The Path to Paradise

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
    but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
    but the path of the upright is a level highway.
20 A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish man despises his mother.
21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
22 Without counsel plans fail,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
    and a word in season, how good it is!
24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
    that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
25 The Lord tears down the house of the proud
    but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,
    but gracious words are pure.
27 Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
    but he who hates bribes will live.
28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
    but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
    and good news refreshes the bones.
31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
    will dwell among the wise.
32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
    but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility comes before honor. 
– Proverbs 15:18-33 ESV

Uncontrolled anger, relational damage, self-inflicted trouble, parental disappointment, greed, godless words, unrighteous behavior, and abandonment by God. These are the sad and inevitable characteristics of the one who chooses to take the path of the fool. It looks so appealing and yet, according to Solomon, it doesn’t end well. The fool is like a car careening down a steep street without a driver. It makes plenty of headway but leaves a wake of destruction in its path as it does so. In the same way, fools tend to wreak havoc wherever they go. Their lifestyle is not only self-destructive, but it ends up doing inestimable damage to so many others along the way. And they don’t seem to care.

foolish children despise their mother. – Proverbs 15:20 NLT

They don’t literally despise their mothers. But their self-destructive actions end up bringing sorrow and hurt to those who love and care about them. A mother who is forced to stand back and watch as her foolish son self-implodes can’t help but feel hurt and saddened by the experience. This is a regular theme in Proverbs.

…a foolish child brings grief to a mother. – Proverbs 10:1 NLT

It is painful to be the parent of a fool – Proverbs 17:21 NLT

Foolish children bring grief to their father
and bitterness to the one who gave them birth. – Proverbs 17:25 NLT

The fool ends up developing so many disabling and self-destructive habits that the path of his life becomes virtually impassable and, getting to where he longs to be, becomes almost impossible.

The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns – Proverbs 15:19 ESV

Because the fool lacks godly wisdom, he ends up trying to navigate life without a map. He has no instructions and, therefore, no way of knowing which path to take. So, he chooses his own destination and ends up determining his own fate.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

A fool is incapable of seeing that his path of choice leads to a dead end. From his perspective, he’s making progress but he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that his final destination is unexpectedly unpleasant.

In contrast, the wise individual finds their life’s journey to be far more pleasant and free from roadblocks.

…the path of the upright is an open highway. – Proverbs 15:19 NLT

Solomon is not suggesting that the wise are guaranteed the promise of a trouble-free life. Walking with God is not always easy. The road of righteousness can also have its potholes and pitfalls. But its final destination is certain. It ultimately leads to a pleasant place that God has prepared for all those who faithfully follow His divine directions. Yet, Solomon points out that a fool lacks the discernment to realize his path is a dead end.

Foolishness brings joy to those with no sense… – Proverbs 15: 21 NLT

They say, “Ignorance is bliss.” There is a certain degree of truth to that maxim. The saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is partially true. Not knowing what lies at the end of the path can be a good thing – for a while. The journey itself can actually be quite enjoyable but eventually, reality will set in. But along the way, the fool can have the time of their life. It can feel like a non-stop party as they make unscheduled stops and take unexpected detours to see all the tempting sights. But Solomon reminds us that “a sensible person stays on the right path” (Proverbs 15:21 NLT).

The fool, never realizing that they’re lost and headed in the wrong direction, refuses to ask for directions.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice… – Proverbs 15:22 NLT

They’re too arrogant and self-assured to seek counsel. Even if they realize they’re lost, they can’t bring themselves to admit it. So, they stubbornly stay on the path they’ve chosen for themselves, refusing the input of others and further ensuring their eventual failure. And Solomon provides a not-so-subtle hint as to the far-from-pleasant outcome of their ways.

The path of life leads upward for the wise;
    they leave the grave behind. – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

The choice is either life or death. It’s as simple as that. And what determines one from the other is wisdom. And wisdom begins with a healthy reverence for God and His ways. What the fool fails to realize, to his own detriment, is that He has God as his enemy.

The Lord tears down the house of the proud… – Proverbs 15:25 NLT

The Lord detests evil plans… – Proverbs 15:26 NLT

The Lord is far from the wicked – Proverbs 15:29 NLT

This is serious business. Foolishness is not some kind of alternative lifestyle that is harmless and free from ramifications. Solomon is not describing some innocent free spirit who is simply trying to live life on his own terms. He is revealing the ultimate outcome of all those who refuse to honor God and live according to His righteous commands. The fool is a synonym for the godless. Solomon’s own father, King David, described the fool this way:

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 14:1 NLT

Fools are actually arrogant and, ultimately, atheistic in their outlook. They live as if God doesn’t even exist. They know His commands but refuse to obey them because they have determined He has no power over them. The psalmist put it this way:

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:4-6 NLT

They live in a state of perpetual denial, dismissing the reality of God and denying the deadly fate that lies at the end of their chosen path.

The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us!
    He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” – Proverbs 10:11 NLT

But oh, how wrong they are. God does see, and He does repay the wicked for their ways. He does mete out justice upon the fool. Those who spurn the Lord may appear to enjoy a modicum of success but their days of fun and games are numbered. One day, they will have to answer for their choices. And Solomon warns that all those who reject the loving discipline of God will come to regret their decision.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
    but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. – Proverbs 15:32 NLT

According to Solomon, “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom…” (Proverbs 15:33 NLT), and wisdom results in a lifestyle that is life-preserving, joy-filled, other-oriented, and God-honoring. The fool is perfectly free to choose his own path, but he cannot determine his own destiny. That is up to God. But the one who chooses the way of the wise finds himself on the highway that leads to godliness and holiness.

The path of life leads upward for the wise – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

That life will have its ups and downs and peaks and valleys, but the trajectory is always upwards. It leads to a final destination that features joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, peace, and an unbroken, never-ending relationship with the God of the universe. And that’s a path only a fool would avoid.
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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Thy Will Be Done

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6 ESV

Paul has emphasized the believers’ relationship with one another. He encouraged them to “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” (Colossians 3:13 NLT). They were to patiently and lovingly respond to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiving as they had been forgiven, and seeking to promote an atmosphere of Christlike peace and harmony.

Now, Paul calls on the Colossian believers to make prayer a priority in their lives. And Paul practiced what he preached. He opened his letter with several statements concerning the ongoing prayers that he and Timothy prayed on behalf of the Colossian church.

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Colossians 1:3 NLT

…we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. – Colossians 1:9 NLT

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:11 NLT

Prayer was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. With responsibility for the spiritual well-being of so many congregations spread over such a large geographic area, Paul was limited in his ability to make personal appearances. So, he utilized prayer as the means by which he called on the power of God to protect and provide for his far-flung flocks. Paul understood the power and necessity of prayer. He considered it the most vital relationship a Christian could cultivate in their lives. The author of Hebrews, whom many believe to have been Paul, wrote, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 BSB). Paul wrote something similar in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

Paul was committed to cultivating the interpersonal relationships of the Colossians believers. He wanted them to live out their Spirit-transformed lives by displaying Christlike behavior toward one another. But he also desired that the Colossians maintain a healthy and ongoing dialogue with their heavenly Father. For Paul, prayer was the primary way for a believer to express their dependence upon God. He viewed it as far more than a means of getting what we want from God. Prayer was a way for the believer to align their will with that of the Father. It was to be an ongoing form of two-way communication between the Heavenly Father and His child. Through prayer, petitions could be shared and directions could be received. For Paul, prayer was an expression of faith. It displayed the believer’s dependence upon and trust in God. It was a privilege provided by a gracious God that allowed His children to call upon Him at any time. It was to be a delight, not a duty.

