Hope for the Hopeless

12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:12-16 ESV

Once again, Luke presents what appears to be a slightly different timeline for this event. But he is far less concerned with presenting an accurate chronology than he is with focusing on what Jesus said and did. In other words, the when takes a backseat to the what in his mind. His primary point of emphasis is the interaction between Jesus and the various people He encountered during His public ministry. And it will soon become clear that while Jesus was attracting a growing number of followers, He was also drawing the attention and, ultimately, the ire of the Jewish religious leaders. These powerful and influential men were growing concerned about His increasing popularity among the common people, and it would not be long before they were forced to deal with this threat to their authority.

But as Jesus entered yet another city, He was approached by a man who suffered from the debilitating effects of leprosy. Not only did he have to deal with the pain and suffering inflicted by this dreaded disease, but he also had to endure the social ostracization that accompanied it. He was an outcast who was deemed to be unclean and unapproachable by his own people. He was unwelcome in the synagogue and considered a social pariah. But all throughout the gospels, those who suffered from this incurable disease seem to represent the spiritual state of the people of Israel. Whether they realized it or not, they were considered unclean and unapproachable by God. Their sin had infected them to such a degree that they were unwelcome in His presence and doomed to a life marked by helplessness and hopelessness.

Yet, this leprous man took his hopeless condition to Jesus. He had heard about the miracles Jesus had performed in other cities, so when he discovered that the famous rabbi was in town, he made the bold decision to approach Him. This would have been considered an egregious breach of social protocol and the rest of the crowd would have been angered by the man’s presumptuous behavior.

But this man was desperate and had nothing to lose. He no longer had any dignity and his only hope of ever living a normal life was bound up in this stranger from Nazareth. So, he fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12 ESV). What jumps off the page is the depth of the man’s faith. He displays a profound belief in Jesus’ capacity to heal him of his disease. In fact, he believed the only thing standing between him and his complete healing was the willingness of Jesus to make it happen. And in his gospel account, Mark records that Jesus, moved by compassion for the man, reaching out and touched him. You can almost hear the audible gasp from the crowd as they watched Jesus do the unthinkable. In touching the diseased man, Jesus had just made Himself unclean. He ran the risk of contamination and, subsequently, social ostracization. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know. He had come to conquer the ravages of sin and death. His entire ministry was aimed at bringing healing to the spiritually diseased and dying. And a few verses later in this same chapter, Luke records the words of Jesus concerning His mission.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

The leper’s illness was readily apparent. It was highly visible and undeniable. But the spiritually sick are harder to spot. They can disguise their terminal illness with good works and pious acts of self-righteousness. Yet Jesus knew that all those in the crowd were just as hopeless and helpless as the leper. But he had something they lacked: Faith. He believed that Jesus could do something about his condition. And Jesus did not disappoint.

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” – Luke 5:13 ESV

We’re not told how long this man had suffered from his condition, but when Jesus touched him, it would have been the first human contact he had experienced in a long time. Notice that Jesus places the emphasis not on the man’s disease but on his state of uncleanness. Jesus didn’t say, “Be healed.” He said, “Be clean.” He was restoring the man’s dignity and ability to worship as part of the faith community. That’s why Jesus commanded him, “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed” (Luke 5:14 NLT).

Jesus was requiring that the man follow the proper requirements as outlined in the Mosaic Law. His cleanness would not be complete until the proper sacrifices were made for the atonement of his sins.

The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean. – Leviticus 14:19-20 ESV

Jesus was not suggesting the man’s leprosy was the result of sin, but He knew that the man would not be accepted back into fellowship until he met the required conditions. He could appear cleansed and whole, but it required a blood sacrifice and the blessing of the priest before he could be officially declared healed and purified.

This entire scene brings to mind the words of the apostle Paul, written to the church in Ephesus. He reminded them that they too had once been in a similar state as the leprous man. They were the walking dead, living in a state of spiritual helplessness and hopelessness, separated from God by their own sinfulness.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. – Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT

But Paul adds the good news.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

All those who come to Jesus as the leper did, expressing their faith in His ability to heal their disease, will hear Him say the very same thing: “I will, be clean.”

Having received his healing, the man did as Jesus had said and made his way to visit the priest. But according to Mark’s gospel, the man disobeyed Jesus’ warning to tell no one what had happened. Instead, “as the man went out he began to announce it publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places” (Mark 1:45 NLT).

These miracles were intended to prove Jesus’ authority as the Son of God. They demonstrated his power over demons and disease. With just a word, He could set people free from their captivity to demonic possession or the ravages of a disease or disability. But the risk Jesus ran every time He performed a miracle was that the people would see Him as their hope for political liberation rather than spiritual deliverance. He knew that they longed for a Messiah who would restore Israel’s prominence and power. He was well aware that they were looking for a political Savior, not a spiritual one. So, He was forced to seek refuge from the growing crowds and their increasing anticipation that He was going to put Israel back on the map politically speaking.

And Luke reports that Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16 ESV). In the midst of all the circus-like atmosphere that surrounded His ministry, Jesus sought time to get alone with His Heavenly Father. He remained focused on doing His Father’s will and sticking to the timeline established for His earthly ministry. He was not going to allow the peoples’ agenda to distract or deter Him from His God-appointed mission. Because He knew that true cleansing and complete forgiveness from sins would only come through His atoning sacrifice. And that day, while drawing closer, had not yet come.

