Robbing God of Glory

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 20:12-21 ESV

Hezekiah shows the Babylonian messengers his treasures (2 Kings 20, 13). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

For whatever reason, the author of 2 Kings provides no details concerning Hezekiah’s reaction to his miraculous healing or to God’s gracious gift of 15 more years of life. This man had been near death and had been told by the prophet of God that his days were numbered. He was deathly sick and helpless to do anything about his situation, so he cried out to God. And Yahweh responded by restoring his health and promising to extend his reign by 15 years. Yet, the author simply skips to the next story without providing any insight into Hezekiah’s response to this wonderful gift from God. But if we turn to 2 Chronicles 32, we discover that the newly healed king did not respond with humble gratitude, but with pride.

Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 32:25 NLT

Perhaps Hezekiah’s new lease on life had gone to his head. He had narrowly escaped the clutches of death and was back to full health. On top of that, the Assyrian menace had all but disappeared. His kingdom was secure and he was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But he failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. He neglected to offer any form of sacrifice to express his thanks to Yahweh. And this arrogant display of ingratitude brought God’s anger against the king, his capital, and the nation of Judah.

Once again, we’re given little in the way of details. The author does not tell us what form God’s judgment took. But it had its intended effect.

Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:26 NLT

God’s wrath was abated but it seems that Hezekiah’s pride was not. It seems that Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent emissaries to visit him. By the time these men had made the long trek from Babylon to Jerusalem, Hezekiah had been healed. So, when they arrived, the newly revived king decided to impress his guests by giving them the grand tour of the royal capital. And he showed them everything.

Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 NLT

But to better understand what is going on here, we need to turn back to 2 Chronicles 32 for context. It would appear that King Hezekiah not only enjoying renewed health but a revitalized kingdom with a reinvigorated economy. Things were booming in Judah.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Hezekiah had it all: Health, wealth, and prosperity. And he was more than happy to display the full extent of his power and possessions to his foreign guests. But the author 2 Chronicles reveals an important detail that must not be overlooked. The visiting Babylonian emissaries wanted to know “about the sign that had been done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV). Evidently, upon their arrival, they had been told how the king had been healed by God. Someone had shared with them about the miracle of the shadow reversing itself on the steps of Ahaz. And they were intrigued and eager to hear more. In other words, Hezekiah was being given a chance to brag about his God. But the passage tells us that “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV).

God stood back and watched to see how Hezekiah would respond to this opportunity. But rather than declare the glory and the goodness of Yahweh to his pagan guests, Hezekiah bragged about himself. He said nothing about his miraculous healing or of God’s promise to extend his reign an additional 15 years. And he fails to even mention the miraculous sign. His entire exchange with these men was centered upon himself. Look closely at how the author describes Hezekiah’s actions:

…he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 ESV

It was all about him. And when Hezekiah is confronted by the prophet Isaiah, he further confirms the self-centered nature of his interaction with the envoys.

“They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” – 2 Kings 20:15 ESV

Not once does Hezekiah mention Yahweh. He doesn’t even acknowledge God as the source behind all his possession, including his very life. And with this incredible display of self-adulation, Hezekiah failed the test and revealed exactly what was in his heart. So, Isaiah delivered what should have been a devastating bit of bad news:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – 2 Kings 20:17 ESV

And, as if that was not bad enough, Isaiah adds another element to God’s divine judgment against Hezekiah and Judah.

“…some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20:18 ESV

And to our shock and surprise, Hezekiah responds favorably to the prophet’s words. He isn’t even fazed by the news that his sons will be taken as captives and forced to become eunuchs to the king of Babylon. He hears all of this as good news. Why? Because all Hezekiah really cared about was himself. Look closely at his response to Isaiah.

“At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – 2 Kings 20:19 NLT

According to 2 Chronicles 32:27, “Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored.” He enjoyed great prestige, power, and a time of unprecedented peace. And as long as he was able to keep what he had, he was willing to sacrifice the future, even if it meant that his sons would suffer so that he could prosper.

What makes this story even more disheartening is the fact that, at one time, Hezekiah had penned a poem to Yahweh, expressing his gratitude for his healing. Immediately after receiving the news that God would graciously deliver him from death, Hezekiah had taken the time to put his thoughts in writing. Look closely at what he said:

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.
For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.
Only the living can praise you as I do today.
    Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next.
Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me!
    I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord. – Isaiah 38:16-20 NLT

They say time heals all wounds. But in Hezekiah’s case, time became his enemy. The further he got away from his near-death experience and his miraculous healing by God, the more forgetful and ungrateful he became. His focus shifted from the goodness and greatness of God to his own power and possessions. He became self-obsessed and myopic in his outlook and, as a result, he lost sight of the glory and grandeur of God. And it would be the prophet Isaiah who would write his own poem concerning Yahweh, that should have served as a wake-up call to the pride-filled and self-possessed king of Judah.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Where Are the Gods?

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:26-37 ESV

This entire scene is filled with a sense of nervous anticipation. The people of Judah are lining the eastern walls of the city, overlooking the Kidron Valley, where the Assyrian army lies spread out before them in numbers too great to count. But their eyes are locked on the three emissaries whom King Hezekiah commissioned to discuss terms of peace with the Assyrians. Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah hold the fate of the nation in their hands. The people know that the negotiating skills of these three men will determine whether Judah stands or falls. So, all eyes are fixed on the momentous scene taking place at the base of the walls of the city.

But the Rabshakeh, or supreme commander of the Assyrian army, is not interested in peace negotiations. He has come to demand the unconditional surrender of the city and its inhabitants. He and his troops have repeatedly proven their superior power and he is confident that the city of Jerusalem will be one more domino to fall as they continue their conquest of Palestine. Speaking on behalf of his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh declares Hezekiah’s rebellion to be ill-conceived and ill-fated.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? – 2 Kings 18:19-20 NLT

With the citizens of Jerusalem looking on and listening in, this arrogant military commander summarily dismisses any likelihood that the Egyptians will come to the aid of the city. The last-minute military alliance that King Hezekiah made with Pharaoh will prove disappointingly insufficient. The Rabshakeh sarcastically compares Pharaoh to a cane or walking stick made from a reed. It may appear to give support, but it will shatter as soon as any weight is placed upon it.