Paul was familiar with the proverbs that promoted the efficacy of prayer.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. – Proverbs 15:8 ESV

The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29 ESV

He would have known what King David had written concerning God and the prayers of His people.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them. – Psalm 145:18-19 NLT

And he would have concurred with the words of James.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail. – James 5:16 BSB

So, Paul begins to close out his letter to the Colossians with an emphasis on prayer. He urges them to devote themselves to the practice of prayer. And he warns them to be “watchful” (grēgoreō), a word that carries the idea of being alert and ready to see how God will answer their prayers. And when God does answer, they are to express their gratitude for His gracious intercession. Prayer requires faith but not blind faith. It has God as its object and, therefore, answers to prayer should come as no surprise. Prayer and thanksgiving should go hand in hand because God is a faithful God who longs to fulfill the desires of His people.

That’s why Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him. He understood the power of prayer and was not ashamed to request their prayers on his behalf. But Paul was specific in terms of his prayer request. He wanted them to pray that God would open up additional opportunities for him and Timothy to share the good news concerning Christ. At first glance, this seems like an unnecessary prayer. The spread of the gospel was God’s will. He didn’t need to be coerced or cajoled into opening up new opportunities for unbelievers to hear the news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. According to Paul’s letter to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV). So, why was it important that the Colossians pray this prayer on Paul’s behalf?

It seems that Paul wanted them to pray in keeping with the will of God. It was clearly God’s will that many would be saved and the Colossians had the opportunity to align themselves with God praying for His will to be accomplished. In doing so, they would be setting their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2). They would be praying in keeping with God’s revealed will.

What makes Paul’s prayer request even more fascinating is that he shared it while under house arrest in Rome. He didn’t ask them to pray for his release. He didn’t covet their prayers for protection or provision. They would have known about his predicament. And by focusing their attention on the spread of the gospel, Paul was helping them to understand that God’s will trumped his own. If God deemed it necessary for Paul to be released in order for the gospel to be spread, He would make it happen. But Paul’s prayer request was selfless in nature. He wanted the good news to go out and for God to get the glory.

Paul also wrote a letter to the believers in Philippi while imprisoned in Rome. And rather than requesting that they pray for his release, he declared God’s sovereign will concerning his imprisonment.

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14 NLT

And Paul went on to express the tension he felt regarding his ongoing imprisonment and possible death and the thought of release and continued ministry.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

Paul longed to be with Jesus but he was also committed to the work to which he had been commissioned by Jesus. So, for Paul, it boiled down to the will of God. The gospel must go out and if God wanted Paul to be an ongoing participant in that mission, God would orchestrate Paul’s release. And if God should set Paul free, he asked that the Colossians pray for him to have clarity when proclaiming the message of the gospel.

And he reminds them that they too must live out their faith, constantly mindful of its impact on “those who are not believers” (Colossians 4:5 NLT). As they prayed for God’s will to be done, they must also live their lives in accordance with God’s will for them. They must be salt and light. They must live wisely and circumspectly, always recognizing their role as Christ’s ambassadors on earth. That is why Paul encourages them, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NLT). Their words were just as important as their works. Their daily interactions with the unsaved would be vital to the continued spread of the gospel. And their patient and loving treatment of one another would go a long way in demonstrating the life-changing nature of the good news.

In a sense, Paul is encouraging his flock in Colossae to practice the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Their petitions and their actions were to be in keeping with the will of God. They were to pray and behave in ways that aligned with God’s revealed will for the world. So, that the gospel could continue to spread and the lost be restored to a right relationship with God.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Unwavering Faith In An Unfailing God

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:14-26 ESV

Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt after having buried their father Jacob in Canaan. It must have been difficult to leave behind the land of promise yet again. But for the time being, Egypt had become their home away from home. So, having interred their father’s body in the cave of the field at Machpelah, they made the long journey back to Egypt.

It appears that, along the way, Joseph’s brothers became apprehensive about what might happen upon their return. With their father and protector dead, perhaps Joseph would take advantage of the situation and enact his revenge for their former treatment of him. Their fear of Joseph had never really subsided, despite the many ways he had shown them love and honor. It had been Joseph who had personally subsidized their food allotment all throughout the years of the famine. He had helped arrange their resettlement in Goshen. And yet, deep down inside, his brothers still did not trust him.

Upon their return to Egypt, the brothers held a discussion on the matter and reached a consensus.

“Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. – Genesis 50:15 NLT

So, they crafted a message and had it delivered to Joseph.

“Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” – Genesis 50:16-17 NLT

His brothers had never really believed that Joseph had forgiven them. And they had always feared that he would one day use his power to repay them for the crime they had committed against him. They wrongly assumed that their father’s death would provide the perfect opportunity for Joseph to seek vengeance.

At the heart of their distrust was disbelief. It wasn’t that they failed to trust Joseph, it was that they lacked trust in the promises and provision of God. Years earlier, when Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, he had clearly told them that their actions against him had been part of God’s sovereign plan to preserve their people.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – Genesis 45:4-8 NLT

And yet, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their God had been orchestrating every facet of their relationship with Joseph. By this time, they must have realized that Joseph’s dreams, which had infuriated them, had come true. They had lived to experience Joseph’s prediction that they would one day bow down to him. And despite all the ways in which God had miraculously preserved them, they couldn’t seem to believe that He would continue to do so. They saw Joseph’s power as a problem, not a God-ordained proof of divine protection.

Joseph was grieved by their message. What more could he do to prove his love for them? He longed to be restored to a right relationship with all of his brothers and he harbored no ill will toward any of them. So as he read their message, he wept bitterly. But, once again, Joseph took action, calling his brothers into his presence. He refused to allow this divisive wedge to remain between him and his brothers.

The brothers arrived at Joseph’s palace ready to throw themselves at his mercy. In fact, as soon as they entered they threw themselves at his feet, declaring, “Look, we are your slaves!” (Genesis 50:18 NLT). Preferring to face a lifetime of slavery rather than death, they begged Joseph for mercy. But what they got was another powerful reminder of the sovereignty of God.

“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” – Genesis 50:19-21 NLT

Joseph knew what they had done. Not only that, he knew he would have been fully in his rights to seek revenge against them. He not only had the motive, but he had the power to pull it off. But that is not what Joseph wanted because it was not what God had intended. Their crime against him, while untenable and contemptible, had been part of God’s providential plan for protecting and preserving the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph fully believed in the sovereignty of God and he wanted his brothers to put aside their fears and replace them with faith in the God of their father.