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

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-38 ESV

Once again, Luke presents us with a detailed timeline of events. Eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised, in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

“‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity.’” – Leviticus 12:2-4 NLT

According to the law, the mother was considered to be unclean because of her contact with blood during the birth process. At the end of the prescribed period of purification (40 days), Mary was required to go to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present an offering before the Lord so that she might be declared clean.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood.’” – Leviticus 12:6-7 NLT

But strangely, Luke reports that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 ESV). Notice that Luke uses the plural pronoun, “their,” while the Leviticus passage used the singular pronoun, “her.” It could be that Joseph also required purification because he had been required to assist Mary in giving birth. But it could be that Luke is hinting that this human couple required atonement (cleansing from sin) before they could begin the process of raising the Son of God. They were both being purified for the daunting task of parenting the Messiah.

As part of their trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph also consecrated their newborn son to the Lord. The Mosaic law required that all firstborn sons be set apart or consecrated to God.

“Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 NLT

“…then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the Lord’s. – Exodus 13:12 NLT

The reason behind this ritual was tied to the final plague that had eventually secured the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. God sent an angel throughout the land of Egypt with orders to strike dead the firstborn males of both man and beast (Exodus 12:12). But God also ordered every Israelite household to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house. When the angel saw the blood, he passed over that home, sparing all the firstborn males of that family. This became known as the Passover Celebration. And God told the Israelites how to explain this annual celebration to each succeeding generation.

“When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificingto the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.” – Exodus 13:15 NLT

So, Mary and Joseph obediently consecrated their new son to the Lord. But Luke informs his readers that there was something special that took place that day. God had arranged for a specific priest to be on duty that day. His name was Simeon and Luke describes him as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25 ESV). This man had lived his entire life longing to see “the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” is paraklēsis in Greek and it means “to comfort or refresh” Simeon believed that God was going to send the Messiah to redeem and restore the spiritual fortunes of Israel. And, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon believed this long-anticipated event would take place in his lifetime.

God ordained that Simeon would be the priest on duty that day. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon made his way to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph showed up to consecrate Jesus. With the Spirit’s help, Simeon immediately recognized that Jesus was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been looking and hoping. While just over a month old at the time, Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. And in a state of ecstatic joy and gratitude, Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered up a heartfelt blessing to God.

“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permityour servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32 NLT

Simeon’s greatest desire had been fulfilled. He had lived to see the coming of the anointed one of God, the Messiah of Israel. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he describes Jesus as the salvation of God and then adds that He will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This statement was a direct reference to the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

This Messianic passage speaks of the commissioning of the Servant of God who would redeem and restore the rebellious nation of Israel but who would also bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he was holding this Savior and Redeemer in his hands. Jesus was the very same Servant whose words Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier.

“The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” – Isaiah 49:1 NLT

And this Servant would have a two-fold mission to accomplish.

“…the one who formed me from birth to be his servant—
he did this to restore Jacob to himself,
so that Israel might be gathered to him;
and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,
for my God is my source of strength—
he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

Yes, Jesus would be the Messiah of Israel, restoring them to a right relationship with God. But He would also be a light to the nations, shining the glory of God’s goodness and grace to all the nations of the world. But Simeon, as a faithful Jewish priest, understood the words recorded by Isaiah to be primarily a promise of God’s future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were experiencing difficult days. They had no king. The Romans ruled them with a heavy hand and burdened them with oppressive taxes. He, like all the other faithful of Israel, longed for the day when the Messiah would appear on the scene to set things right. And he must have had the words of Psalm 98 in mind when he composed his own song of thanksgiving to God.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he performs amazing deeds.
His right hand and his mighty arm
accomplish deliverance.
The Lord demonstrates his power to deliver;
in the sight of the nations he reveals his justice.
He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel.
All the ends of the earth see our God deliver us. – Psalm 98:1-3 NLT

For Simeon, God’s faithful restoration of Israel would be the light that would illumine the minds of the sin-darkened nations of the earth. But little did he know that God had something different in mind. The future restoration of Israel will take place, but it was not going to take place at the first coming of Jesus. Simeon had no way of knowing that his people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. The young baby Simeon held in his hands would end up crucified and rejected by those He came to save.

And Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounces a blessing on Mary and Joseph the meaning of which he probably did not fully comprehend.

“Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” – Luke 2:34-35 NLT

He prophetically announces that Jesus will have a decisive, yet divisive influence. There will be those who fall by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, and others who will rise by recognizing Him as the anointed one of God. Jesus will divide the nation by exposing the hearts of the people. And Simeon prophetically predicts that Mary will have her own heart pierced by the events she will be forced to witness. Her son, the Savior and Redeemer of Israel will be rejected and destroyed by His own people.

But this somewhat depressing statement of blessing by Simeon was followed up by a declaration of joy and thanksgiving by an elderly Hebrew prophetess named Anna. Luke indicates the timeliness of her appearance by stating that she showed up “at that very hour.” This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. And Luke adds that “she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NLT).

Their legal requirements fulfilled, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, with the words of Simeon and Anna still ringing in their ears. And for the next 12 years, they would raise their son in relative obscurity and silence, not knowing exactly how His future would unfold.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Darkness to Light

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 ESV

At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.

Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV

Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). 

But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many.  He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.

And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.

Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.

Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT

Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 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

Feasting, Not Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22 ESV

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each recorded the following scene as having taken place immediately after Jesus shared a meal with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:15 ESV). The timing is important because it establishes the context for what happened next. Jesus’ decision to accept an invitation to dine at the house of Levi (Matthew) had left the Jewish religious leaders disgusted. Their view of Him had reached an all-time low because He had chosen to consort with known sinners. In addition to being a blasphemer and trouble-maker, this radical Rabbi from Nazareth was a poor judge of character.