And the overly confident Assyrian commander informs the Jewish emissaries that if they are holding out hope that Yahweh will come to their rescue, they will find themselves sorely disappointed. Their deity will join a long list of other gods who proved unsuccessful in stopping the Assyrian juggernaut. And, hoping to further undermine their faith in divine rescue, the Rabshakeh announces to the people of Judah that Yahweh had ordered their destruction.

“What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”  2 Kings 18:25 NLT

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah could sense that all this boastful rhetoric was having its intended effect. The Rabshakeh had purposefully delivered his message in Hebrew so that all the people on the wall could hear what he had to say. And they were growing increasingly more concerned. When the king’s three emissaries asked that the conversation be switched to Aramaic, the Rabshakeh refused and called out in a loud voice, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (2 Kings 18:27 NLT).

At this point, the Rabshakeh turns his attention to the people on the walls of the city. He begins to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion by raising questions concerning King Hezekiah’s intentions and trustworthiness. By addressing the people directly, the Rabshakeh hopes to foment an uprising within the walls of the city, inciting the citizens to turn on their king and demand that he spare their lives by surrendering to the Assyrians. And to help sweeten the pot, the Rabshakeh offers them tempting promises of peace and prosperity.

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death! – 2 Kings 18:31-32 NLT

Look closely at what the Assyrian king is offering the people of Judah. Essentially, this pagan king is putting himself in the place of God, promising to meet all their needs. He will supply them with ample food and drink. He will provide them with fresh water. And he will take them to “a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey.” That should sound familiar. When God had called Moses to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, He had promised to lead them to a “fertile and spacious land…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 NLT). And after God had successfully freed them from their captivity and led them to the land of Canaan, He had reminded them again of His promise to give them “a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT).

Now, centuries later, here was the pagan king of Assyria offering to replicate what God had done for His chosen people. If they would only turn their backs on Yahweh and trust in King Sennacherib, he would provide for all their needs and take them to a new “promised land.”

Sennacherib was placing himself in the role of God, declaring himself to be the source of life and death. By placing their trust in him, they would be assured of peace, prosperity, and life. But centuries earlier, Moses had delivered a much different message to the people of Israel. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land of promise for the very first time, he had warned them:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT

Sennacherib was playing God. This over-confident king with an overactive ego was daring to place himself on equal standing with God Almighty. And he was attempting to persuade the people of Judah to abandon their hope and trust in Yahweh by offering them a “better” promised land.

But while the people on the wall were disturbed by what they heard, they obeyed King Hezekiah’s command and remained silent. And the three emissaries, their clothes torn in an act of mourning, returned to the king and reported all that they had heard. It was a dark day in Judah. The enemy was at the gate. The allies of Judah were nowhere to be found. But despite the boasts of the Rabshakeh, the God of Judah was still on His throne and in complete control of all that was happening. He alone held the power of life and death in His hands. And King Sennacherib and his overconfident military commander were about to discover the painful lesson that they were no match for the all-powerful God of Judah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Famine to Feasting

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.’ 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

32 Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” 33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” 

1 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”2 Kings 6:24-7:2 ESV

One thing that becomes painfully evident when reading God’s Word is that it tends to paint humanity in far-from-flattering terms. The characters found in the Bible are presented with all their flaws fully exposed. We get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of their character. There are examples of mankind’s more positive traits, but they seem few and far between. From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing chapters of Revelation, the fallen nature of humanity is presented with painstaking accuracy. Throughout the book, we see a litany of vices on display, including all of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. There are countless stories that chronicle mankind’s stubbornness, arrogance, and selfishness. And they are intended to stand in stark contrast to the righteousness of God. All throughout the Bible, we see fallen humanity displayed against the stark backdrop of God’s incomparable holiness. Yet the stories of their unfaithfulness, arrogance, pride, and sin are seamlessly woven together with the countless examples of God’s power and sovereignty. We have one such example in today’s passage.

For some time, Ben-hadad II, the king of Syria, had been trying to develop secret plans to invade Israel. But each time he attempted to put them into action, the Israelites were one step ahead of him. He discovered that Elisha the prophet had been receiving secret intel on all their planning sessions, and it had come directly from Yahweh, the God of Israel. Since Ben-hadad couldn’t do anything to stop Yahweh, he decided to capture Elisha. But, once again, his strategy failed miserably. When his troops laid siege to the city of Dothan, where Elisha was living, God blinded them. Then Elisha led them to Samaria, where the king of Israel spared their lives and threw them a feast. These men returned home, grateful to be alive.

But then we read, “Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24 ESV). We’re not told how much time transpired between Ben-hadad’s last failed attempt to attack Israel and this latest campaign. But it’s quite clear that he had not given up his intentions to conquer the nation of Israel. This man’s stubborn persistence is on display. Despite what had happened to his troops the last time they went into Israelite territory, he was determined to carry out his latest plans.

As a result of the siege, the conditions inside Samaria quickly deteriorated. Food became scarce and the people within the walls of the city became desperate. Price gouging was prevalent because there was nothing to eat. People were willing to pay exorbitant prices for anything that even remotely resembled food.

The siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five pieces of silver. –  2 Kings 6:25 NLT 

These were desperate times. And to make sure we understand just how bad things had become, the author reveals that the people had resorted to cannibalism. And to make matters worse, it involved a mother sacrificing her infant son so that she and her friends could survive. This sickening story is told to King Jehoram as he walked along the walls of the city, surveying the worsening conditions of his people. What makes this incident all the more repulsive is that it involved deceit and dishonesty. Facing starvation, two mothers had agreed to kill their own children and eat their flesh in order to survive. One had followed through on her commitment, but when it came time for the second mother to kill her child, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

King Jehoram was sickened by what he heard and tore his clothes as a sign of mourning. Yet, rather than see the situation as a sign of God’s judgment against apostate Israel, the king decided to blame Elisha.