For 25 chapters, Moses has chronicled the life of Jacob and his family. And now, as his history of Jacob’s lineage comes to a close, Moses reminds his readers that Yahweh can and should be trusted at all times – regardless of how dire and desperate the situation may appear. And this was a message they needed to hear. The original readers of Moses’ book had been the Israelites whom he had led out of Egypt to the edge of the promised land. Moses died before the people had ever entered the land, so this historical narrative would have been intended to provide them with impetus and encouragement as they prepared to enter the land without him. Even as Moses faced death and knew he would never enter the land of Canaan, he composed a song for his people to sing. And, in that song, he mentioned the days that Jacob had spent in Egypt.

 “For the people of Israel belong to the Lord;
    Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land,
    in an empty, howling wasteland.
He surrounded them and watched over them;
    he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
    and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
    and carried them safely on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them;
    they followed no foreign gods.
He let them ride over the highlands
    and feast on the crops of the fields.
He nourished them with honey from the rock
    and olive oil from the stony ground.
He fed them yogurt from the herd
    and milk from the flock,
    together with the fat of lambs.
He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats,
    together with the choicest wheat.
You drank the finest wine,
    made from the juice of grapes.” – Deuteronomy 32:9-14 NLT

God had cared for the descendants of Jacob for more than 400 years. He had protected them and provided for all their needs. He had multiplied them in number and miraculously transformed the 12 sons of Jacob into a vast army of more than 600,000 men by the time they left Egypt.

The story of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers is intended to be a reminder of the sovereign power of the Almighty God. His plan is never thwarted. His will is never overcome. What Joseph’s brothers had done to him had been meant for ill, but God had intended it for good.

Joseph assuaged the fears and guilt of his brothers, assuring them that he had no intentions of bringing them harm. And he lived alongside them in peace until he reached the age of 110. Joseph lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather, witnessing three generations worth of descendants through his son, Ephraim. But with death closing in, Joseph took one last opportunity to encourage his brothers to maintain their faith in Yahweh.

“Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Genesis 50:24 NLT

Joseph never stopped believing in the promises of God. He had taken his father’s body back to Canaan because he knew that was their true home. Egypt had been nothing but a divinely ordained detour. The day would come when God would restore His people to the land He had promised to them. And Joseph believed his brothers or their descendants would live to see that day. His faith was so strong that he demanded his brothers swear an oath to take his mummified body with them when they returned to Canaan. He, like his father Jacob, had always harbored an intense desire to go home.

It’s interesting to note that the book of Genesis began with a couple who displayed their lack of faith in God by questioning His Word and disobeying His command. Rather than trusting God, they tried to become like him. But the book ends with a man of faith who never stopped believing in the promises of God. In fact, Joseph is mentioned in the great “Hall of Faith” found in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left. – Hebrews 11:22 NLT

Joseph died in Egypt, but his heart had always been in Canaan. And one day, his faith in God was proven worthy, because his body was returned to the land of promise, just as he had hoped.

Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:18-21 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God of the Impossible

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”  Genesis 15:7-21 ESV

Abram “believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). In other words, he trusted that God would fulfill the promise He had made. Abram’s attempt to number the stars in the night sky had been quickly followed by God’s bold assertion, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).  And Abram had taken God at His word.

Then, after declaring His plan to give Abram innumerable descendants, God reiterated His promise to provide Canaan as their future homeland.

“I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” – Genesis 15:7 ESV

God was simply reminding Abram of the promise that He had earlier made.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 NLT

But while Abram believed that God could and would fulfill those promises, he was still filled with apprehension and nagging doubts. As a finite human being, he couldn’t help but look at the circumstances surrounding his life and wonder how God was going to pull off what appeared to be an impossible feat. From Abram’s limited perspective, it appeared as if the odds were against him. He was old and his wife was barren. And, while he had successfully defeated the armies of the four kings of Mesopotamia, he knew the land of Canaan was occupied by more nations than he could ever hope to defeat with his small militia. In fact, God would even accentuate the impossible odds that Abram faced when He later declared, “To your offspring I will give this land…the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 ESV). 

That’s a formidable list of potential foes that will have to be defeated before Abram can occupy the land. And, according to Genesis 14:14, Abram had only 318 trained fighters at his disposal. The deck was stacked against him. And add to that the problem of Sarai’s infertility, and it is no wonder that Abram had questions for God.

“O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” – Genesis 15:8 NLT

Abram needed proof. It wasn’t that he no longer believed God, it was just that he desperately needed a tangible sign to help fortify and solidify his belief. Abram’s struggle was normal and natural, and he was not the only God-follower who needed a sign to bolster their faith. Moses, the man who was recording the life of Abram, knew what it was like to struggle with doubts. When he had received his call to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, Moses had declared his doubts that the people would believe he had been sent by God.

“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

In response, God told had Moses to take his shepherd’s staff and throw it on the ground. When Abram obeyed, the staff transformed into a snake. Then, God told Moses to pick the snake up by the tail. Once again, Moses did as he was told.

So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.” – Exodus 4:4 NLT

This “sign” was meant to provide Moses with faith and it was to serve as proof to the people of Israel that Moses had been sent by God.

“Perform this sign,” the Lord told him. “Then they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—really has appeared to you.” – Exodus 4:5 NLT

Belief and unbelief can actually coexist at the same time. And nowhere is this idea better illustrated than in the gospel of Mark. He records an encounter between Jesus and a man whose son was possessed by a demon. In Jesus’ absence, the disciples had attempted to cast out the demon but had failed. So, Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been possessed. To which the father replied, “From childhood…it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:21-22 NLT). This man was desperate. He wanted to see his boy set free from this devastating and life-threatening disorder. And he hoped that Jesus might be able to do what the disciples had failed to do.

While the man had sought out the rabbi from Nazareth, believing that He had the power to heal and cast out demons, Jesus sensed the man’s lingering doubt. In earshot of the man, the disciples, and the rest of the crowd that had assembled, Jesus declared, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NLT). To which the father immediately responded, “I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24 NLT).

This honest statement from a grieving father represents the heart cry of every child of God. Saddled by a finite perspective and equipped with a faith that is burdened down by a sinful nature that is predisposed to doubt and disobey God, every believer finds himself struggling with unbelief. But God the Father, just like God the Son, is always willing to bolster unbelief. And so, rather than chastising Abram for his request for a sign, God patiently and powerfully obliged His reluctant servant.

But God didn’t simply perform a miracle like He had with Moses. Instead, He involved Abram in the process, by ordering him to gather “a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon” (Genesis 15:9 NLT). After checking off all the items on his God-ordained shopping list, Abram brought the animals to God and proceeded to prepare them for sacrifice.

God was commanding Abram to prepare a covenant ceremony. This would have been a common occurrence in Abram’s day that was meant to seal a bilateral covenant between two parties. The animals were killed then split down the middle. The two halves were then separated, forming a pathway between them. To seal their agreement, the two parties would walk together between the lifeless bodies of the sacrificed animals, signifying their commitment to remain faithful to the covenant agreement or face the same fate as the animals. It was a blood covenant.