So, immediately after His dinner at Levi’s house, Jesus was confronted with a question regarding His behavior. But it came from an unexpected source. While Mark simply indicates that some “people” posed this question to Jesus, Matthew reveals that it was actually some disciples of John the Baptist.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” – Matthew 9:14 ESV

These men were confused by the behavior of Jesus and His disciples. It could be that they were just as alarmed at Jesus’ choice of dining companions, but rather than bring up what Jesus had just done, they chose to question what He and His disciples failed to do: Fast.

As good Jews, the disciples of John would have faithfully kept the various written and oral traditions of their people, and that would have included requirements regarding fasting. But according to the Mosaic Law, there was only one day set apart by God for fasting, and that was the Day of Atonement.

It will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. This is a permanent law for you. – Leviticus 16:31 NLT

But over time, the Jews had prescribed additional fast days. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Pharisees had instituted a twice-weekly fast, and it was this fasting to which the disciples of John referred. These additional fast days were intended to be an outward demonstration of one’s dedication to God. They were visible acts of righteousness that let others know you took your religious commitments seriously. But it was just such outward displays that Jesus had warned about in His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NLT

And Jesus had purposefully focused His attention on fasting and pointed out how this practice of self-denial had become a means for self-promotion.

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

Yet, here were the disciples of John asking why Jesus and His disciples failed to honor the twice-weekly fast – as they did. By admitting that they were fasting, these men violated the warning Jesus had issued: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious.” But for them, fasting had become a sign of righteousness. It was a mark of one’s spiritual commitment.

But they failed to realize that Jesus had come to bring something new. Their attempts at self-righteousness were totally inadequate. Their outward displays of self-denial were doing nothing to elevate their standing in God’s eyes. It brings to mind the stinging rebuke that God issued against the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood. – Isaiah 1:13-15 ESV

And the apostle Paul brings up the same subject in his letter to the believers in Corinth,

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. – Colossians 2:16-17 NLT

Paul provides a much-needed insight into what is going on in Mark 2:18-22. With the coming of Jesus, all of the rules associated with Judaism were changing. The temple, the Sabbath, the feasts, and the festivals were all intended to point toward the coming of the Messiah. They were, as Paul put it, “shadows of the reality yet to come.” And as Paul makes clear, “Christ himself is that reality.”

The author of Hebrews reinforces Paul’s understanding about the purpose behind the former system of rules and regulations associated with the law.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. – Hebrews 10:1 NLT

Jesus’ arrival had ushered in a new era. The old was giving way to the new. Jesus had come to do what the law was never intended to do: Restore sinful men and women to a right relationship with God.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And Jesus drives home the point that His presence with them ruled out the need for fasting and rule-keeping. All their self-empowered efforts to earn favor with God were no longer necessary. Just as a sick person cannot make themselves well, sinners cannot make themselves spiritually whole and acceptable to a holy God. They must simply admit that they are sick and in need of a physician.

So, Jesus attempts to inform the disciples of John that their fasting was in vain. Rather than deny themselves food, they needed to recognize the presence of the Messiah and feast alongside Him. Just as the tax collectors and sinners had dined with Jesus in Levi’s house, Jesus was inviting the disciples of John to celebrate alongside Him. And He used the metaphor of a wedding feast to illustrate His point.

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. – Mark 2:19 ESV

The scene of wedding guests fasting and mourning while attending the festivities was meant to be ludicrous. Fasting would have been the farthest thing from their minds. And Jesus wanted these men to know that His presence among them was intended to be cause for celebration. Their long-awaited Messiah had finally come, and He was bringing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). And as the angels told the shepherds in the field on the night of Jesus’ birth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 ESV).

The Messiah (the bridegroom) had come and that was cause for celebration. But Jesus indicates that a time of mourning would come soon enough because He would one day leave them.

“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” – Mark 2:20 ESV

With this somewhat cryptic statement, Jesus made reference to His coming death. While this foreshadowing of His coming death would have escaped those in His audience, it was meant to reinforce His call to celebrate His presence. He had come and it should have been a time of joy and feasting. But the Jews were busy grumbling, doubting, and disbelieving.

Then Jesus reinforces the radically new nature of the days in which they lived. He was disrupting the status quo. He was turning everything on its head and introducing a whole new means for sinful mankind to be restored to God. And His arrival was not intended to be an add-on to the old way of going things. It wasn’t going to be the law + Jesus. Don’t miss what He said in His sermon on the mount.

“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. – Matthew 5:17-18 NLT

He had come to fulfill all that the law required. And in doing so, He was eliminating the any requirement that men keep the law in an effort to assuage the anger of a just and righteous God. Jesus was going to satisfy God with the sacrifice of His own life.

To drive home His point, Jesus used the analogy of using a new piece of unshrunk cloth to sew a patch onto an old garment. They would be incompatible and prove to be unsuccessful in solving the problem being addressed. And it would make no sense to store new wine in an old wineskin because the fermentation of the new wine would cause the old wineskin to burst.

Jesus had come to do a new thing. And while the way He lived His life seemed to be inconsistent and incompatible with what the Jews had come to know, He was introducing “new cloth” and “new wine” – a new way that was meant to bring new hope to a lost and dying world. And the apostle Paul would have us rejoice in the fact that old has been replaced with the new – all because of Jesus.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 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

Lifeless, Yet Priceless

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. John 19:38-42 ESV

Using His final breath, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and then He died. Only in His third decade of life, Jesus had brutally tortured and killed, by means of one of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment ever devised: Crucifixion. From the perspective of His mother and what remained of His followers, all that remained of Jesus was His beaten, bruised, and lifeless body.