“May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day.” – 2 Kings 6:31 NLT

Jehoram was about to make the age-old mistake of killing the messenger. He knew that Elisha spoke for God, so he assumed that if he could eliminate the prophet, the conditions in Samaria would improve. But Elisha was not the cause of his problem or the source behind the judgment he was experiencing. It was the sovereign, all-powerful hand of God.

Jehoram’s decision to kill God’s prophet was doomed to failure. But fueled by anger, arrogance, and pride, the king sent a messenger to retrieve Elisha and bring him back to the palace. But Elisha was one step ahead of Jehoram, having been informed by God of the king’s intentions.

“A murderer has sent a man to cut off my head. When he arrives, shut the door and keep him out. We will soon hear his master’s steps following him.” – 2 Kings 6:32 NLT

When the messenger arrived, he found the door to Elisha’s home blocked. So, he delivered his message from the king.

“All this misery is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” – 2 Kings 6:33 NLT

Jehoram acknowledged that God was behind the siege, but he also revealed his doubt that God would ever rescue them. Since he couldn’t take out his frustration on God, he had decided to kill God’s prophet. He was following the same strategy his mother Jezebel had used. When Elijah had defeated and killed the 450 prophets of Baal, she had ordered his death (1 Kings 19:2). Now, years later, here was her son attempting to thwart the plan of God by killing the prophet of God. Jehoram’s pride, arrogance, and anger are on full display. But at no point does he take ownership of his godless leadership of the nation. He displays no remorse or repentance.

But the prophet delivered an unexpected and inexplicable message to the king.

“Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” – 2 Kings 7:1 NLT

Things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. In just 24 hours, God was going to miraculously reverse the conditions in Samaria. The long-lasting famine would come to an abrupt end and the people living inside the walls of Samaria would suddenly find food readily available and at affordable prices. But the king’s messenger found Elisha’s prediction to be far-fetched and refused to believe a word he said.

“That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

This arrogant man questioned the words of the prophet but, more importantly, he doubted the power of God. And Elisha warned him that he would pay dearly for his mistake.

“You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

God was about to do something incredible but this emissary of the king refused to believe that any of it was possible. Like his boss, he had long ago given up any belief in the sovereignty and power of Yahweh. From his godless and apostate perspective, this problem was too big, even for God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Pride Goes Before Destruction

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place.

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 11:41-12:15 ESV

As God had promised, Solomon was allowed to complete his reign with his kingdom still intact. But upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne, would find himself facing a God-ordained crisis that would leave his kingdom divided and greatly diminished. It would be easy to sympathize with poor Rehoboam because he is completely unaware of what is about to happen. The day of his coronation should have been one of the most joyous occasions of his life. He was inheriting the vast kingdom his father had established but all the wealth and riches that Solomon had accumulated over the last four decades. He was a lucky young man. But the reader has a distinct advantage over Rehoboam. He knows something of which the new king is most likely unaware. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to divide the kingdom of Israel, awarding ten of the tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Rehoboam with only one.

For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:34-36 NLT

But any sorrow one might feel for Rehoboam is quickly dispelled when his true nature becomes apparent as he attempts to handle his first official crisis as king. For some undisclosed reason, Rehoboam had decided to hold his coronation ceremony in the city of Shechem, located in the land that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. His decision to hold this important ceremony outside the city of Jerusalem may indicate that he was aware of the potential problem with Jeroboam. It is likely that Solomon had warned Rehoboam about the potential threat from the Ephraimites. Prior to his death, Solomon had become aware of the prediction concerning Jeroboam, made by Ahijah the prophet, and he had attempted to have Jeroboam murdered. Jeroboam, who was an Ephraimite, had been assigned the task of supervising the conscripted labor force from among his own people. And in performing his duties, he had become aware of the heavy burden Solomon had placed upon the Ephraimites and other northern tribes.

So, Rehoboam may have moved his coronation to Shechem in an attempt to placate and win over the disgruntled Ephraimites. But this ploy would prove unsuccessful.

From his place of exile in Egypt, Jeroboam heard the news that Solomon had died, and he returned to Israel, where he was promptly appointed the official spokesperson for the tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam arrived in Shechem for his coronation, he was met by a large contingent of the people who made an appeal through their appointed leader, Jeroboam.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

Notice that Jeroboam did not restate the words of the prophet. He did boast about the promise God had made, declaring that he was going to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. There were no threats of insurrection or insurgency. He simply expressed the grievances of the people and their desire to have the heavy burdens of labor and taxation reduced.

This was a defining moment for Rehoboam. He could have seen this as an opportunity to unify the nation by demonstrating his intentions to be a fair and just king. Even though he was the son of Solomon, Rehoboam was going to have win the favor and trust of the people. And he was being given the opportunity to rectify some of his father’s less-than-stellar policies.

Having heard their complaints, Rehoboam sent the people away, assuring them that he would take everything into consideration and return with a decision. As the son of Solomon, the man who compiled and edited an entire book of proverbial sayings, Rehoboam would have grown up hearing all the sage advice his father had gathered.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22 ESV

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18 ESV

Only with sound guidance should you wage war, and victory lies in a multitude of counselors. – Proverbs 24:6 BSB

So, it should come as no surprise that Rehoboam sought counsel. He first “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). These men advised Rehoboam that he could win over the hearts of the people if he would respond favorably to their request. He could forestall any potential unrest by demonstrating that he was, first and foremost, the servant of all the people. While Rehoboam was from the tribe of Judah, he was expected to serve as God’s shepherd over all the tribes of Israel. By making this concession, Rehoboam could avoid a rebellion and establish himself as a compassionate and caring king.

But Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard. The author flatly states, “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). And in doing so, Rehoboam lived out the truth revealed in the proverbs his father had so painstakingly collected.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. – Proverbs 8:33 BSB

Unlike his father, Rehoboam had not been given the gift of wisdom from God. He was young and inexperienced and in desperate need of wise counsel. But when he received it, he rejected it, choosing instead to seek out those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Disliking the counsel of the older and wiser men, Rehoboam turned to his peers for advice. And they were more than eager to give it.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’” – 1 Kings 12:10-11 NLT

These brash young men appealed to Rehoboam’s ego. They advised him to law down the law and establish his reputation as a no-holds-barred disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist. These young men knew Rehoboam well and their advice was meant to appeal to his over-inflated ego and his desperate desire to escape the shadow of his father’s reputation. And in a demonstration of his inherent foolishness and pride, Rehoboam heeded the counsel of his peers and handed down his decision to the people. And in doing so, he fulfilled the words of the proverb.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe. – Proverbs 28:26 NLT

Rather than humbly heed the pleas of his people, Rehoboam listened to his own heart. But the author reveals that this was all part of the sovereign will of God.

…it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. – 1 Kings 12:15 ESV

God didn’t force Rehoboam to do what he did. This stubborn and prideful young man simply acted according to his own sinful nature. But in doing so, he was fulfilling the will of God. Rehoboam’s decision would fuel the fire that would end up burning down his kingdom. In his foolish attempt to establish himself as a great king, Rehoboam was unwittingly destroying his own kingdom. And, once again, he was living out the wisdom of the proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Careful What You Ask For

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:32-45 ESV

For the third time, Jesus reveals to His disciples what awaits Him in Jerusalem, including additional details that paint an even bleaker picture. They are making their way from the region of Perea to the capital city, and it is a somber and silent procession. This time, there are no arguments about greatness taking place among the disciples. They are still trying to take in all that Jesus had shared with them while they were in Perea. And the last thing they heard Him say must have made an impact on them.

“I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions…” – Mark 10:29-30 NLT

To their shock and surprise, Jesus had told them that one of the rewards awaiting them for having left everything to follow Him (Mark 10:28) was persecution. They each aspired to greatness, but Jesus had thrown cold water on those lofty aspirations, promoting a lifestyle of humility and service instead. In fact, He had turned their expectations upside down by claiming, “many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31 ESV).

So, as Jesus leads the way, the 12 disciples and a small contingent of other faithful followers tag along behind Him, confused and perplexed about what may lie ahead.

Jesus, fully aware of their reservations about returning to Jerusalem, pulls aside the 12 and provides them with one last reminder of His fate.

“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.” – Mark 10:33-34 NLT

Jesus was painfully explicit, refusing to hide the truth from His disciples. They are on the path that leads to Jerusalem, and Jesus reminds them that once they reach their destination, all hell will break loose – literally. The religious leaders of Israel will allow their hatred of Jesus to come to an explosive crescendo, resulting in His torture and execution. The one they consider to be the Messiah of Israel is telling them that He is going to die. Rather than being crowned the King of Israel, He will be condemned to death. Instead of being revered as the chosen one of God, He will be ridiculed and mocked as a common criminal, then killed.

But, as He had done before, Jesus adds the most important detail that His disciples continue to ignore: “after three days, he will rise again” (Mark 10:34 NLT).

What happens next is truly amazing, and it portrays the disciples in a very unflattering light. But it is not the first time these men revealed their true colors. In the previous chapter, Mark recorded their response to another one of Jesus’ attempts to explain His destiny in Jerusalem. The disciples had gotten into an argument over which of them was the greatest.

This time, it’s James and John who get exposed for their insensitivity and apparent stupidity. They just didn’t get it. Nothing Jesus had said seemed to have registered with them. Perhaps they were simply trying to avoid the awkward subject Jesus had raised. But, whatever their motive, their actions are difficult to comprehend or justify. Immediately after hearing Jesus describe His pending death in Jerusalem, these two brothers have the unmitigated gall to approach Jesus with a totally self-centered request.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. – Mark 10:35 NLT

These two men were the sons of Salome, the sister of Mary. This would have made them the half-cousins of Jesus. And it would appear that they believed their blood ties to Jesus qualified them for special treatment. In essence, they ask Jesus for a blank check. They want Him to affirm their request even before they make it known. But Jesus makes no such assurances, instead, He asks them to state their request. And what they share is truly remarkable and unfathomable.

“Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

Had they heard nothing Jesus had said? Were they so incredibly dense that they could not comprehend a single word He had spoken to them? All His comments regarding greatness in the Kingdom of God had gone in one ear and out the other. They were still expecting Jesus to ascend the throne of David and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, and they were hoping to nab the two most powerful and prominent positions in His administration. These two fishermen from Galilee were demanding that Jesus elevate them to the two highest ranks available in any royal court. When they had heard Jesus say, “many who are first will be last, and the last first,” they had completely misconstrued His meaning. They must have assumed that their lowly estate as fishermen made them the perfect candidates for these two highly prestigious roles.

But they had no idea what they were asking. When they mentioned Jesus coming into His glory, there were thinking a royal throne. But Jesus had referred to His glory as being His crucifixion. He told His disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25 ESV). 

The cross would be the means by which Jesus received glory from the Father. He would die, but then He would be raised back to life again. And it would be His death and resurrection that provided the final proof that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. That is why Jesus was able to say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John clarified that Jesus was speaking of His death.

He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32 ESV

So, when James and John asked for the right to sit on Jesus’ right and left when He came into His glory, they were unwittingly asking to take the place of the two thieves who would be crucified beside Him. That’s why Jesus told them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). 