But after completing his assignment, Abram had to spend the next hours fending off the birds of prey that were attempting to consume the carcasses of the sacrificed animals. Exhausted by the effort, Abram eventually fell asleep. His attempts to drive off the “unclean” scavengers proved too much for him. And this failure to preserve the sacrifice was meant to reveal Abram’s complete dependence upon God. As Abram slept, “a terrifying darkness came down over him” (Genesis 15:12 NLT). Even in his unconscious state, Abram sensed a feeling of dread. Something terrible was about to happen. He had fallen asleep with the disturbing image of the dismembered animals being attacked by ravenous birds seared in his brain. And this seemed to conjure up a foreboding sense of dread.

“…Abram driving off the birds of prey from the dismembered pieces portrays him defending his descendants from the attacks of foreign nations. Genesis itself tells of a number of attacks by foreigners against the children of Abraham and it already looks forward to the sojourn in Egypt.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

In the midst of Abram’s fitful and fearful sleep, God spoke to him, affirming that his feelings of dread were well justified. There were difficult days in store for His descendants. God’s fulfillment of the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants would be delayed by a seeming tragedy.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. – Genesis 15:13 NLT

This was probably not the sign Abram had been seeking. It only seemed to confirm his lingering doubts and fears about the promises of God. But God followed this dose of bad news with a confident assurance of a glorious outcome.

But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:14-16 NLT

God was letting Abram know that His plans and His promise were long-term in nature, and their fulfillment was not up to Abram. In fact, as Abram slept, God ratified the covenant between them. In a normal covenant ceremony, both parties would have walked together between the carcasses, forming a bilateral agreement. But this covenant was unilateral in nature. When the sun went down and darkness descended on the land, “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Genesis 15:17 ESV). The presence of God, symbolized by smoke and fire, passed along the pathway and ratified the covenant. God was holding Himself accountable to keep the covenant He was making with Abram and his descendants. And this imagery of smoke and fire would become a recurring theme for the Israelites as God led them from Egypt to the promised land by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day (Exodus 13:21).

God gave Abram a glimpse into the future. And while it would have its fair share of dark days, Abram could rest in the knowledge that God was in full control of the outcome. It would all happen according to His sovereign will and by virtue of His unwavering faithfulness. None of it hinged on Abram’s faith. God was going to do what He promised to do. His plan was perfect and infallible. The promise of a seed and an inheritance would be fulfilled, whether Abram believed or not. The covenant ceremony was intended to assure Abram that the outcome was completely up to God, and He would not disappoint. Yes, the future would be filled with dark days and disappointing setbacks, but they were all part of God’s plan. A barren wife, a 400-year delay, and the presence of powerful foes would not be enough to thwart the plans of God.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Before We Begin

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 ESV

The book of beginnings. That is how this first book of the Bible is often described, and that moniker is well deserved. The first three words of the opening chapter form a rather short and succinct thesis statement that establishes the author’s intentions. This lengthy historical narrative was intended to provide a divinely inspired explanation for the existence of the universe. Within its pages, is found the creation story, describing God’s sovereign act of forming the stars and planets, the earth, and all its inhabitants, with special emphasis placed upon one particular people group – the nation of Israel.

Genesis is both a book of history and theology. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, theology is “the study of God and of God’s relation to the world” (“Theology.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology. Accessed 9 Dec. 2021.). And because Genesis opens with the words, “In the beginning, God…,” it reveals itself to be an unapologetically God-focused book. He serves as its primary protagonist, appearing on virtually every page and spanning its vast historical scope with sovereign authority and power.

The 50 chapters that comprise the book of Genesis cover a period of at least 2500 years – from the moment of creation to the death of the patriarch, Joseph. Of course, dating a book like Genesis is difficult, if not, impossible. As will become apparent in our exposition of the book, there has been much debate about the historicity of Genesis. Some regard it as nothing more than a collection of myths or fables. Others, who defend its authenticity, question its reliability when it comes to the accuracy of its dating and descriptions. The rise of the Enlightenment in the 18th-Century, with its emphasis on science and logic, reason and rationalism, led many Christians to question the accuracy of God’s Word. In the late 18th-Century, a new form of biblical study emerged from Germany that encouraged a more scientific approach to biblical interpretation. By the mid-nineteenth century, this historical-critical method of examining the biblical text had come to be known as higher criticism. Its influence was far-reaching, impacting seminaries and theological institutions across the world. With its emphasis on reason and rationalism, higher criticism tends to reject the supernatural aspect of the biblical text. Of course, to a proponent of higher criticism, the book of Genesis provides a treasure trove of evidence against the Bible’s reliability as a historical narrative.

There are many within evangelicalism today who remain influenced by this rationalistic approach to biblical interpretation. They reject the validity of a six-day creation narrative because it seems to contradict the scientific validation of the theory of evolution. They question the veracity of the many supernatural stories found on its pages, declaring them to be nothing more than oral traditions passed down from one unenlightened generation to another.

Whether they realize it or not, most modern Christians have been heavily influenced by this higher-critical method of biblical interpretation. Armed with science and reason, they approach the Bible with a pervading sense of skepticism and doubt. What cannot be reasonably explained is conveniently reinterpreted or simply rejected altogether. This hyper-critical and reductionistic approach to biblical interpretation renders the text devoid of the Spirit’s inspiration and turns the content of the Bible into little more than a collection of moralistic tales and man-made myths.

While no intelligent Christian should reject the advances in human knowledge achieved through scientific research and exploration, there is a danger in allowing human reason to trump divine intervention. The God of the Bible is not the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination. Man did not create God. According to the book of Genesis, it was the other way around. A Christian must approach the Bible in faith, understanding that what is contained within its pages is divinely inspired. It is not a collection of man-made myths or humanly concocted stories, but a Spirit-empowered book that provides us with a reliable retelling of mankind’s past and a prophetic glimpse into our future. It is a book that provides insights into the unknown and unexplained. It contains divine guidance for navigating the vicissitudes of life. More than just another book, the Bible is the word of God to humanity. As the apostle Paul so clearly states:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

And because it is divinely inspired and beyond the reach of human reason, there is much about the Bible that remains inexplicable. God has clearly communicated the transcendent nature of His wisdom and His ways.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah  55:8-9 ESV

And the apostle Paul provides us with a much-needed reminder of just ill-equipped we are to understand the unfathomable ways of God.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

So, as we approach this remarkable book, we need to do so with reverence and humility. If we attempt to use our highly limited resources of human reasoning and rationalism to explain the ways of God, we will only end up diminishing His glory and displaying our own hubris and arrogance. When we attempt to use our insufficient intelligence to explain the ways of God, we will soon find ourselves on the receiving end of God’s divine disfavor and having to endure a well-deserved lecture on His superiority and sovereignty. Like Job, who dared to question the ways of God, we will have to answer to the only One who has all the answers.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:2-7 NLT

Job, a mere man, dared to question God. The created questioned the Creator. And God was not amused by Job’s arrogant attitude. The all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe repeatedly confronted the fist-shaking, fulminating Job, sarcastically exposing the ridiculous nature of his resentment and anger.