Three times in five verses, John refers to “the body of Jesus.” There is a sense of finality in these closing verses of chapter 19. One almost gets the impression that John is bringing his gospel to an abrupt and unexpected end. With Jesus dead, this must be the end of the story. And everything John records in these verses seems intended to portray the shocking end of Jesus’ life and the disappointing failure of His mission.

John describes the efforts of Joseph of Arimethea, who came to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. John provides no insights into this man’s identity, other than he was a disciple of Jesus. But in his gospel, Mark reveals that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43 ESV). So, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of the Jews who had condemned Jesus to death. But Luke adds that he “had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51 NLT).

This dissenting member of the Sanhedrin risked not only his reputation but also his place in the religious community of Israel. The Sanhedrin had threatened anyone who showed allegiance to Jesus with ex-communication from the synagogue. But out of love for Jesus, Joseph was willing to put it all on the line. And he was not alone. He was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the high council. This is the same man who had made a light-night visit to Jesus and received a head-scratching lecture on the need to be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

These two unlikely characters are the ones who remove the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross and prepare it for burial. It should not be overlooked that these men were members of the very same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Matthew records that when Caiaphas the high priest had asked the members of the council for their verdict, they had shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And then, Matthew describes the scene that followed:

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” – Matthew 26:67-68 ESV

Yet surprisingly, from out of this prideful and hate-filled mob emerged two men who showed their final respects for Jesus by ensuring He received a proper burial.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. – John 19:40 ESV

John’s emphasis on the body of Jesus is crucial. All throughout his gospel, John has stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus. These two aspects of Jesus’ identity are inseparable and equally vital in John’s understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was the Son of God who came from heaven and became a man so that He might dwell among us and reveal the glory of God to us. According to John, Jesus, in HIs incarnation, made God known (John 1:18). The apostle Paul declares that Jesus, by virtue of His humanity, was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT).

But there was far more behind the miracle of the incarnation than making God known. Jesus came to make God accessible. Paul describes that Jesus’ coming to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have,” had much more long-term and radical implications.

He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The physical body of Jesus had profound spiritual implications. It was His body that allowed Him to live as a man and to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And it was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the absolute necessity that Jesus be fully human so that He could serve as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of a guilty and condemned humanity.

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

The body of Jesus, while lifeless, was also priceless. And John’s emphasis on the extravagant and expensive quantity of burial spices brought by Nicodemus is intended to drive home the infinite worth value of the body of Jesus. And Peter also emphasizes the priceless nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1: 18-19 NLT

And Peter would go on to describe how Jesus paid the price for our sins with the offering of His own body on our behalf.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV

And Peter was simply restating the prophetic words of Isaiah, who centuries earlier, described in stunning detail the atoning work of Jesus.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

And John reveals that Joseph and Nicodemus treated the body of Jesus with utmost respect and dignity, washing it and anointing it with burial spices, then wrapping it in linen cloths. Then he adds that they placed the body of Jesus in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV). Matthew notes that the tomb belonged to Joseph and this point becomes significant because of the prophetic words of Isaiah.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

The sinless one was treated like a criminal. He died the death of a sinner even though He was without sin. He was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…beaten so we could be whole…whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). He was “struck down for the rebellion of my people” (Isaiah 53:8 NLT).

And His body, though lifeless, would not undergo the indignity of decay and decomposition. Because it was of immeasurable worth and value. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David would prophetically speak on behalf of Jesus when he wrote:

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:9-11 NLT

Years later, the apostle Paul would preach a sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, in which he stated:

“For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT

The body of Jesus, while just like the bodies we sinners have, did not suffer the same post-death fate that all human bodies do. And while John’s description of Jesus’ burial has a sense of finality to it, he is simply preparing his readers for what comes next. He subtly hints that there is more to come when he mentions what all of this took place on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42 ESV). This is a reference to Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus were under pressure to make sure the body of Jesus was interred before the Sabbath began and all forms of work would have been prohibited. But his reference to the day of preparation has far more in mind than the mandatory observance of the Sabbath. He is preparing his readers for something even greater.

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 Good Shepherd

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 10:1-21 ESV

In this teaching, Jesus continues His use of contrasts, using His own mission and ministry to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel. John has arranged his gospel account in such a  way that the religious elite’s growing antipathy for Jesus is clearly evident. Their hatred for Him is clear. But their disdain for the people under their care is also hard to miss. They showed no signs of empathy for the blind man who was given the gift of sight. Angered by his glowing praise of Jesus, they callously cast him out of the synagogue. These were the same men who had publicly humiliated a woman by dragging her before Jesus and accusing her of adultery. To them, she had been nothing more than another tool used to construct their case against Jesus. They despised her for her sinfulness and would have had no problem seeing her stoned for her blatant disregard for God’s laws.

Yet, sadly enough, the people looked up to these men. They revered and even feared them. In the eyes of the average Israelite, these men were the enforcers of the Mosaic law, policing the behavior of the people and punishing all those who disobeyed. But what made it worse was that these men appeared to be icons of virtue, constantly promoting their own spiritual superiority and religious zeal. They proudly presented themselves as models of righteousness who had earned special favor with God for their faithful adherence to His laws.

But in these verses, John records the words of Jesus that paint a starkly different image of these men. Jesus never addresses them directly, but it is easy to see that He has them in mind. Immediately after they had callously cast the formerly blind beggar out of the synagogue, Jesus had taken the effort to find him and reveal Himself to Him. And the result was that the man believed and worshiped Jesus as the Son of Man. This man received far more than his physical sight. He was given the opportunity to see the one who had healed Him and who could also deliver him from a life of spiritual darkness due to sin.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel.  This imagery would have resonated with His audience because of its familiarity. Everyone would have understood the nature of the shepherd’s role. And they would have been well aware of the differences between a good and a bad shepherd.