Their understanding of glory was way off. They were thinking of thrones, crowns, royal robes, power, and prominence. But Jesus was speaking of doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He would be “lifted up,” but to a cross and not to a royal dais with a golden throne. Jesus’ path to greatness and glory would pass through the valley of death. He would have to drink the cup of God’s wrath and be immersed into the suffering that must accompany the sacrifice of His life for the sins of mankind.

James and John, still unable to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words, boldly proclaimed their readiness and willingness to handle whatever responsibilities came with their new positions. But Jesus informed them that their time would come. They would get their opportunity to prove their allegiance by experiencing the same kind of harsh treatment from the world as Jesus was about to undergo.

“You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience.” – Mark 10:39 NLT

James would be the first of the disciples to become a martyr for the cause of Christ (Acts 12:2). John would later be exiled by the Roman Emperor to the island of Patmos. And it is believed that he too eventually suffered a martyr’s death. But both men would be glorified and reunited with Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom.

When news of what James and John had done reached the rest of the disciples, they were incensed. Once again, the issue of greatness raised its ugly head as the remaining disciples fumed over the attempt of James and John to secure for themselves the two best spots in Jesus’ royal administration. And once again, we see that none of the 12 disciples were able to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Their anger reveals their jealousy and thinly veiled hope that they might be chosen for greatness. So, one more time, Jesus attempts to open their eyes to the truth. He contrasts the ways of the world with the ways of the Kingdom of God. They are two diametrically opposed systems that promote completely different brands of leadership.

In the Gentile world, leadership was all about power and domination. It was maintained by wielding authority and motivated by self-promotion and the subjugation of others. But God’s Kingdom operated on a completely different paradigm.

“…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.” – Mark 10:44 NLT

And just to make sure they understood what He was talking about, Jesus used Himself as the quintessential example of true greatness.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 NLT

Jesus was about to lay down His life for the sheep. Even though He was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, He was going to make the ultimate sacrifice that would pay the ransom for the sins of mankind. He would lead by serving. He would display His sovereignty by sacrificing. He would achieve glory through dying. And when James and John later witnessed the two thieves hanging on either side of their friend and teacher, it seems likely that their awkward conversation with Jesus would have come to mind. There before them was the greatest display of what Jesus had been trying to tell them. The innocent Lamb of God dying on behalf of sinful men and flanked by two common criminals who deserved exactly what was happening to them. In that moment, James and John must have realized that those were the two positions they had so arrogantly requested and so rightfully deserved.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Price Are You Willing to Pay?

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Mark 10:17-23 ESV

What happens next provides a perfect juxtaposition to all that Jesus has been trying to teach His disciples. He has been addressing their pride and the unhealthy competitive spirit that had caused them to argue over who among them was spiritually superior. It is likely that Peter, James, and John had bragged about their adventure with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, leaving the other disciples envious of the special treatment these three had received from Jesus. Each of the 12 disciples was trying to earn his way into Jesus’ good graces, hoping to secure a position of prominence in His coming Kingdom. And John had revealed their disdain for anybody outside of their circle who might hone in on their territory and rob them of glory. When he and his fellow disciples had discovered someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus, they had rebuked him, demanding that he cease and desist. But Jesus had surprised John by commending the stranger for His actions, saying, “the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40 ESV).

And in an effort to convict the disciples of their unhealthy obsession with greatness, Jesus had repeatedly used children as a way to illustrate the kind of attitude He was looking for in His followers. When the disciples had tried to send away the parents who were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might bless them, Jesus had declared, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15 NLT).

The disciples had viewed these children as a distraction. From their perspective, children were non-contributors, who required far too much attention, and could provide no real assistance when it came to the work that needed to be done. They had no rights, no money, no skills, and no way of helping Jesus usher in His Kingdom. So, why waste time with them?

And it was at this point that a young man approached Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV). Matthew adds that the man’s request was focused on what “good deed” he must do to inherit eternal life. From the conversation that followed, it seems clear that the men believed he had already done enough. He was young and rich, and from the perspective of most Jews, he was already blessed by God because of his wealth. He was also a religious man because when Jesus lists six of the Ten Commandments and tells the man to keep them, the man proudly announces, “all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20 ESV).

This man was looking for confirmation, not a list of things to do. As a faithful Jew, he believed he was a child of Abraham and, therefore, a rightful heir to eternal life. As a descendant of Abraham, he was guaranteed a place in God’s eternal Kingdom. Now, he was asking Jesus to place His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on his life.

The wording of the man’s question is very specific. He uses the word klēronomeō, which means “to obtain by inheritance.” This reveals that he believed eternal life was already rightfully his, but he wants to know how to he can get his hands on it now. He was not wanting to wait. His attitude is similar to that of the young man in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In this story, Jesus described another young man from a wealthy family who was destined to inherit his father’s vast riches. But unwilling to wait for his father to die, he demanded that he be given his inheritance right way.

“I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. – Luke 15:12 NLT

Finding himself suddenly wealthy beyond belief, that young man ended up spending everything he had on a life of excess and immorality. He had gotten what he wanted but had misused and abused it.

And, in a similar way, the rich young man who kneeled before Jesus was demanding that he be given what was rightfully his: His guaranteed inheritance of eternal life. This man had it all but he wanted more. He coveted the one thing that was missing from his portfolio: Eternal life.

Because of his wealth, social standing, and success at religious rule-keeping, this young man believed himself to be blessed by God. He views himself as a good man who deserved everything that was due to him. And if Jesus could help him get eternal life, he would have it all. But Jesus emphasized that “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV). As David wrote in his Psalm, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3 ESV).

And while this man could brag about keeping six of the Ten Commandments, Jesus knew the truth about his heart. It is interesting that Jesus only lists five of the commandments and they all had to do with the horizontal relationships between individuals.

“Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” – Mark 10: 19 ESV

And these five commandments bring to mind Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In that message, Jesus stated, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to explain what it looked like to “relax” one of God’s laws. He put hatred on the same par as murder (Matthew 5:22). He compared lust to adultery.