“Where does light come from,
    and where does darkness go?
Can you take each to its home?
    Do you know how to get there?
But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created,
    and you are so very experienced! – Job 38:19-21 NLT

As we begin this study of the book of Genesis, may we do so with a sense of humility, freely confessing the limited nature of our knowledge and willingly accepting the greatness of our God. There will be much we will never understand and even more that we will never be able to explain. This is going to be a journey of discovery, one that will require equal amounts of faith and faithfulness. We must trust God as we walk the pages of Genesis. Like the characters whose lives we will encounter, we too will have questions along the way. We will have doubts. But we must not allow the inexplicable and unexplainable to deter us from the path of discovery.

If we remain faithful, we will grow to know God better. He will not answer all our questions or solve all the conundrums of life. But He will reveal Himself to us along the way. We will see His power and sovereign will at work in the creation of all things. We will discover the incredible nature of His unrelenting love. His holiness and justice will be displayed alongside His wrath and judgment. Along the way, God will reveal to us His grace, goodness, glory, and greatness, alongside His grand redemptive plan. The goal of the journey is to know God. After all, the entire Bible is the revelation of God to man. It is His gracious message of self-revelation that allows us to comprehend not only His identity but our own as well. Jesus stated that the objective of eternal life was not our escape from condemnation and death, but our knowledge of Him and His Heavenly Father.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

It is my prayer that we may read the book of Genesis with the goal to know God better.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

You Can Doubt God, But Never Discount Him

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

Peter feared that the “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) of the false teachers would take their toll on those who were spiritually immature. He even declared that these men “entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV) and lead them down a path of destruction. Driven by greed and the need for power and influence, these false teachers will say anything that might entrap the weak-willed and spiritually vulnerable.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

Peter seems to indicate that the ones most susceptible to these attacks will be the newly saved. They lack the spiritual maturity and strength to withstand the assaults on their faith that will come in the form of deceptively alluring lies. And, as a result, they will find themselves being lured back into their old ways of life, marked by slavery to sin rather than freedom in Christ.

when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

Peter used two old and probably well-known proverbs to describe such people.

“The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:22 ESV

These two visual metaphors were meant to be vivid reminders of the unacceptable nature of spiritual apostasy. Peter wanted his readers to be appalled at the thought of falling away from the faith. He compared it to a dog eating its own vomit – a thoroughly disgusting image that was meant to illustrate just how unacceptable it was for a believer to become enslaved by sin again.

The author of Hebrews describes how difficult it can be for a fallen believer to return once again to faith. It is not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Peter and James are not suggesting that believers who are enticed to return to their old sinful ways have lost their salvation. But they are clearly stating that it is possible for an immature Christ-follower to be lured back into their pre-conversion state of slavery to sin. The potential for “backsliding” was an ever-present reality for every follower of Christ, and this is why the apostles so strongly promoted the need for ongoing sanctification.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Failure to put off the old and put on the new would eventually result in spiritual regression, not spiritual transformation. It would be like a cleanly washed sow returning to the mud and the mire. Unaccustomed to the value of cleanliness, a pig will return to its old familiar and comfortable habits. It’s only natural. And the same thing is true of a believer who fails to supplement his faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. The Christian life is not intended to be static or stagnant. Growth is expected and intended as a sign of spiritual health and well-being. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a believer is intended to result in heart transformation that produces behavior modification. But the believer who fails to make progress will eventually regress. The constant presence of their old sin nature will lead them to return to the “vomit” of their former life. And though cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they will find themselves covered in the muck and mire of sin once again.

All of this is why Peter makes such a big deal out of the false teachers. He knows they will find a ready and willing audience, and he also knows that some within the congregations to whom he was writing would follow the way of the dog and the pig. So, as he opens up the next section of his letter, he reminds his readers that this is the second time he has had to write them. In his former letter, he spent a great deal of time teaching them about the difference between their current suffering and their future inheritance. He knew that they were undergoing difficult trials because of their faith in Christ. But he also knew that they could live with great expectation because they had “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter1:4 NLT).

Peter had wanted them to know that, despite all that was happening to them in this life, they could rejoice because God had something incredible in store for them in the next life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Peter had told them that the prophets of written about this coming salvation, even though they couldn’t fully comprehend its meaning or significance.

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. – 1 Peter 1:11 NLT

But their inability to understand the scope of God’s promises did nothing to invalidate the reliability of God’s word. Those men had written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, declaring the truth concerning God’s redemptive plan – a plan that included the glorious inheritance to which Peter had referred in his first letter. That’s why Peter wrote in his second letter: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 NLT). He was taking them back to those promises penned by the prophets and then declared by him and his fellow apostles. Peter and his companions had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and that there was far more to His kingship than a temporal reign in the city of David. Jesus had come to do something far more spectacular than return Israel to power and prominence. He had come to redeem fallen mankind and to one day restore all creation to its former glory. 

And yet, there were false teachers who were questioning the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed by the prophets and contradicting the teachings the apostles had received from Christ Himself. Peter continued to warn that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires” (2 Peter 3:3 NLT). And he provided a specific example of how they will question the writings of the prophets and the words of the apostles. They will say:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:4 NLT

Notice the subtlety of their line of questioning. The apostles had been teaching that the writings of the Old Testament prophets had clearly proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. But these false teachers were arguing that everything remained just as it was when those men had penned their words. Nothing had changed. Jesus had not returned and, by inference, they were suggesting that He never would. The false teachers were propagating a form of deism. They believed that God existed but that He did not involve Himself in the daily affairs of man. In their estimation, Jesus had been nothing more than a godly man whose good life could be emulated. But He had not been God in human flesh who sacrificed His life for sinful mankind.

In essence, the false teachers were accusing the apostles of lying and twisting the words of the prophets. They were suggesting that Peter and his companions had fabricated the whole God-in-human-flesh idea and had made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection. These arrogant men were denying the teachings of the apostles but, more than that, they were calling into question the veracity of God’s Word. Peter boldly declares:

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. – 2 Peter 3:5-6 NLT

Whether they believed it or not, God had intervened in the affairs of the world before, and He would do so again. While the false teachers would go on questioning divine intervention and future judgment, it did nothing to alter the reality of either one – a point that Peter made perfectly clear.

by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

Just because they had not yet witnessed the second coming of Jesus did not mean it was a figment of the apostles’ imaginations. It was easy for them to point out that Jesus had not yet returned. But Peter attempted to keep their focus on the promises of God. If God said it, He could be trusted to do it. It didn’t matter whether these men believed God or not. God was not hindered by their lack of faith. He was in no way hampered by their doubts about His sovereignty and providential power. God had judged the world before and He would do so again. And, according to Peter, the false teachers were “being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:7 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Shepherding Has Its Rewards

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

At the end of the day, Peter was a highly practical man who knew that theology alone was not enough to help his readers navigate the uncertain cultural waters in which they found themselves. They were drowning in a sea of competing ideologies that stood diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their status as followers of Christ made them a tempting target for all those who viewed them as a threat to the prevailing status quo. So, Peter went out of his way to apply the promises contained in the Scriptures with the theological lessons found in the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter was a faithful shepherd who cared deeply about the everyday needs of his flock and was determined to help them apply the hope of their future inheritance to their present circumstances.