So, when Jesus began to outline these differences, everyone would have understood exactly what He was talking about. The real question would have been who He had in mind when He talked about the thief, robber, and stranger. It was quite obvious that Jesus was presenting Himself as the alternative, even referring to Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11 ESV). So, who were these bad shepherds Jesus seemed to be comparing Himself to? And who did He have in mind when He referred to the “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13 ESV)?

It’s not clear whether anyone in the crowd connected Jesus’ words with the religious leaders. All John tells us is that “there was again a division among the Jews because of these words” (John 10:19 ESV). Even these well-educated and intelligent men seemed to miss the point of what Jesus was saying. They weren’t able to see that Jesus was exposing their failure to shepherd well the sheep whom God had placed under their care. Jesus had exposed them as thieves, robbers, and hired hands, who cared more for themselves than they did for the sheep. And Jesus was simply echoing the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-2-6 NLT

Because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, the scribes and Pharisees should have made the connection but, once again, they reveal their spiritual blindness by failing to comprehend the truth found in the Word of God.

Yet, Jesus fully understood what Ezekiel had written and presented Himself as the true shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. He was the fulfillment of the promise made by God centuries earlier.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep.  I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.” – Ezekiel 34:11-12 NLT

“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:16 NLT

Jesus had come to redeem and restore the lost sheep of God’s flock. He presents Himself as “the door” through which the sheep of God must come. There is no other way into the abundant pastureland God has prepared for His sheep than through His chosen Shepherd: His Son.

In this passage, Jesus deftly weaves together a series of metaphors concerning Himself that present a vivid portrait of His divine mission. He portrays Himself as the Good Shepherd who leads and feeds the flock of God with tender compassion, calling them by name and guiding them to safety. But He is also the door of the sheepfold, the very means by which they find access into the abundance of God’s presence. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of David’s portrait of the faithful shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

But Jesus would do more than simply lead and feed. He would provide protection against the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would lay down His life on behalf of His Father’s sheep. It would be just as John the Baptist had declared. Jesus would become the sacrificial Lamb of God who sacrifices His life so that the sheep of God might have access to His heavenly sheepfold.

Jesus makes it quite clear. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). He is the exclusive access point to the Father. He will later reiterate this bold claim to Thomas.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 ESV

But Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the manner in which the sheep find access to the Father. It will be through His death.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

The religious leaders were not about to sacrifice their lives for anyone. They weren’t even willing to bow the knew before the Son of God. They refused to submit their wills to that of the Father. And when the Good Shepherd appeared in their midst, they were unable to hear His voice. But there would those who, like the formerly blind beggar, would hear Jesus ask, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and would respond, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:35, 38 ESV). Jesus reveals that there will be others.

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:16 ESV

This is His veiled reference to the Gentiles, who will also become part of God’s flock. Like the Samaritan woman, they too will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond in belief. They will recognize the call of God, coming from the lips of the Son of God, offering them living water, the bread of life, and the promise of an eternity marked by peace, contentment, joy, and righteousness.

But it would only come one way. The Good Shepherd would have to lay down His life for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:14-15 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

Are We Also Blind?

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. John 9:24-41 ESV

The Pharisees were beside themselves in frustration and anger. Standing before them was a common street beggar, claiming to have had his congenital blindness miraculously healed by Jesus, their arch-nemesis. They had already threatened to excommunicate from the synagogue anyone who claimed Jesus to be the Messiah. And while this man had only proclaimed Jesus to be a prophet, they essentially accused him of blasphemy for having given glory to Jesus rather than God. They seriously doubted the veracity of this man’s story, but they still found him guilty of attributing to Jesus what only God could have done.

The formerly blind man was perplexed by their reasoning and their declaration that Jesus was nothing more than a sinner. Their logic made no sense to him. But in his simple way of thinking, it didn’t even matter. He responded, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25 ESV).  All he knew for certain was that he used to blind, but now he could see. And it was all because of this man named Jesus.

Unable to coerce a confession out of the man, they resorted to further questioning, hoping to expose a hole in his story. But the man responded with a hint of exasperation mixed with sarcasm, “Look!…I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27 NLT). The content of his statement and the tone with which he said it produced an immediate and intense reaction from the Pharisees.

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.” – John 9:28-29 NLT

Their response revealed their complete disdain for Jesus and His followers. In their estimation, Jesus was a rogue Rabbi whose teachings contradicted those of Moses. In their minds, Jesus was nothing more than a Sabbath-breaker who associated with sinners. His miracles were the work of Satan, not Yahweh. And all His talk of being the Son of God was nothing less than blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

But once again, this passage juxtaposes the light with the darkness. It contrasts those who are blind with those who have eyes to see. The Pharisees, so proud of their discipleship to Moses, had failed to understand that Moses wrote of Jesus’ coming. The great emancipator and law-giver had received a promise directly from God.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

And Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophecy. But the Pharisees were too blind to see. They “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). But the lowly beggar, who had received his sight from Jesus, saw the absurdity of their position.

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

It was as clear as day to him. There was no way that Jesus was a sinner. And it was idiotic to think that Jesus was able to do what He did without the full support and authority of God. You didn’t have to be a religious scholar to know that the giving of sight was an act of God. And because this man could now see, he knew that Jesus had the ear of God. But sadly, his message fell on the dear ears and sin-darkened hearts of the Pharisees, who angrily responded, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” (John 9:34 ESV). Who was he to lecture them? He was nothing more than a man who had been cursed to blindness because of sin. And with that, they banned him from the synagogue.