“…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 ESV

Lust, like adultery, is essentially taking what does not belong to you. It is a form of stealing. And Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29 ESV).

All throughout His sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a radically different picture of what it means to keep God’s law. It wasn’t just about rule-keeping. It was about a change of the heart. Those who hoped to inherit God’s kingdom would have to live sacrificially and selflessly. Their adherence to God’s laws would have to manifest itself in their relationships with others. That’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 ESV).

Which brings us back to the rich young man. Jesus turned to him and said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21 ESV). This proved to be the deal-breaker. This one “good deed” was more than the man could handle. He was unwilling to part with his wealth. All his law-keeping had cost him nothing. But now Jesus was demanding that he do one thing that would cost him everything. And think about what this man was giving up. He was turning his back on eternal life so that he could keep living the “good life.” Mark sadly reports that the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22 ESV).

He was possessed by his possessions. He was held captive by the things of this world. His love of material goods and temporal pleasures proved too great. And years later, the apostle John would probably recall this sad scene when he wrote the following words.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This man had been young and full of life. He was wealthy and blessed by every imaginable earthly pleasure. He was a ruler who wielded tremendous power and responsibility. In other words, He was great. He was all that the disciples hoped to become. When they looked at the rich young ruler, they saw the image of what they aspired to be. And as the disciples stood in stunned silence watching the young man walk away, Jesus further exploded their misconception of greatness.

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:23 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Least of These

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions don’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lowly Life of a Leader

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Mark 9:38-41 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing the disciples’ predilection for power and prominence, yet they seem to have missed the point. Their internal squabble over who was the greatest among them led Jesus to declare, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35 ESV). In His Kingdom, greatness was not measured by the significance of one’s role but the humility of the heart. Jesus, as the Son of God, was the second member of the trinity, yet “though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV). And, as Jesus later told His disciples, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20 ESV).

But as Jesus wrapped up his object lesson on leadership in the Kingdom, the disciples once again displayed their inability to grasp the vital lesson He was trying to teach them. This time, it was John who spoke up and not the ever-impulsive and quick-tongued Peter. And the topic John chose to raise at this particular moment in time reveals that he and his companions had failed to understand what Jesus was telling them.

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” – Mark 9:38 ESV

There’s an air of exclusivity and arrogance in John’s words. He was irritated that someone outside of their circle was performing miracles in the name of Jesus. In fact, this imposter was casting out demons. And from John’s point of view, this was unacceptable because Jesus had only given that kind of power and authority to His 12 disciples (Mark 3:15).

And it is important to recall that all this talk about greatness in the Kingdom had begun immediately after the disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a young boy. The boy’s father had come seeking the help of Jesus, but when He discovered that Jesus was not there, he had turned to the B-Team.

“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” – Mark 9:17-18 ESV

The disciples had failed. Despite the power and authority that was given to them by Jesus, they had not been able to cast out the demon. But that little setback hadn’t stopped them from arguing over who was greatest among them.

And John shares with Jesus their concern about outside competition. Whoever this individual was, he was operating without a license. From John’s perspective, this exorcist was infringing on their trademark rights. He had no business performing signs that were meant to be the purview of the disciples alone.

Mark does not give us the name of the individual who was casting out demons on an “unofficial” basis. And, in leaving out the man’s identity, it is almost as if Mark places him in the same category as the young child whom Jesus held in His arms. The unknown man was one of the least. In casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he was doing the will of the Father and yet, not for personal gain or glory.

And Jesus gently rebuked John and the others for their prideful attempt to stop the man from casting out demons.

“Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” – Mark 9:39-40 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was telling the disciples that they were all on the same team. This man was doing good and he was doing it in the name of Jesus. He was not in it for fame or personal gain. And by casting out demons, he was demonstrating the power inherent in the name of Jesus. He was displaying the superiority of the Son of God.

This entire scene is reminiscent of another encounter that is recorded in the book of Acts. Philip had traveled to the city of Samaria in order to preach the Good News concerning Jesus. While there, Philip also performed many signs and wonders.

Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. – Acts 8:7-8 NLT

But in the city, there was a well-known and revered magician who saw the actions of Philip as unwanted competition.

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic. – Acts 8:9-11 NLT

Simon began to follow Philip, watching his every move, most likely in an attempt to learn and steal the secrets of his power. But in time, Simon came to faith in Jesus.

Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed. – Acts 8:13 NLT

And when Simon observed Philip and the other apostles laying their hands on people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, he wanted in on the action.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” – Acts 8:18-19 NLT

But Philip, aware of the motivation behind Simon’s offer, rebuked him.

“May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” – Acts 8:20-23 NLT

Simon, who at one time had been called “the Great One – the Power of God,” was anxious to regain some of his lost prestige and he was willing to pay for it. He was jealous of the apostles’ power and longed to be restored to the position of prominence he had once enjoyed.

This does not seem to be the case with the man who was casting out demons. He remains anonymous and unknown throughout Mark’s account. And Jesus holds up his actions as being positive, not negative. The ones who were displaying jealousy and an unhealthy dose of envy were the 12 disciples.

They viewed this man as their competition. But Jesus insists that he is on their side. He was actually doing what they had failed to do, and he was doing it for the glory of Jesus. And Jesus points out that this man’s actions were actually a form of kindness aimed at the disciples themselves.