At this point in his letter, Peter focused his attention on the elders whom God had appointed to shepherd the local fellowships to whom Peter had addressed his letter. All throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, there were individual gatherings of believers that were being shepherded by faithful men. These men played a vital role in guiding and protecting the men and women who were being “grieved by various trials” 1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Since many of these believers were still relative infants in Christ, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to understand and endure the difficulties they were encountering. And that’s why the elders were so vital to the health and overall well-being of each local church.

This rather brief parenthetical statement was aimed at those men who shared Peter’s role as a God-appointed elder in the church of Jesus Christ. He had even opened his letter with the salutation: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV). He presented himself “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV.  Along with sharing their distinctive role as an elder, he brought the added weight of having been a personal eye-witness to the suffering and death of Jesus. In a sense, he was establishing his official status as an apostle of Jesus.

He had been there the day that Jesus had been crucified and killed. But, not only that, Peter had plenty of first-hand experience when it came to the topic of suffering. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter had faithfully preached the gospel of the kingdom and been rewarded with arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, and even disciplinary beatings. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And he was calling the local elders to step up their game and lead by example. They too would one day be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV). Any suffering they had to endure in this life would be well worth it once Jesus appeared in all His glory at the end of the age.

So, with that hope ringing in the ears, Peter challenges his fellow elders to shepherd well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

Like any good shepherd, they were to do their job willingly and not out of some sense of heartless duty. Shepherding was to be viewed as a privilege and not a job. They were to care for the flock of Jesus Christ with compassion and love, not out of greed or for personal gain.

It was Jesus who used Himself as an example of the “good shepherd.” He was a caring and completely selfless shepherd who put the needs of the flock ahead of His own – even to the point of laying down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

And Peter wanted these local shepherds to remain at their posts, refusing to run at the first sign of trouble. Their ministry as shepherds was to be marked by a deep desire to serve God, and it was to manifest itself in a determination to stand beside the flock even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. They must be willing to lay down their lives just as Jesus had done for them. By following His example, they would become examples to their flock. And Peter reminded them that there would be a reward for their faithful service.

…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4 ESV

All of this discussion of sheep and shepherds was near and dear to Peter’s heart because he couldn’t help but view it through the lens of his own experience. Even as he wrote these words, he must have had a fateful scene from his past in mind. It was after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when Peter had a face-to-face encounter with the one whom he had earlier denied even knowing.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Jesus had handed over to Peter the responsibility of caring for His sheep. And that was not something Peter took lightly or for granted. Peter had denied Jesus three separate times, but now Jesus had pressed him to confirm his love three times. And Jesus explained that the way for Peter to prove His love for Him would be by loving and caring for His sheep.  And that is exactly what Peter charged these elders to do.

Peter’s mention of the  “unfading crown of glory” seems to be for motivation. It is intended as an incentive to do their jobs well in this life because there is a reward to come in the next life. But it unlikely that Peter is referring to a literal crown. He is talking about the eschatological reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is the same reward he mentioned in the opening chapter of his letter.

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

The greatest “crowning” achievement of these men will be their faithful carrying out of their role as God’s humble and obedient shepherds. And their reward will be the joy of living in the Kingdom of God – for eternity.

Even if their reward ends up being a literal crown, the book of Revelation reveals that, in the coming Kingdom, no one will stand before God glorying in their own achievements. Instead, they will recognize that all glory and honor goes to God alone.

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:9-11 NLT

The greatest reward any of us can receive is to live in the presence of God forever. Anything else will pale in comparison.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

We’re In This Together

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV

Peter spoke to his audience, not so much as individuals, but as a corporate community. In verse two he addressed them as “newborn infants,” using the plural designation rather than the singular. Together, they represented a collection of “born again” people who all shared a common bond as the children of God. And it was together that they were to “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). The walk of faith is not a solo sport, but a community event in which God’s people engage in a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with one another. And Peter emphasizes the communal nature of that relationship by switching to a building metaphor.

Each believer shared a common story. They had come to faith in Jesus “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). It was their individual relationships with Jesus that bonded them together into one family in which they shared God as their Heavenly Father. These people probably came from different economic, social, and even ethnic backgrounds. Yet, they each had come to Jesus “the living cornerstone of God’s temple,” who was “rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor” (1 Peter 2:4 NLT).

Jesus was the foundation of their shared faith story. Their new lives were being built upon and around Him. A cornerstone was a massive piece of cut stone that, when put in place, established the pattern for all the other stone to come. It provided a guide for the builder, determining the right angles necessary for laying perfectly perpendicular rows of stones. Without the cornerstone, the walls could become easily misaligned, leaving the final structure unsightly and even unsafe for use.

But Peter describes his readers as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT). At one time, each of them had been an unfinished, rough-hewn stone. But God had chosen and carefully prepared them to fit into the plan for His holy temple. They were in the process of having their rough edges smoothed away. Their shape was being reformed by the Builder, so that they might become a seamless and integral part of God’s glorious House. Peter’s point seems to be that you can’t build a house with a single stone. Even Jesus Himself was the “cornerstone” and not the house itself. And while it is true that every believer has the Holy Spirit living within them, Paul pointed out that it is the collective body of Christ that forms the temple of God.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT

Back in verse nine of 1 Corinthians, Paul declared to the believers in Corinth: “You are God’s building.” Then in verse 17, he re-emphasizes their collective status as God’s temple.

God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:17 NLT

And Paul used this same building metaphor when writing to the believers in Ephesus.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying.

Together, we are his house…

We are carefully joined together

We are being made part of this dwelling where God lives…

Paul is stressing our unity and shared sense of identity and purpose. The temple was the place where God’s glory dwelt, and as His “spiritual house,” we serve as the dwelling place of His presence and power in this day and age. This spiritual structure, like the Old Testament temple, is meant to be the place where the priests of God mediate on behalf of the people of God. In this holy place, sinners can discover the grace of God and receive cleansing from their sins. The church, the body of Christ, is to be the place where the condemned can find full acquittal for their sins. They are the messengers of God’s gracious act of redemption made possible through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. It is the place where the holy priesthood “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). Peter is not inferring that additional blood sacrifices must be made to atone for sin, but that the church was to be a place marked by selfless and sacrificial service to God. That’s exactly what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome.

I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

This is the same thought that Paul had expressed earlier in the same letter.

…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 NLT

After stressing the communal aspect of their faith and their corporate status as God’s dwelling place, Peter returned to the metaphor of the cornerstone. Quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22, Peter discloses that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus had been the cornerstone whom God had promised, but the Jewish people ended up rejecting Him. They set aside the One who had been destined to be the source of their hope and salvation. They cast Him aside like an ill-formed stone, refusing to recognize Him as “chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6 ESV). And quoting from another Old Testament passage (Isaiah 8:14), Peter makes the sad assessment that the Jews had ended up turning the cornerstone into “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8 ESV). The One who could have offered them salvation became a cause of their stumbling and eventual fall.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV). Because Jesus didn’t appear in the form they were expecting or produce the outcome they were anticipating, they stumbled over Him. And Peter points out the cause of their fall.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. – 1 Peter 2:8 NLT

John the Baptist had appeared on the scene, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 3:2 ESV), and Jesus had picked up on that same message when He began His earthly ministry. But the majority of the Jewish people refused to heed the message and ended up rejecting the King for whom they had long been waiting. And Peter pointed out that they met “the fate that was planned for them.”