This was to become a common occurrence among those Jews who aligned themselves with Jesus. In fact, Jesus would later warn His disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:2-4 ESV). The Jews, in their religious zeal, would end up persecuting all those who became followers of Jesus. The Book of Acts reveals that the apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, had been a Pharisee whose job it was to hunt down Christians. 

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2 NLT

It was going to become increasingly more dangerous to be a follower of Jesus. And His death and resurrection would not make it any easier. But this lowly beggar was about to have a second “chance” encounter with Jesus. The one who had healed him sought him out and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV).

From the overall context of the passage, it seems that this was the first time the man had actually seen Jesus with his own, newly restored, eyes. So, when Jesus spoke to him, he had no way of knowing that this was the same man who had healed him. He also had no idea that Jesus was referring to Himself as the Son of Man. Which is what led him to ask, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Even with his restored sight, he was still spiritually blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He most likely understood that this stranger was referring to the man who had healed him, and he desired to know more about him. “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”

And John states that, with this revelation from Jesus, the man expressed his belief and worshiped Him. It is at this point that Jesus reintroduces the metaphor of darkness and light.

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” – John 9:39 ESV

As the light of the world, Jesus judged the world by His very presence. He illuminated the darkness, but there were those who chose to remain in the darkness. They rejected the light and, in doing so, they judged themselves. They already stood condemned for their sins, and God had graciously sent His Son to provide them with atonement. But because they refused to “see” Jesus as the Son of God, they remained in their darkness. But those who “saw” and believed received forgiveness and freedom from condemnation.

The Pharisees, overhearing Jesus’ words, were offended by what He said, and objected to His inference that they were blind. But Jesus said their real problem was their belief that they had spiritual insight. They believed themselves to be enlightened and informed. But Jesus informed them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt” (John 9:41 ESV). In other words, if they would only see and confess their blindness, they would receive sight. Jesus would later accuse these very same men of viewing themselves as in need of nothing He had to offer. They did not believe they were sinners, so they had no need for a Savior.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” – Matthew 9:12 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

I Am!

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:51-59 ESV

The longer Jesus spoke, it seems that the frustration of the religious only intensified. And their growing anger with Him seems to support His accusations against Him. He has claimed to be the light of the glory of God, but they prefer to remain covered by the darkness of their own pre-established notions of righteousness and holiness. He has offered Himself as the only solution to mankind’s sin problem and the key to eternal life. But they have refused His offer, choosing instead to label Him as a blasphemer and sinner, operating in league with Satan himself. He has declared Himself to be the Son of God, yet they accused Him of being illegitimate, and not even knowing the name of His own earthly father. Jesus had described them as being the children of Satan, and now they return the favor by declaring Him of being demon-possessed.

This entire section of John’s gospel is intended to support Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world. He has been standing in the courtyard of the temple of God, speaking to the people of God, and allowing the glory of God to illuminate what has become one of the darkest places within the nation of Israel: God’s own dwelling place.

The location for this latest conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is extremely important. He is standing in the temple treasury, where all the voluntary and obligatory financial gifts given to the temple were kept. Earlier, in chapter two of his gospel, John described Jesus cleansing the temple of “those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there” (John 2:14 ESV). The Son of God had been appalled to find His Father’s house turned into a marketplace. In His anger, He literally cleaned house.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:15-16 ESV

The temple was to have been the place where God’s glory dwelled. All the way back at the dedication of the original temple, the glory of God had descended upon the magnificent structure built by King Solomon.

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord‘s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 ESV

In response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication over the newly constructed temple, God had told him:

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

But God’s people had proved to be unfaithful. They failed to remain obedient to His commands and chose to worship false gods, even erecting idols to them within the temple Solomon had dedicated to God. And Solomon had been one of the chief instigators behind the nation’s rebellion against God. In time, God destroyed the temple that bore His name. He used the Babylonian Empire as His agent of judgment against His chosen people, turning the capital city of Jerusalem and the glorious temple into a heap of ruins.

The temple where Jesus spoke was the same one that had been rebuilt by the Jews who had returned to Judah after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. That much smaller and less ornate temple was greatly expanded by King Herod during the 1st-Century AD. And it was on the grounds of this temple where Jesus had His confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.

In a sense, Jesus was presenting Himself as the replacement for the temple. With His coming, the primary purpose of the temple was being eliminated. It was no longer the dwelling place of God. Jesus had made the invisible God visible. He was God in human flesh, manifesting the glory of God through His miracles and messages. And, in time, He would offer His life as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The earthly temple would be replaced by the bodily temple of God’s own Son. That is why Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). His death would accomplish what the temple and the sacrificial system could have never done. And the author of Hebrews makes this point perfectly clear.

…those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:3-10 NLT

One of the things that infuriated the religious leaders was Jesus’ claim that He could offer eternal life. They had been shocked by Jesus’ audacious and ridiculous claim: “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). His statement was illogical and, therefore, unacceptable. Abraham and all the prophets had died, they reasoned. So, who was He to think that He could offer a life free from death? They even ask Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). Their question reveals that they know exactly what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to be God. And, almost as if to support their suspicions, Jesus responded, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54 ESV).