“If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” – Mark 9:41 NLT

Jesus compares the casting out of a demon to the sharing of a cup of water. One act was spectacular and supernatural, while the other was simple and seemingly unimportant. But each was an act of service. When done in humility and with a servant’s heart, the action brings glory to God and a reward to the servant. But when pride and prominence become the motivation behind what we do, we exhibit the heart of Simon the magician. And Jesus provides a stern warning to all those who would do great works in the name  of Jesus but for self-glorification.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

The disciples were struggling with a need to be recognized as great. They were obsessed with the desire for significance. And they resented anyone robbing them of potential glory. But Jesus was trying to get them to understand that their true calling was to mirror His own. They were servants who would be called to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. And Jesus would later tell the disciples a parable to illustrate the life of service and sacrifice that is to mark the life of a Christ-follower.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

Slowly, but steadily, the disciples were learning the invaluable lesson of true greatness. As Paul described it to the believers in Philippi, true greatness is best seen in the life of Jesus, and we are to follow His example.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. –Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Lesson in Least-ness

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Mark 9:30-37 ESV

For a brief period of time, Jesus tried to maintain some sense of secrecy concerning His whereabouts so that He might spend more time instructing His disciples. This would not have been easy because Jesus attracted large crowds wherever He went. But Jesus did what He could to remain incognito as He passed through the region of Galilee. It was essential that He prepare His disciples for what was to come, and the information He was going to share with them was for their ears only. It was not intended for mass distribution.

These men, who had confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, needed to come to grips with the reality of His earthly mission. Jesus was fully aware that they had drawn wrong conclusions about His role as the Messiah and were still expecting Him to set up His earthly Kingdom. To them, all the miracles and messages were simply the opening acts of what was supposed to be the main event: Jesus establishing Himself as the next king of Israel. And because they were His faithful followers, they believed they were destined to play significant roles in His royal administration.

So, for the second time, Jesus attempted to realign their expectations by revealing the facts concerning His coming death in Jerusalem. The first time Jesus had broached this uncomfortable subject, it had earned Him a stern rebuke from Peter. This outspoken and overly impulsive member of Jesus’ inner circle had found the news disconcerting and unacceptable and had told Jesus so. And a closer look at what Jesus told them makes Peter’s reaction somewhat understandable.

Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. – Mark 8:31 NLT

For Peter and his companions, this information seemed outside the realm of possibility. If Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah for whom they had long been waiting, how could His life end in death? What possible good could come from a dead Messiah? How was He supposed to rescue His people from their enslavement to Rome if He was dead?

Jesus had spoken plainly and quite bluntly. He had not sugarcoated the news or presented it in terms the disciples might find more palatable. But at the same time, He did not provide much in the way of further explanation. Yes, He mentioned His resurrection, but in such a cursory way that the disciples failed to grasp what He was talking about.

So, Jesus revisits the topic one more time. Bit it’s important to recall the event that is sandwiched in between these two disclosures. The transfiguration of Jesus was intended to give the three disciples who witnessed it a glimpse into the future. They were given the privilege of seeing Jesus in His glorified state, discussing His coming departure from this earth with Elijah and Moses.

That remarkable experience must have sealed the deal for Peter, James, and John. The vision of Jesus in His glory, the presence of the two prophets of Israel, and the audible voice of God declaring Jesus to be His Son, all provided incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was the Messiah.  And yet, as they came down the mountain, they could only think about one thing: What Jesus had meant by “rising from the dead” (Mark 9:10).

It’s likely that the transfiguration had only made Jesus’ comments about His death and rising again all the more confusing to the disciples. They were having a difficult time reconciling what they had seen on the mountain top with what Jesus had described as His future fate. And Jesus, fully aware of their lingering inability to process His words, simply repeated them.

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” – Mark 9:31 ESV

And Mark indicates that they remained just as confused as before.

…they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. – Mark 9:32 ESV

These men weren’t afraid to ask Jesus questions. They did so all the time. But they were afraid of knowing the truth, so they kept their mouths shut. As the old saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” Little did they know that they were on their way to Jerusalem, where everything was going to take place, just as Jesus had predicted. They could ignore the topic, but it was not going away.

When they arrived back in Capernaum, their unofficial headquarters, Jesus asked the disciples what they had been discussing along the way. But, once again, they chose to remain silent. And rightfully so, because to admit the topic of their conversation would have been embarrassing. But Mark spills the beans, revealing that “they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest” (Mark 9:34 NLT).

Now, before we paint the disciples as egotistical and self-centered powermongers, let’s look at the facts. They had been handpicked by Jesus. They were His chosen followers and had been given authority by Jesus to cast out demons. When Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus had said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV). And Peter, James, and John had been chosen by Jesus to witness His transfiguration. So, these men were somewhat justified in thinking that they would play important roles in Jesus’ coming kingdom.

The problem was that they were arguing over which one of them was the greatest. They had taken their eyes off of Jesus and had begun to focus on their own self-worth. And there is little doubt that Peter, James, and John were justifying their superiority with tales of their experience at the transfiguration. Rather than discussing the death of Jesus and what His reference to rising again might mean, they were busy debating their own value to the kingdom. This jockeying for position will continue on into the next chapter, where Mark reveals that James and John come to Jesus and make a bold request: “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

These men were operating from a purely secular and temporal perspective. They saw Jesus as the coming King of Israel and they were hoping to garner key posts in His administration. While Jesus was talking about self-sacrifice, they were busy arguing over their own self-worth and qualifications for leadership roles in the new kingdom.

But Jesus gathered the 12 together and gave them a much-needed lesson on spiritual leadership.

“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” – Mark 9:35 NLT

This comment must have caught the disciples by surprise. First of all, it revealed that Jesus knew the topic of their conversation, and that must have been embarrassing for them. But secondly, His words were incongruent. They didn’t add up. In their culture, servants were considered the least of the least. And last place was no place for a leader. The thought of willingly subjugating yourself in order to serve someone else would have made no sense to these men.

So, to drive home His point, Jesus gave them an object lesson. Picking up a small child in His arms, He said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37 ESV).

In their culture, children were considered the least of the least. They had no rights or privileges. They were powerless and helpless. And yet, Jesus stood before the disciples, holding one of these seemingly insignificant and unimportant children in His arms. And four different times, Jesus used the word dechomai, which can be translated as “receives” but carries a much fuller meaning: “to embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject.” In their society, children tended to be ignored. But by holding this child in His arms, Jesus was placing the least in a position of highest honor.