But Peter had good news for the believers to whom he wrote his letter.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Peter borrows from Old Testament imagery that was most often associated with the people of Israel. Because they had rejected the cornerstone, the message concerning the good news of the Kingdom was taken to the Gentiles. And when they accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, they became the chosen people of God, His royal priests, a holy nation, and His chosen possession. And Peter stressed the amazing nature of this transformation in their status. They had once been living in darkness, but God had graciously called them out and exposed them to the wonderful light of life – His Son.

And Peter goes out of his way to remind them of the staggering implications of their spiritual rags-to-riches story. And, once again, he uses an Old Testament passage, most often associated with the people of Israel to make his point.

Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.  – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT

The apostle Paul provides another reminder of this remarkable and undeserved transformation that has taken place in the life of every believer.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

And as Peter will point out, that transformation should produce a complete renovation of our character and conduct.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Jesus Christ is Lord

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:41-47 ESV

Jesus’ last exchange with the Sadducees left them at a loss for words, but more determined than ever to rid themselves of this irritating thorn in their sides. Jesus had deftly handled their cleverly crafted question about the resurrection, easily exposing their poor understanding of the Scriptures. Their tendency to read God’s Word through the lens of their own earth-bound perspective had resulted in a gross misinterpretation of its content and a misapplication of its truths.

And the entire debate between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel revolved around the issue of authority. They believed themselves to be the God-ordained authority figures over the nation of Israel. Yet, Jesus had appeared on the scene, making radical claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. His self-proclaimed identification as the divine King of Israel easily trumped their claims of spiritual superiority and divinely mandated authority. And it didn’t help the cause of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees that this Rabbi from Nazareth backed up His words with inexplicable miracles and powerful teaching.

As we read through the events surrounding the last week of Jesus’ life, we should begin to recognize that this is really about two kingdoms in conflict – the one the Pharisees and religious leaders had come to know, love and control; and the one that Jesus had come to establish. As John the Baptist began his ministry, paving the way for the coming of the Messiah, he had told the people of Israel, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).

His call to repentance was not just an encouragement to change their behavior, but it was a demand that they change their minds. John was calling them to completely alter their preconceived notions concerning God, sin, the kingdom, the Messiah, and the means by which man can be restored to a right relationship with God. Repentance would require them to do an about-face concerning what they currently believed about all of those things. And that change of mind and heart would result in a change in behavior.

In the world into which Jesus came, the Jewish people had strong opinions about these matters, the byproduct of centuries of man-made decrees, religious doctrines, and dogma. They thought they had God figured out and were convinced that they knew what they had to do to deal with sin. But they had grown callous to God and carefree about their own sin, justifying their actions and downplaying their own guilt. They put a lot of stock in their status as descendants of Abraham and in their unique identity as God’s chosen people. But John the Baptist had come preaching a call to repentance. He had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. And Jesus came preaching that very same message, telling them, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT).

The Kingdom of Heaven was near – in the form of the King of Heaven – Jesus Himself. This was a statement of authority and divine representation. Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. He was the one true King. But the Jewish people failed to recognize Him as such.

This brings us to today’s passage, where Jesus continues to spar with the religious leaders of Israel. He had weathered a relentless gauntlet of questions from these men, as they attempted to expose and entrap Him. But this time Jesus turned the tables on them by requiring them to answer a question from Him. In doing so, He reveals some Messianic misconceptions on their part. He exposes their faulty views of who the Messiah would be and what He would do when He came.

Matthew records that Jesus began this conversation with a very simple, yet revealing question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42a NLT).

Jesus already knew what their response would be, and that answer would reveal much about their understanding of not only the Messiah but of His coming Kingdom.

“They replied, ‘He is the son of David.’” – Matthew 22:42b NLT

So, what does this answer tell us about their view of the Messiah? They believed this long-anticipated deliverer of Israel would be a descendant of David. But it also reveals that they viewed the Messiah’s kingdom would be of this earth and not heavenly in nature. In other words, they were anticipating a king just like David had been. They were expecting a ruler, a royal heir to David, who would wear his crown and sit on his throne, re-establishing Israel’s power in the region. They weren’t looking for a Savior from sin, but a deliverer from subjugation to Rome.

But this is where Jesus exposed their incomplete understanding of the Messiah’s identity and role. In Luke’s version of the story, he reports that Jesus posed the question: “Why is it that the Messiah is said to be the son of David?” (Luke 20:41 NLT). Then Jesus presented the well-educated religious leaders with a conundrum. 

For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.’” – Luke 20:42 NLT

Matthew records Jesus’ statement in the form of a question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?” (Matthew 22:44 ESV).

At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is posing some kind of riddle or trick question. But He actually quoted a well-known Messianic passage found in Psalm 110:1. The Sadducees would have agreed that this passage referred to the coming Messiah or Davidic descendant. In fact, over the centuries, this psalm had been applied to each successive king in the Davidic dynasty and was used to refer to the ideal Davidic king. As a result, they would have been very familiar with the passage and its application to the coming Messiah. So, Jesus pointed out that in the psalm, David calls the Messiah his Lord.

If the coming Messiah was to be a “son” or descendant of David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, why would David call this man his “Lord?” To understand this question, you have to recognize that there are two different words used for “Lord” in Psalm 110. The first is Jehovah, a noun used to refer to God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel. The second word is adon, a noun that means “lord” or “master”. But when used in conjunction with Lord (Jehovah), it typically refers to God’s sovereignty or authority. So, you could read the line in Psalm 110 this way: The LORD (God) said to my (David’s) Lord (Messiah)

The point Jesus was making was that David knew something about the Messiah that the Pharisees did not. That’s why Jesus asked them a further question: “Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Luke 20:44 NLT).

The Pharisees had a limited view of the Messiah. They believed He would be an earthly and fully human descendant of David – nothing more, nothing less. But Jesus’ point was that David seemed to know that the Messiah would be MORE than just his descendant. He would be divine and have God-given authority to rule and reign over God’s Kingdom. He would be David’s LORD and Master. He would be a divinely appointed ruler with power and authority far beyond anything David had known.

But the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to see or acknowledge this. Jesus was not what they had been expecting and, most certainly, not what they wanted. He didn’t look or act like a king. And the Israelites still wanted a king just like all the other nations. They wanted a royal ruler on their terms and according to their definition. It was the very same problem their ancestors had when they had demanded that the prophet Samuel appoint them a king like all the other nations.

They had rejected God as their King and, in response, God had given them Saul. Now, centuries later, they were demanding the same thing. But God was not going to give them another Saul. He was going to give them another David, an actual descendant of David, but a man greater than David had ever been. He would be the God-man, the Son of God, and the ultimate Savior of the world.

At this point in the conversation, Jesus turns His attention to His disciples but He spoke so all could hear what He had to say. The religious leaders, who had grown strangely silent, still had the capacity to hear Jesus speak, and what He had to say was aimed directly at them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:46-47 NLT

Jesus was pulling no punches. He was calling out these men for their self-righteous and hypocritical displays of false piety. And in doing so, Jesus echoed the words from His own sermon on the mount, delivered some three years earlier.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. – Matthew 6:5 ESV

This was a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching. Throughout His ministry, He regularly exposed the hypocritical nature of these self-righteous demagogues. Earlier in his gospel account, Luke records Jesus leveling the same condemning indictment against the Pharisees.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11:43 NLT

These so-called shepherds of Israel were fleecing the flock while they feigned a lifestyle of super-spirituality. They had no care or concern for the people of God. Instead, they used their power and position to benefit and promote themselves. This led Jesus to warn, “Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47 NLT). These men, who believed themselves to be the highest authority in the land, would one day stand before the One who wields ultimate authority over all the universe. They will have to answer to God. And, at that time, they will also have to explain their refusal to acknowledge and accept Jesus as the Son of God. While they stand opposed to Jesus now, there will come a day when they will bow before Him and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11 ESV).

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

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

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

The King is Coming

11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” Luke 19:11-27 ESV

It’s amazing how quickly we can turn this parable into nothing more than a lesson on stewardship. In doing so, we make it all about us, while at the same time, missing the main point of Jesus’ message. Context is essential to understanding what Jesus is saying with this parable. He has just completed His encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief collector, who has shown through his repentant response to Jesus’ words that he has come to believe Him to be the Messiah. Jesus stunned the crowd when He proclaimed the following words over this notorious sinner.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 ESV

For Jesus, Zacchaeus was the perfect example of those He had come to save. This man was a sinner and everyone knew it, including himself. And he had been willing to confess his sin and take whatever steps were necessary to display “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Zacchaeus had been willing to make restitution by returning the money he had stolen from his fellow citizens of Jericho. Unlike the rich, young ruler, Zacchaeus was ready to give up his vast wealth in order to follow Jesus.

The other important point of context that gets easily overlooked concerns the timing of this encounter. Luke indicates reminds his readers that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. This brief stopover in Jericho provided a temporary delay in Jesus’ inevitable and unavoidable mission objective. And there were others in the crowd who knew that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and were anxious that He arrive “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 ESV). Luke does not identify who these individuals were, but it is safe to assume that the 12 disciples were among them. These men had become convinced that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), and were anxious for Him set up His kingdom in Jerusalem so that they might rule alongside Him. It was this enthusiastic but misguided expectation on the part of the disciples that led Jesus to tell this parable.

…he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. – Luke 18:11 NLT

Don’t miss all the references to kings, kingdoms, rule, and reign in this parable. They reveal the primary point that Jesus was trying to make. Jesus began His parable by stating, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return” (Luke 18:12 NLT). This translation provides a much more accurate understanding of what Jesus actually said. The ESV states that the nobleman went “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is the word, “kingdom.” When we read that word we think of a place or a realm. And while the Greek word, basileia, can also carry that meaning, it most often is used to refer to royal power, kingship, dominion, and rule. It has less to do with a realm than the right to rule. Notice that the nobleman went somewhere to receive his official designation as the king. He left where he was in order to go and receive His royal commission. But he always planned to return.

In this parable, the nobleman leaves his servants behind so that he might go and return as their king. The land in which they live already belongs to the nobleman, but upon his return, he will be more than their master. He will be their king. It is obvious that the nobleman represents Jesus, and He is attempting to inform His disciples that there will be a delay in the coming of the kingdom. He must leave and then return. But when He comes back, He will do so with all the power and authority of the King. And it will be at that time He sets up His earthly kingdom.

But according to the parable, all those who serve the nobleman were to stay behind and faithfully “engage in business” on his behalf until he returned. In other words, they were to serve as the faithful stewards of his domain until such time that he came back with the full right to rule as their king. The nobleman called ten of his faithful servants and awarded them with “ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone’” (Luke 19:13 NLT). He left them in charge and delegated his resources to them so that they might invest them wisely in the management of his estate.

But while the nobleman was gone, those who lived in his land “sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king’” (Luke 19:14 NLT). These people had heard the reason for his departure and were unwilling for him to return as their king. Whatever coronation he was going to receive would be unacceptable to them. Not only were they unwilling to accept him as their king, but it seems they also rejected the idea of him returning at all. 

But the nobleman did return and with the full right to rule over these people as their king. Yet, the first people he called were those ten servants to whom he had entrusted his silver. And this is the part of the story we tend to focus on.

“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were.” – Luke 19:15 NLT

The new king calls for his servants and asks them to give a report of their actions during his absence. He wanted to see if they had been trustworthy and proven themselves to be good stewards of all that he had entrusted to their care. The first three servants to report are meant to represent the rest. One has proven himself faithful and highly industrious, by having taken the ten minas entrusted to his care and producing a ten-fold return to his master. He receives a hearty commendation and reward for his service. The second servant also proved faithful, having produced a five-fold return on his original ten pieces of silver. He too is rewarded for his efforts. But the third servant has done nothing with that which the master entrusted to him. He didn’t squander or lose it. He simply refused to do anything with it at all. Motivated by apathy and fear, the servant hid the treasure and was therefore unable to present the master any return on his investment. This servant, rather than receiving a reward, was given a stern rebuke from his master and king.

“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ – Luke 19:22-23 NLT

This man had a distorted view of his master and yet, even that had not motivated him to do the right thing. If he truly feared the master, he would have done more with what he had been given. But it seems that he really never thought his master would return. He lived with a sense of false security, thinking that the master’s long absence would become a permanent one. So, rather than invest what he had been given, he simply hid it. He never thought he would have to give an account for his actions. But he was wrong. The master did return and he did so backed by the full authority given to him as the king.

While it is easy to focus on the rewards and the discipline portrayed in this parable, the real point is the return of the king. And that seems to be what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. He knows they are expecting Him to set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. He is fully aware that they are expecting their rewards now. But He wants them to understand that there will be a delay in the establishment of His earthly kingdom. He will be leaving them soon and returning to His Father’s side in heaven. And in His absence, they will be expected to use the gifts He gives them to conduct business on His behalf. They will receive the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ departure and, as a result, the spiritual gifts He makes possible. And Jesus will expect them to use those gifts wisely, investing them on His behalf and producing an abundance of fruit for the kingdom. The apostle Paul reminds us of the expectation placed on each of those who call themselves disciples of Christ and children of God.

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus ends the parable by telling His disciples, “to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Luke 19:26 NLT). They will get their reward. But it will not be until the King returns to set up His earthly Kingdom. Their job is to stay faithful, hopeful, and fully committed to serving the King until the time comes for Him to return. And then Jesus a stern warning to all those who refuse to honor Him as their Messiah and who will still reject Him as their King at His return.

And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.” – Luke 19:28 NLT

Rejecting Jesus as King does nothing to diminish His power, rule, or reign. He will return and, when He does, all those who have denied His deity and sovereignty will receive their just reward.

“…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.” – Luke 19:26 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