Jesus brings the conversation back to the issue of His relationship with God. He was not just another son of God, as they believed themselves to be. He was the actual Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity. He was claiming divinity and authority, provided to Him by His Heavenly Father. But, as Jesus pointed out, their failure to recognize and accept Him was due to their ignorance of God. They didn’t know God as their Father, so how would they ever recognize His Son when He showed up?

But Jesus emphasized that Abraham, their great patriarch, had looked forward to the day when the promise of God was finally fulfilled through Jesus. God had told Abraham, “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 12:3 BSB). And the apostle Paul had clarified the meaning of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV).

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and He claims, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56 ESV). In a sense, Jesus is saying, “If Abraham could ‘see’ and rejoice in my coming, why can’t you?”

And when His detractors scoff at Jesus’ words, He adds fuel to the fire by boldly asserting, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV). And the magnitude of this statement did not escape them. They knew exactly what He was saying. Jesus was claiming to be God, which is why John states that “they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59 ESV). They distinctly heard Jesus using the self-designation used by Yahweh when He had spoken to Moses at the burning bush.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14 ESV

At this point in the story, John has presented a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. The confrontation between Jesus and His adversaries has entered a new and darker phase. Jesus has clearly stated His identity. No more cryptic answers. No more veiled references to deity. He is the great “I am.” And John ends this scene with a simple sentence that is pregnant with meaning: “but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59 ESV). 

The glory of God, in the form of the Son of God, departed the temple. He vacated the premises, leaving the religious leaders still holding the stones in their hands with which they had intended to kill Him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, had walked away from the very place where tens of thousands of sacrifices had been offered for hundreds of years. But this Lamb would be offered on a hillside outside the city, providing atonement for the sins of mankind – once for all.

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 Spirit Who Gives Life

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37-39 ESV

All of the events covered in chapter seven have occurred during the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem. Now, after having informed His audience about His coming departure, Jesus returns to the temple grounds in order to make a statement regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit. John describes this scene as taking place on the last day of the feast, “the great day.” According to Deuteronomy 16:13, the Feast of Booths lasted seven days. But the day following the feast, which always fell on the Sabbath, was to be a special day as well.

On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.– Leviticus 23:36 ESV

It is impossible to know whether Jesus made His announcement about the coming Holy Spirit on the seventh or eighth day. By designating it as “the great day,” John could have been referencing the final day of the feast itself, the seventh day. Or he could have been referring to the eighth day, which was considered by most Jews to be just as much a part of the feast as the previous seven days. It was on that day, a Sabbath day, that a final holy convocation was held to celebrate God’s gracious provision for the needs of His chosen people during the 40 years they had spent in the wilderness.

During the 1st-Century AD, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths with a series of man-made rites or rituals that were not outlined in the Mosaic law. One of these was the daily water libation. The details surrounding this daily ritual are essential to understanding the nature of Jesus’ comments.

The third daily ceremony was the rite of the water libation. On the first morning of Sukkot a procession of priests went down to the pool of Siloam to bring up to the Temple a golden container of water sufficient to last throughout the seven days of the feast. The water was brought up with great ceremony. The shofar was blown and the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the feast waved their lulavs as the priests carried the water around the altar. The great Hallel (Psalms 113-118) were recited. Then the priest on duty poured out the contents of two silver bowls: one held water and the other held wine. This was an act of prayer and an expression of dependence upon God to pour out his blessing of rain upon the earth.

On the last or “great” day of the feast, the water libation rite reached its climax. The priests circled the altar seven times and then poured out the water with great pomp and ceremony. This was Hoshana Rabbah, the great “HOSHIANA,” (which translated is “save now”). – © Jews for Jesus USA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The water from the Pool of Siloam was poured out along with the daily drink offering of wine. The pouring out of the water was intended to represent God’s gracious provision of life-sustaining water for His people during their days in the wilderness. The water was representative of His saving grace, as described in the book of Isaiah.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.– Isaiah 12:2-3 ESV

The pouring out of the wine was meant to represent God’s promise to pour out His Spirit upon His people.

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” – Isaiah 44:3 ESV

It is believed that as the water and wine were poured out, the people would chant Isaiah 12:3 as well as Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

With all this as background, the words of Jesus take on a whole new significance. And whether He spoke those words on the seventh or eighth day becomes immaterial. The point is that Jesus used the context of the daily pouring out of the water and the wine to offer His promise of the coming Spirit of God. John describes Jesus as standing up and crying out. There is an intensity to the scene. Jesus is shouting at the top of His lungs, passionately inviting the people to receive what God is about to offer.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. – John 7:37 ESV

With that statement, Jesus made Himself the focal point of the entire festival. He purposely took the Isaiah 55:1 passage and made it about Himself. None of this would have escaped His Jewish audience. And the religious leaders would have been appalled at His audacity and apparent blasphemy. But Jesus was far from done. He quickly added:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38 ESV

This statement presents a problem. There is no Old Testament passage that seems to correspond with Jesus’ words. So, it would seem that Jesus was summarizing and interpreting a variety of Old Testament passages that were intended to point toward the future advent of the Holy Spirit. These would have included the following:

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 39:29 ESV

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.” – Isaiah 44:3 ESV

Jesus was linking these promises to Himself. The pouring out of the Spirit of God was tied directly to belief in Him as the Son of God. In a sense, Jesus was making belief in Him a mandatory condition for experiencing the outpouring of the Spirit. And this bold claim would have been highly offensive to His audience, especially to the Jewish religious leaders.

But everything Jesus said mirrored the words He had spoken to the Samaritan woman He had encountered at Jacob’s well. He had told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10 ESV). And then He had added, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).

He had offered this woman a source of living water that would result in eternal life. But He was the key to receiving this incredible resource. It would be through faith in Jesus that the promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit would come.

When Jesus had described Himself as the bread that came down from heaven, He had disclosed that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53 ESV). In doing so, He had presented Himself as the sole source of eternal life. Through belief in Him as the Son of God, sin-stained men and women could find cleansing and complete purification. They would be able to enter into God’s presence unashamed and fully accepted as righteous in His eyes. But Jesus had added an important factor that would make this promise possible.

“Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:62-63 ESV

Jesus had been revealing all along that He was going to have to die so that eternal life could be made available. He would have to offer His life as a ransom for sinful mankind. And His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. But when He had ascended, the Holy Spirit would come, providing all those who placed their faith in Him with abundant life now and eternal life to come.

And John provides an important point of clarification when he adds: “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39 ESV).

John includes this point of explanation for the benefit of his readers. He realized that they would have found the words of Jesus just as difficult to understand as the Jews who heard them on “the great day” of the feast. As John will make clear, Jesus’ invitation was met with mixed reviews. They didn’t know what to make of His words. They were perplexed by His offer of rivers of living water. And it was because they had no idea that Jesus was about to lay down His life for their sins. He was going to offer Himself as a substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Bread of Life would be broken. His blood would be poured out. His life would be given as an atonement for the sins of men. And His death, resurrection, and ascension would make possible the pouring out of “the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63 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

He Will Live Because of Me

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. John 6:52-59 ESV

As strange as this whole conversation has been, what makes it even more bizarre is the realization that it all took place in the local synagogue in Capernaum. For some unexplained reason, John chose to withhold this bit of information until now. That Jesus made this important announcement about the bread of life in the synagogue is significant because it was the place where the Jews gathered to listen to God’s Word. As the Son of God and the living Word of God, He was expounding on the written Word of God, conveying new truth regarding His Father’s plan of redemption for mankind.

Yet His choice of location for revealing this information did not make the news any easier to understand or accept. The Jews in His audience were confused and, most likely, a little turned off by the thought of what He was saying. And they made their distaste and disbelief known.

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” – John 6:52 ESV

What Jesus was saying was implausible and totally unappealing. Everything about His claim sounded ridiculous and unacceptable to His audience. Notice their emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. They refer to Him as “this man.” They were still wrestling with the fact that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (John 6:42 ESV). They knew who His parents were and so His claim to have “come down from heaven” made no sense to them. He was nothing more than a man. Even those who had been part of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and had expressed awe at what they had witnessed, had wondered aloud whether Jesus was “the Prophet we have been expecting” (John 6:14 NLT). To them, Jesus was just a man and nothing more. And because He was a mere man, they could not fathom what Jesus meant by eating His flesh.

But rather than providing much-needed clarification, Jesus simply expands on His thoughts and adds to their confusion.

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 NLT

It is easy to imagine the looks of consternation on the faces of His audience as Jesus paints this rather unpleasant visual image. What they heard Jesus describing was cannibalism, plain and simple, and the fact that Jesus had added the aspect of drinking His blood made it all the more repulsive. In His law, God had strictly forbidden the consumption of blood.

And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’” – Leviticus 17:10-12 NLT

Yet, here was Jesus making the audacious claim that eating His flesh and drinking His blood was the key to eternal life. God had warned that the drinking of blood would bring permanent banishment from community, but Jesus was claiming that drinking His blood would result in permanent communion with God. For the Jews in the synagogue that day, it was all contradictory and confusing. 

What they failed to understand was that Jesus was speaking about belief. He had told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47 ESV). They believed Jesus could do miracles. Some believed He might be the prophet Moses had spoken about. Others were beginning to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But none were accepting the fact that He was the Son of God who had come down from heaven. When they looked at Jesus, they saw a man. And the idea that He could also be a co-equal with God was unfathomable and unacceptable. 

Yet, Jesus was informing them that it was His deity and humanity that would make salvation possible. He was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. And all the imagery concerning His flesh and blood had to do with His coming death. He was going to lay down His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would allow His body to be broken and His blood to be shed so that sinful men and women might have receive permanent cleansing and release from their condemnation of death.

Luke provides a description of the night on which Jesus shared a final Passover meal with His disciples. At one point, He repurposed the unleavened bread and the wine served with the meal in order to make a point about His death, which was just hours away.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. – Luke 22:19-20 ESV

Jesus was letting His disciples know that it was His body that was going to be sacrificed on their behalf. As the Son of God, He had taken on human flesh so that He might become the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of the book of Hebrews provides further insight into this substitutionary aspect of Jesus’ death.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:4-10 ESV

What Jesus was trying to convey to His audience in the synagogue was the necessity of His deity and humanity. He had to be divine so that He could live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He had to be human so that He could serve as an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Animal sacrifices were not enough. The blood of bulls and goats could not offer permanent cleansing from sin. Only Jesus, the God-man, could be an acceptable sacrifice, fully satisfying the just and holy judgment of God against the sinfulness of humanity.

The author of Hebrews adds: “But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Hebrews 10:12 NLT). Jesus eventually accomplished His mission. He fulfilled the will of His Father and offered Himself up as the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He gave His life so that sin-enslaved humanity might be restored to a right relationship with God.

The crowds had come looking for another free meal that might satiate their physical appetites for another day. But Jesus was offering so much more. He was letting them know that He came to offer a permanent solution to their very real problem of sin and death. They all stood before Him condemned and worthy of death. They were guilty of rebellion against a holy God. But Jesus, the Son of God, had come to earth to serve as the sole solution to their pressing sin problem.

But they were going to have to believe in Him. They would have to accept His claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 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