Jesus’ words should have had an air of familiarity to them. The disciples had heard Him say something similar. Just prior to Him sending out the 12 on their first missionary journey, He had told them:

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. – Matthew 10:40 ESV

He used the very same formula:

To receive the least ——- is to receive Jesus ——–is to receive God

The disciples were to be the least. They were to be the servants of all. In other words, their role was going to be that of the lowest, not the highest. Their status was to be measured by humility, not glory. The child Jesus held in His arms had no inherent worth or value – from a worldly perspective. He had yet to accomplish anything with his life. He could not boast about his education or business accomplishments. But Jesus had chosen to use this insignificant child to convey a deep spiritual truth. And Jesus was going to use the insignificant disciples to take the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Not because they were great, but because they were the least. And all those who received the disciples and their message would receive Christ. And to receive Christ would be to receive a restored relationship with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fakers and Frauds

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. 

2 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 6:53-7:13 ESV

One can only imagine the conversations that took place in the boat as the disciples made their way to the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Just minutes before, they had been fighting the winds and waves of a ferocious storm when suddenly, Jesus had appeared to them, walking on the water. Not recognizing their friend and teacher, they had thought Him to be some kind of ghostly apparition. But Jesus spoke to them, entered the boat with them, and calmed the storm that surrounded them. And the rest of their trip to the region of Gennesaret must have been filled with whispered discussions about what they had just witnessed. These men, desperately trying to take in all that had happened over the last few days, were struggling to reconcile their experiences and expectations. They wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and He had given ample evidence to convince them, but they were still doubtful. Mark indicates that “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in” (Mark 6:52 NLT).

As they arrived in Gennesaret, they disembarked from their boat and were immediately engulfed by the crowds of people attempting to get to Jesus. News of their arrival spread fast and, before long, they found themselves immersed in the circus-like atmosphere that followed Jesus wherever He went.

Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. – Mark 6:56 NLT

It would appear that the people of Gennesaret had heard the rumors about the woman who was healed simply by touching the edge of Jesus’ robe. This news emboldened people to take matters into their own hands, likely resulting in Jesus being swarmed by those attempting to touch Him so they could be healed. And Jesus graciously allowed them to invade His personal space so that “all who touched him were healed.”

But there were others who wanted to lay their hands on Jesus, not to be healed but so that they might arrest Him. A contingent of Pharisees and scribes had arrived from Jerusalem and they had one purpose for their mission: Find evidence that would convict Jesus of breaking the law and justify His arrest.

The scribes and Pharisees, as experts in the Mosaic Law, were well-equipped for the task they had been given by the high priest. Their extensive knowledge of both the written and oral laws of Israel provided them with a virtual treasure trove of potential rule violations with which to convict Jesus. Surely there was some obscure law He was breaking that they could use as evidence against Him. If nothing else, they hoped to discredit Jesus by portraying Him as ignorant of God’s laws or guilty of willfully ignoring them.

So, it is no surprise that they approached Jesus and demanded that He explain the questionable behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:6 ESV

To help his readers understand what is going on, Mark provides a parenthetical explanation of Jewish purification rites.

The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles. – Mark 7:3-4 NLT

These “ancient traditions” were not part of the Mosaic Law but had been created and passed down by men. Essentially, they were add-ons or man-made additions to God’s law. And they had nothing to do with physical cleanliness or hygiene. These rules or rituals were followed in order to demonstrate and declare one’s righteousness. It was all about appearances. Jesus would later say of them:

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show.” – Matthew 23:4-5 NLT

And He would go on to level some serious accusations against these self-ascribed icons of righteousness.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

Their righteousness was nothing more than a facade, a carefully crafted image meant to obscure the true condition of their hearts. And when these men confronted Jesus about the unacceptable habits of His disciples, He responded by quoting Scripture.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8 NLT

Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures against them. Using the writings of one of their revered prophets, Jesus exposed their self-righteous indignation for what it was – nothing more than prideful pretense. They were nothing more than hypocrites and pretenders. In fact, the Greek word, hypokritēs was used to refer to an actor in a play, someone who assumed the character of another.

These men had fooled everyone into believing that they were holy and righteous. But they had made their own man-made rules more important than the commands of God. They were guilty of giving precedence to their “traditions,” even creating loopholes that allowed them to violate God’s laws.

“You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. – Mark 7:9 NLT

And Jesus provides them with specific examples.

“For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’” – Mark 7:10-11 NLT

Jesus was referring to their law of corban. This man-made law allowed someone to dedicate something as an offering to God but did not require them to relinquish possession of it. As Jesus reveals, it was nothing more than a convenient way for someone to tie up their assets so that they wouldn’t have to share them with others. This was in direct violation of God’s law. The Ten Commandments had made it clear that the Jews were to honor their parents, and in a society that lacked any kind of welfare system, this would have included the provision of financial support. But corban provided a convenient loophole. By dedicating their resources to God, a Jew could excuse themselves from assisting their needy parents. And because they were not required to immediately turn over their assets to God, they were free to use them for their own personal benefit. And Jesus exposed corban for what it was: Lawlessness.

“In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.” – Mark 7:12-13 NLT

These men had no right to question Jesus about the behavior of His disciples. They were nothing more than whitewashed tombs. Their sanctimonious self-righteousness was little more than a show, a poorly veiled display of moral pretense and hypocrisy.

In attempting to judge Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees left themselves open to judgment. And Jesus pulled no punches. He wanted His disciples to understand that the laws of God always took precedence over any rules or regulations made by men. And Jesus came to fulfill each and every one of the laws given by His Heavenly Father. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus declared His God-ordained mission to fulfill the law of God – down to the very last detail.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-19 NLT

And because the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of ignoring God’s law by replacing it with their own, they would be least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson