Actually, there is a case to be made that the ENTIRE BIBLE could be summed up in these beautiful words.
John 20:30-31 –  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
The author of John completely acknowledges he left things out. It doesn’t matter to him that every single detail down the line be absolutely perfect. He does not even begin to suggest that he told the story in chronological order. There is no way to make the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and John compatible, with one single “correct order of the life of Jesus.” That isn’t the author’s point. The author didn’t write this Gospel to give us another “play-by-play” of Jesus’ life.
What the author does say, the reason why he put his pen to paper, what the Spirit was doing in him when it moved in and used him to write down words through the authors hand and brain, is so that YOU may believe. You reader. Not another “you”. I’m talking to you. These signs, these teachings, this crucifixion and death are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The author cares about how you deal with this. See, if at the end of the day you are done reading John and you say “Jesus was a really good man” or “Jesus was a wise teacher” then YOU’VE MISSED THE POINT. The point is not that Jesus was a pretty cool dude, or that he was a man who died for what he believed in. He was inaugurating the Kingdom of God by coming, and that we can choose to be a part of God’s Kingdom now; in other words, he is the Messiah. He came to live a perfect life, overcome the world, and be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; in other words, he is the Son of God. Any other reading of John is a mistake. It is wrong. Jesus is not just another good leader, good religious teacher, good dude. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son.
If you end up believing in WHO Jesus is, in WHO he pointed us toward, in WHAT he was doing by ushering in a new way of being, then you have hit the point of the message of Jesus. You understand what the author of John was doing in all these many chapters, in signs, teachings, moments with the Savior. Moreover, by believing in Jesus, you will have life in his name, eternal life, abundant life now that can’t help but last forever! I hope that is where you find yourself today. The reason why I write so much about John is because I love it. I am a mess. I am a broken and sinful mess. But there are a couple things I know. I see these signs, these miracles and this death and resurrection and I have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And because I believe, I know that I have life because of him. I didn’t earn it. I don’t deserve. But I’ve got it. Come, you who are also undeserving, just like me. You sinners like me. You broken messes like me. Jake, like John, calls out “Believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing, you too can have life in his name!”
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit:

Life Everlasting

John 10-11

john 11

Monday, May 29

Yesterday we saw Jesus give a man sight; if you thought that was cool, get ready to have your mind blown!
Jesus had some good friends. We know about Peter, James and John, who were his closest disciples. They went with him when he was “transfigured.” (Remember this story from Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9.) These guys saw Jesus do things that no one else saw, which is pretty amazing. But Jesus’ friendships didn’t only include his disciples. In the city of Bethany, south-east of Jerusalem lived two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. These three people seem to be good friends of Jesus. These people trust in Jesus (11:21-22) and know that God will raise the dead (11:24). But when Lazarus gets sick, Jesus doesn’t go to visit him and Lazarus dies.
Now, Jesus is the man who has saved people from the brink of death. This is the man who walked on water. This is the man who has constant communion with the God of the universe. This is the man who is the Resurrection and the life. But what does this man do? He weeps. Jesus does not bottle his emotions, he does not try to put on a happy face and “celebrate the life” of Lazarus. He weeps. Jesus knows the sting of death.
But then Jesus changes everything. There are miracles of children being raised to life from death in scripture. But, the Jewish belief at the time of Jesus was that after three days they were gone. There was “no hope” after three days, and even these trusters-in-Jesus seem to think so. Martha says, literally “Lord, he stinks. It’s been four days.” This is the man beyond all hope, but Jesus is bigger than even our hope. He simply speaks the words, “Lazarus come out” and out he comes, alive and struggling out of his grave cloths. Jesus proves who he is, Jesus is not simply a good man, but he is the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE!
Again there are some take away thoughts that I’d like to have rattle around in your brain:
First, death is awful. Seriously, it sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether it is your pet cat, your grandmother, your mom and dad, or your child, death is terrible, horrific, evil. Death is an enemy. If you have lost someone, allow yourself to feel the loss. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life Himself did not try and cheer everyone up. When you have lost someone, you need to grieve as God has made you to grieve. Do you weep in a corner? Do you play sports until you can’t stand? Do you write music on a guitar and play until you fingers bleed? This grief is acceptable. Allow God to speak into your grief, but don’t feel ashamed.
But, secondly, that’s not the last story. There is life again. Death doesn’t win! Spoilers, God kills death. What a beautiful irony! God takes the thing that destroys the people he loves and destroys it. “Death” is not the final word; the final word is “Life” with God in Christ!
You can experience this. It is not hidden and unaccessible to you. This life is available for anyone and everyone. Do you want to have Resurrection and Life? Can you say what Martha said?  “Yes, Lord. I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.” (John 11:27) Does this sound familiar? John 20:30-31 reads, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” Do you believe?
Do you want this life? It’s not JUST for the future. This week we also read “10:10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Do you want life? Do you want an abundant life? Christianity is not just good life for later, but abundant, God-bathed life now and eternal, blissful life later. That is not just good news. That is GREAT NEWS. May you believe in Christ and begin to experience the abundant life that overflows into eternal life by believing in his name!
In Christ,
Jake Ballard
(Photo Credit: