Son of Man – Son of God

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.Luke 3:23-38 ESV

Both Luke and Matthew include a genealogy of Jesus in their gospel accounts, but there are distinct differences between the two. Most obviously, Matthew chose to place his version of Jesus’ genealogy at the very beginning of his gospel, while Luke reserved his until later in the story, when Jesus began His public ministry. But upon closer examination, there are other glaring differences that appear and that have caused no end of speculation and explanation.

The first major difference is that Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham, while Luke provides evidence of Jesus’ descent from Adam. Obviously, Matthew is attempting to prove that Jesus was of the seed of Abraham, a descendant of the great patriarch of the Hebrew people. But Luke wanted to reveal that Jesus was also a direct descendant of the first man created by God: Adam.

But if you were to place these two genealogies side by side, you would find further discrepancies. In fact, you would discover that they appear to be two completely different genealogies altogether. For instance, Matthew states that the name of Joseph’s father was Jacob (Matthew 1:16), while Luke records that it was Heli (Luke 3:23). In Matthew’s version, he traces the hereditary line of Jesus through David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke has Jesus descending through David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31). If you look closely, you will find that the two genealogies only share two names in common: Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. Yet even these appear to be different individuals who just happen to share the same names.

So, which genealogy is the right one? Is this proof of a contradiction in the Word of God? Is it evidence of an error? There has been much debate about the seeming discrepancies found in these two genealogical lists. But the most common explanation among conservative Bible scholars has been that each man was tracing a different genealogy for Jesus. Luke was recording the genealogy of Mary, while Matthew was recording that of Joseph. Each man had a different purpose in mind. Matthew was tracing the line of Joseph through David’s son Solomon. He was attempting to show that while Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he was his adoptive and, therefore, legal father.

Luke followed the line of Mary through David’s son Nathan. In Koine Greek, there was no word for “son-in-law,” so Luke listed Joseph as the “son of Heli” because he was married to Mary, Heli’s daughter. The belief is that these two distinct genealogies provide evidence that Jesus is a descendant of David, whether you trace His line through Mary or Joseph. As Joseph’s legally adoptive son, Jesus was an heir of David. But because He was born to Mary, Jesus was also the rightful heir of David through blood. Luke seems to hint at the key difference in his genealogy when he writes that Jesus was the son of Joseph, “as was supposed” (Luke 3:23 ESV).

Another explanation is that both genealogies are tracing the line of Joseph, but that Luke’s version takes into account a case of levirate marriage. Thomas L. Constable explains it this way:

One solution to this problem is that the custom of levirate marriage in the ancient Near East permitted the widow of a childless man to marry his (unmarried) brother. It was common to consider a child of the second marriage as the legal son of the deceased man to perpetuate that man’s name. In genealogies, the ancients sometimes listed such a child as the son of his real father but at other times as the son of his legal father. This may be the solution to the problem of Joseph’s fathers. It is a very old explanation that the third-century church father Africanus advocated. Evidently either Jacob or Eli (Heli) was Joseph’s real father, and the other man was his legal father. This may also be the solution to the problem of Shealtiel’s two fathers (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). This is only an adequate explanation, however, if Jacob and Eli were half-brothers, specifically the sons of the same mother but not the same father. Jacob’s father was Matthan and his grandfather was Eleazar whereas Eli’s father was Matthat and his grandfather was Levi. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Luke: 2010 Edition

Regardless of which explanation you choose to believe, it is important to recognize that the Jews were meticulous when it came to maintaining their genealogical records. Proof of legal heritage was vital because of inheritance laws regarding the land. Detailed records were maintained to provide evidence of tribal affiliation and legal proof of Hebrew citizenship. For Matthew, tracing the line of Jesus back to Abraham was vital in order to prove that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant. Yet Luke wanted to provide evidence that Jesus’ lineage went all the way back to the very beginning, to the creation account. Jesus was the son of Adam and, therefore, a Son of God.

Both Matthew and Luke were out to prove that Jesus was a man.

“That the genealogy is recorded at all shows Him to be a real man, not a demi-god like those in Greek and Roman mythology. That it goes back to David points to an essential element in His messianic qualifications. That it goes back to Adam brings out His kinship not only with Israel but with the whole human race. That it goes back to God relates Him to the Creator of all. He was the Son of God.” – Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to St. Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

In both genealogies, it is clear that Jesus is a legal descendant of King David. He is the rightful heir to the Davidic throne and the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to David.

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

But Jesus could also be traced all the way back to Abraham, making Him a fulfillment of the promise God had made centuries earlier.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed…To your offspring I will give this land. – Genesis 12:1-3, 7 ESV

And the apostle Paul would later clarify and explain how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant promise.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

So, as Jesus prepared to begin His earthly ministry, He did so as the son of Adam, the son of Abraham, the son of David, and most importantly, the Son of God. He checked all the boxes. He was the legitimate and bonafide Messiah of Israel.

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

Defying Expectations

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:15-21 ESV

As will become increasingly more clear as Luke’s gospel unfolds, John the Baptist certain expectations regarding the coming Messiah. Like all Jews, he was anticipating a kingly Messiah who would rule and reign in Jerusalem just as David had. John was aware of the many prophetic passages that pronounced the arrival of the long-awaited Savior of Israel. And, as John has already revealed, he believed that when the Messiah finally appeared, He would bring salvation but also judgment. That’s why John warned the people, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7 ESV).

John was the divinely appointed messenger sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. But that does not mean he fully grasped what the nature of the Messiah’s role would be when He appeared. The apostle John records that John the Baptist described Jesus as the Lamb of God and understood that He would offer atonement for the sins of the world.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

As John began his public ministry, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea, he drew large crowds. And his ministry and message began to have an impact on all those who came to hear him. Luke reports that “the people were in expectation” (Luke 3:15 ESV). They sensed that something significant was about to happen. When they heard John proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV), their excitement began to peak. Was the one for whom they had been waiting so long about to show up? Would He deliver them from the oppression of the Romans? Was He going to restore Israel’s power and prominence?

They even began to question whether John was the Messiah. But He cleared up those rumors by declaring, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). While John was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to believe that he understood the full import of his own words. It seems clear that John understood that when the Messiah appeared, He would come as both Savior and judge. John’s reference to fire conveys his expectation that one of the primary roles the Messiah would play would be that of meting out judgment upon the nations.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

John believed that one for whom he was preparing the way would usher in the end times. His arrival would fulfill all the prophetic promises concerning the renewal and restoration of Israel as well as the judgment of all of Israel’s enemies. John was expecting the final form of the Kingdom. Like many Jews of his day, John had conflated all the prophetic passages concerning the Messiah into one event. He had no concept of a first and second advent. From his perspective, when the Messiah showed up, it would be to set up His earthly Kingdom on earth – once and for all time.

But Jesus would later debunk the idea that He had come to judge the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

the purpose for His first advent was to offer salvation to a lost and dying world. He would do so by offering His life as a sacrifice for their sins. He would pay the debt they owed by laying down His life in their place. Jesus had come to suffer and die, not rule and reign. His appearance, while significant, was far from spectacular. He had not been born to a wealthy family and raised in an environment of privilege and power. He had not shown up on the scene with an army or a contingent of “mighty men” like David had. No, Jesus had been born in obscurity and relative anonymity. And even after John baptized Jesus and stood back and watched as He began His earthly ministry, the faithful messenger would begin to have serious doubts about Jesus’ identity.

At the baptism of Jesus, John had witnessed the dove descending upon Jesus’ head and had heard a voice from heaven declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). And yet, as Jesus began His earthy ministry, John would begin to have questions about what He saw Jesus doing. It seems clear that John expected a radical transformation to take place in Israel. He had been calling the people to repentance and demanding that their behavior reflect their willingness to change. He had even confronted Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, demanding that he repent of the adulterous affair he was having with his brother, Philip’s wife. Matthew records that John the Baptist fully expected everyone in Israel to get their spiritual act together, including the tetrarch of Judea. John had repeatedly confronted Herod and told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4 ESV). This bold accusation angered Herodias, Philip’s wife, and ended up getting John imprisoned. It was while in prison that John would begin to have second thoughts about Jesus.

Later on in his gospel, Luke records that, while in prison, John was receiving regular updates from his disciples about all that Jesus was doing. And what he heard left him scratching his head in confusion. Surely, they told him about all the miracles Jesus had performed. They must have shared the amazing miracle of Jesus raising a dead boy back to life (Luke 7:11-14). Yet John felt compelled to send two of his disciples to Jesus with a surprisingly blunt question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Luke 7:19 ESV).

And Luke seems to highlight the absurdity of John’s question by adding, “At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 ESV). In other words, Jesus had been performing many incredible and inexplicable miracles. Yet, John was unconvinced. He seems to have been expecting something completely different.

But rather than rebuke John for his doubt, Jesus sent back the two disciples with a message: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor…God blesses those who do not fall away because of me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

John had expected the Messiah to bring deliverance to the people of Israel. And yet, here he was in prison. He had been declaring God’s message of repentance and calling the people to prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom. But he was behind bars and having to wonder how any of this was part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. It’s clear that John knew his role was subordinate to that of Jesus. He had no aspirations of greatness or desire for glory. But he had not expected to be in jail. The apostle John reports that John the Baptist had one desire: To see the Messiah accomplish His God-appointed assignment.

“You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:28-30 NLT

Little did John know the prophetic nature of his own words. He would become less. In fact, he would never leave the prison alive. Herodias would arrange to have John beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). And Jesus would honor John with a profound statement concerning his contribution to the Kingdom.

“I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” –  Luke 7:28a ESV

John had been given the privilege and responsibility for preparing the way for the Savior of the world. And he had done his job faithfully. Yet, Jesus reveals that John’s greatness or significance will be exceeded by all those who become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” – Luke 7:28 ESV

John had faithfully declared the message he had been given. But he did not have a full grasp on the nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had fully expected Jesus to come with power, but not the kind of power that healed the sick and raised the dead. He had been hoping for the kind of power that would raise a nation back to prominence. He had been expecting a King who would rule in righteousness. But he had not anticipated a suffering Savior who would provide a way for sinful men and women to be declared righteous by God.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records that John “preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:18 NLT). Yet, his message comes across as anything but good news.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

The beauty of the Gospel message is that it will eventually fulfill all the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah. But what John failed to understand was that the final fulfillment of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom would come at a much later date. With His first advent, Jesus came to offer salvation, not to celebrate His inauguration. He came to be crucified, not to be glorified. He came to serve, not to be served.

“I have come to save the world and not to judge it.” – John 12:47 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 Good Shepherd Has Come

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:8-21 ESV

For the third time in his gospel account, Luke records the appearance of an angel delivering a divine announcement. Zechariah and Mary had both received visits from the angel Gabriel, who delivered to each of them the news regarding the pending births of John and Jesus respectfully. But with the actual birth of Jesus, God sends another angelic messenger to earth to announce the news of His Son’s arrival. And this time, the audience didn’t consist of family members or even close relatives. Instead, God sent His messenger to a group of unnamed shepherds who were “keeping guard over their flock at night” (Luke 2:8 NLT).

Everything about this story is intended to display the sovereign will of God. The timing of every event has been according to His will. God sent each of the angelic messengers with a specific message for a particular individual. And as each divine announcement was made, the pieces of God’s redemptive plan began to fall into place. Now, with the birth of Jesus, God sends yet another angel with a message “for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). The timing of this particular message was the middle of the night and the recipients just happened to be a group of lowly shepherds

Because of our familiarity with this story, it’s easy for us to overlook the fact that more than 30 years will separate the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the actual beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God chose to have His Son born in the obscure and diminutive village of Bethlehem. He selected an unknown and inconsequential Jewish girl to be the mother of the Messiah. Then He decided to have the “good news of great joy” regarding His Son’s birth announced to a ragtag group of men whose occupation put them well outside the ranks of polite society. Shepherds were the garbage collectors of their day. No self-respecting parent wanted their child to grow up to be a shepherd. It was considered a bottom-rung career choice that was a dead-end when it came to financial or social advancement.

And yet, more than 3 decades before His Son would actually begin His earthly ministry, God made the sovereign choice to send an angel to this nondescript collection of nameless men. And their divine encounter would be far greater and more spectacular than anything Zechariah and Mary had experienced.

As these men were enduring yet another long and mind-numbing night of shepherding sheep in the middle of nowhere, their world was rocked by the appearance of an angel. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the dark night sky was filled with a bright light that Luke attributes to the glory of the Lord. The entire hillside was lit up like a scene from Friday Night Lights, and this spectacular display left the shepherds in a state of shock and petrified with fear. But the angel quickly addressed their concerns.

“Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 NLT

Much to the shepherds’ relief, the angel was there to bring them good news. Based on the circumstances, it would have been easy for these men to assume the worst and to think their lives were over. But the angel was there to proclaim joyful news that even lowly, uneducated shepherds would have understood. The heavenly messenger announced the birth of their Savior, someone he described as the Christ. And this message did not escape the shepherds. The Greek word Christ is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. These Jewish shepherds were being told that their Messiah, Lord, and Savior had just been born in the city of David. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel had finally come.

And as if to put an exclamation point of the night’s proceedings, the angel was suddenly joined by a vast, heavenly army. The night sky was filled with a numberless host of angels declaring:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:14 NLT

The angels declare the glory of God because this news was the result of His glory, grace, and goodness. It was God who had chosen to send His Son (John 3:16). This was all the work of God and it had been part of His plan from the very beginning. And with the arrival of His Son, mankind would be able to know true peace for the first time. Jesus was entering a world plagued by sin and marked by turmoil. It was characterized by darkness and under the dominion of the evil one. Jesus would later declare Himself to be the light that illuminates the darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – Luke 3:19 ESV

His arrival was meant to be good news. But the sad fact is that many would refuse to accept Jesus as the light of God. They would continue to prefer living in the darkness of sin rather than accepting the sin-exposing, life-transforming light of the world.

The heavenly hosts declare that God is offering peace, but only to those with whom he is pleased. This is a somewhat confusing statement that can easily be misunderstood. Are the angels suggesting that God’s peace can be earned? Can sinful men be restored to a right relationship with God by doing righteous acts? A better translation of verse 14 is “peace to men on whom his favor rests” (NIV). With the coming of the Messiah, there would be those who believed in Him as their Savior, but there would be many more who would reject Him. Not all would enjoy the peace He came to offer, but as Jesus Himself said, “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15 ESV). They can be made right with God through faith in the Son of God. They can enjoy restored peace with God by placing their hope and faith in the Savior sent by God.

Whether the shepherds fully understood what the angels had said is not clear. But they sought to know more and left their sheep in order to verify what the angel had told them. Luke records that the men “went with haste” to Bethlehem where they soon discovered the infant, Jesus. It seems likely that they would have found the surroundings of Jesus’ birth to be a bit incongruous. If He was the Messiah and Savior of Israel, why had He been born in such lowly circumstances? Where were the priests and dignitaries? Why had a host of angels announced His arrival, but no one bothered to show up to welcome Him?

But despite all their questions, these men were impacted by what they had heard and seen, and they began to spread the news of Jesus’ arrival.

the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:20 ESV

Little did they know that 30 years would pass before anything of significance happened. They probably expected to hear further news of the Messiah’s birth in the days ahead. They must have assumed that word would get out and the arrival of the Savior of Israel would begin to spread. But while their story of the angelic visitation made people wonder, it would do little to change anything about the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. The people remained in a state of moral darkness. The shepherds went back to their field and flocks. Life went on as usual. And “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV).

Eight days later, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, according to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. At that time, they announced the name of their newborn son. While His name was a common one, its meaning holds particular significance: “Yahweh saves.” This Jesus would be unlike any other Jesus. His was more than a name, it was His identity and mission. He was the Savior of Israel and He had come to earth on behalf of His Heavenly Father so that He might redeem and restore those who were enslaved by sin and death. But for the next three decades, the Messiah would live in relative obscurity among those He came to save. The Savior had come, but His mission had not yet begun. The arrival of the Good Shepherd had been announced to a group of earthly shepherds, but it was not yet time for His work to begin. But that day would come soon enough.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Savior

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56 ESV

After hearing Elizabeth’s Spirit-inspired pronouncement of blessing, Mary could no longer contain her emotions. She broke into song, composing what has come to be known as the “Magnificat.” That title is derived from the Latin translation of the first line of her song: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The word magnifies is magnificat in Latin, and can also be translated as “glorifies” or “exalts.”

In this rather short song or psalm of praise to God, Mary attempts to articulate her extreme gratefulness to God for having chosen her for the unfathomable and unprecedented task of bearing the coming Messiah. She was blown away by the magnitude of this weighty responsibility and recognized that she had done nothing to deserve it. The God of the universe had graciously chosen to extend to her the honor of giving birth to His own Son. And her heart was filled with praise and gratitude.

But notice the words Mary uses to describe Yahweh. First, she refers to Him as Lord (kyrios), which can also be translated as “master.” It was a title that conveyed an awareness of sovereignty or power and expressed an attitude of respect and reverence. Mary viewed God as her Lord and Master, and herself as His humble servant.

But she also described Yahweh as “God my Savior.” He was theos, the transcendent God of the universe, but also her personal sōtēr or Savior. In essence, Mary is stating that Yahweh is the “God of my salvation.” This was a common Old Testament designation for God and one with which Mary would have been quite familiar.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV

She goes on to describe Yahweh as “mighty” (dynatos) and “holy” (hagios). She believed her God to be all-powerful and completely capable of doing what He had promised to do – even orchestrating her pregnancy through the power of the Holy Spirit. And while this miraculous turn of events might raise eyebrows and cause some to question her moral integrity, she knew that her God was holy and pure in all His ways. Not only that, He was a God of “mercy” (eleos), one who shows kindness or goodwill towards the miserable and the afflicted. He was the God of the downtrodden and the lowly, who had a track record of coming to the aid of the disenfranchised while scattering “those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51 NLT).

Mary inherently knew that God was working in ways that were contrary to the normal ways of men. Rather than choosing the wealthy, wise, influential, and powerful, God had turned His attention to the humble, lowly, and inconsequential. And the apostle Paul would later articulate the rather controversial and contradictory ways of God when he wrote to the believers in Corinth.

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1Corinthians 1:24-29 NLT

From a purely human perspective, none of this made sense, but to Mary, it was a clear indication that Yahweh was at work. He was doing what He always did, overturning the status quo and championing the cause of the less fortunate.

“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1:52-53 NLT

Mary seemed to understand that her story was that of the Israelite people. There had been a time when they were an obscure and unimportant nation, small in number, and devoid of power. Yet God had shown them mercy and grace. And it was Moses who reminded them that their status as God’s chosen people had been undeserved and unearned.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you… – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Mary may have been young, but she was wise beyond her years. She fully grasped the significance of what was going on and expressed an understanding of the bigger picture at play.

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” – Luke 1:54-55 NLT

By showing mercy to Mary, God was extending mercy to His chosen people. He had promised to send them the Messiah and now He was about to fulfill that promise. Mary was blown away by the fact that she had been chosen as the conduit through which the “seed” of God’s promise would come. When God had made His covenant promise to Abraham, assuring him that his future offspring would become a blessing to the nations, He had been referring to the coming Messiah. And the apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, would make His unlikely entry into the world through the womb of a young virgin girl. He would humble Himself by taking on human flesh, leaving His rightful place at His Father’s side, and subjecting Himself to the restrictive and far-from-regal confines of a human body.

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 ESV

And it would all begin with His divinely orchestrated and perfectly timed birth.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

There was much about her future son’s life that Mary did not understand. It’s unlikely that she had any concept of the suffering and death that would mark His life. She knew He would be the Messiah, and she hoped that He would bring salvation to His people. Her hopeful expectation was that He would be the next King of Israel, and she would be right. But there was much that had to happen before that day came. He would have to suffer and die. His crucifixion would have to come before His glorification. And His ascension and return to His Father’s side would have to precede the consummation of His Kingdom and His coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords. But while there was much Mary did not understand, she knew that her God was sovereign over all and fully faithful. So, she gladly sang His praises.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preserving and Protecting the Line of David

13 When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people. 14 And when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to the custom, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. And Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” 15 Then Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains who were set over the army, “Bring her out between the ranks, and put to death with the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest said, “Let her not be put to death in the house of the Lord.” 16 So they laid hands on her; and she went through the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was put to death.

17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people, and also between the king and the people. 18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the Lord. 19 And he took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. And he took his seat on the throne of the kings. 20 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house.

21 Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign. 2 Kings 11:13-21 ESV

For six years, Joash, the young heir to David’s throne, had lived in the temple of Yahweh – and right under Athaliah’s nose. The house of God proved to be the perfect hiding place for the young boy because it would have been the last place Athaliah would have ever looked. Like her parents, Ahab and Jezebel, she was a committed Baal worshiper. So, any chance of her running into Joash at the house of God would have been highly unlikely. In this story, the temple of the one true God plays a significant role. It is a reminder that, in Judah, Yahweh still played a major role in the lives of the people. While some of the kings of Judah had successfully introduced the worship of idols, the people had not abandoned Yahweh. The temple Solomon had built still stood, and the sacrificial system remained in place. Jehoiada and his fellow priests faithfully maintained God’s house and looked after the spiritual well-being of God’s people. And now, Jehoiada had provided sanctuary for God’s chosen king in the house that bore God’s name. And it must not be overlooked that the temple of God had direct ties all the way back to King David.

It had always been David’s dream to build a great temple in honor of Yahweh. But God informed David that He had other plans.

“And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 ESV

God went on to promise David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). God was going to build David’s house or dynasty.  But it would be David’s son, Solomon, whom God would give the privilege of constructing a house that would bear His name and in which His glory would dwell. And now, the house built by Solomon had become the means by which God fulfilled His promise to preserve the house of David. Joash, the descendant of David and the rightful heir to the throne of Judah, was alive because he had been given sanctuary and protection in the house of God.

When word got out that Joash was alive and that he had been crowned the king of Judah, the crowds flocked to the temple to see if the news was true. And it wasn’t long before Athaliah was told about the great commotion taking place at the temple of Yahweh. So, she went to see for herself.

Much to her shock and surprise, there stood her seven-year-old grandson, Joash, very much alive and well, and wearing a crown on his head. In a matter of seconds, Athaliah’s house of cards began to crumble. Her insidious plan to eradicate all the heirs to her son’s throne had failed. For six years she had lived under the delusion that she had successfully secured her place as the queen of Judah. But little did she know that God had been protecting and preserving the seed of David until he was ready to take the throne. And it must not be overlooked that when Jehoiada placed the crown on the head of Joash, he had also presented the young king with a copy of the Mosaic Law.

Jehoiada brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. – 2 Kings 11:12 NLT

This practice was in keeping with the commands of God concerning the kings of Israel.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

Athaliah, an ungodly and unauthorized queen, was standing before the God-appointed king of Judah. And this young man was backed by the law of God, the priests of God, and had the full support of the people of God. But declared the entire scene to be nothing less than an act of treason. She refused to acknowledge Joash as the rightful heir to the throne because she refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one and only God of Judah.

But her claims of treason were met with an order from Jehoiada the priest, commanding that she be taken from the temple and executed. She was the one who had been guilty of treason and so, she was the one who deserved to die.

With her death, a spirit of revival broke out in the land of Judah. Jehoiada immediately “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people” (2 Kings 11:17 NLT). In a sense, he called the people to repent and return to the worship of Yahweh. They had a new king but Jehoiada knew that it would mean nothing without a renewed commitment to God. Joash was just a seven-year-old boy with no leadership skills or experience. But if he and the people under his care would recommit themselves to the Word and the will of God, they would find themselves enjoying the blessings of God once again.

In a decisive demonstration of their renewed zeal for Yahweh, the people tore down the temple of Baal. Its very presence indicates that Athaliah and her ungodly relatives in Israel had played a major role in the declining spiritual state within Judah. The city of Jerusalem, home to the temple of God, also had a temple dedicated to Baal, the false god of Ahab and Jezebel. But in the revival-like atmosphere that accompanied Joash’s crowning, the people were moved to eradicate every last vestige of Baal worship from their midst.

They demolished the altars and smashed the idols to pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. – 2 Kings 11:18 NLT

With Athaliah and her false god out of the way, it was time for Joash to move from God’s house to David’s palace. So, Jehoiada led a processional from the temple to the royal residence, where “the king took his seat on the royal throne” (2 Kings 11:19 NLT). And at that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He had made to David.

Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God was committed to keeping His word because He had a far greater plan in store that would involve the line of David. His preservation of David’s house was crucial because there was to be one final descendant of David who would rule and reign, not just over Judah and Israel, but over all the kingdoms of the world. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this coming King and the day when He will bring salvation to the world.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

Joash had been protected so that David’s line could be preserved. Despite the unfaithfulness of His people, God was faithfully keeping His promise to David so that His plans for the future redemption of the world could be fulfilled in Christ.

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

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

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

 

From Darkness to Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposed and Condemned

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:35-40 ESV

Up until this point, it has been the Jewish religious leaders who have been asking all the questions, but now Jesus turns the tables on them. In verse 34, Mark indicated that, as a result of their three failed attempts to entrap Jesus, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” They simply gave up. But they didn’t go away.

As Jesus continued to teach in the temple, He posed a question of His own. Matthew indicates that He directed it at a group of Pharisees standing nearby. This was probably the same group who had shown up with the scribe who asked Him which was the greatest commandment. These men are still standing close enough to hearJesus but are most likely plotting their next move against Him. They have completed discounted any notion that Jesus might be the Messiah. This fact is important because it sheds light on the question that Jesus poses.

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? – Mark 12:35 ESV

It’s interesting to note that the three gospel writers who cover this event each word Jesus’ question slightly differently. Matthew reports that Jesus directed His question at the Pharisees, asking them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 23:42 ESV). And Luke has Jesus asking, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son?” (Luke 20″41 ESV). It seems likely that this was a series of questions that Jesus posed. First, He asked the Pharisees what they believed about the Messiah or Christ. After all, these men were the religious conservatives of their day and were supposed to be highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures.

According to Matthew, these men quickly responded, declaring that the Christ would be “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42 ESV). Jesus then asked the Pharisees to explain how the scribes, the experts in the Mosaic law, would justify their belief that the Christ would be the son of David. All of these men were supposed to have a strong grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures and they shared a common belief that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. But how would they justify it from God’s Word? One of the passages they would use was 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which records a promise that God had made to King David.

“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

While this promise was fulfilled in part with the birth of Solomon, the Jews believed it had longer-term implications that would ultimately come about through the arrival of the Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Keep in mind that Jesus has already publicly shamed these men, declaring them to be ignorant of God’s Word and strangers to the power of God.

“…you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Mark 12:24 NLT

Their understanding that the Messiah would be a descendant of David was what drove their expectation that He would be a powerful king and ruler just like His predecessor. They were fully expecting the Messiah to arrive on the scene and wield a sword just as David had, conquering the enemies of Israel and restoring the people of God to their former position of prominence in the Middle East.

But Jesus turns to the Old Testament Scriptures in order to teach a vital truth regarding the Messiah. He quotes from the opening verse of Psalm 110, a psalm written by King David himself.

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Psalm 110:1 ESV

Through His ongoing confrontations with the religious leaders, Jesus has been subtly revealing the justification for HIs authority. This whole situation had begun when the chief priests, scribes, and elders confronted Him over His unacceptable behavior in cleansing the temple. They demanded to know, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (Mark 11:28 NLT). And in every subsequent conversation Jesus had with these men, He had gave them glimpses of who He was by revealing His knowledge of God’s Word and declaring Himself to be “The stone that the builders rejected” (Mark 12:10 ESV). Through use of a parable, Jesus had described Himself as the son of the master of the vineyard. And the Pharisees had fully understood His meaning,

But here, Jesus uses the words of King David to make an important point about the Messiah that these learned men had somehow missed in all of their studies of the Scriptures.

Jesus notes that, in the psalm, David refers to his coming descendant as “my Lord.” In Hebrew the text reads, “Jehovah has said to my Lord (‘adown).” In other words, David records that God had spoken a promise to his future descendant. But Jesus wants to know why David would call this man his “Lord” or Adonai, one of the most common names in the Old Testament Scriptures used to refer to God Himself.  So, Jesus wants to know why David used this particular word to refer to a man. And why would God offer a mere man a position of prominence at His side?

Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” – Mark 12:36 ESV

There was more going on in this passage than the scribes and Pharisees understood. Jesus is revealing that the Messiah would not only be the son of David, He would be David’s Adonai (Lord and Master). The Messiah would be the Son of Man and the Son of God, the God-man who was fully divine and fully human. Even King David understood that his future descendant would have a unique relationship with God that was greater than anything he had ever experienced.

And Jesus summarized His point by asking these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures to explain how this could be.

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” – Mark 12:37 ESV

But they refuse to answer. They had already discovered that their attempts to debate with Jesus had left them looking like fools. Yet Mark indicates that the crowd who overheard this conversation loved what Jesus had to say. To a certain degree, they probably enjoyed watching the public humiliation of these arrogant men, who prided themselves in their vast knowledge of the Bible and flaunted their superior righteousness. And, to their delight, Jesus dropped another bombshell.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:38-40 ESV

Mark presents a very abbreviated recounting of Jesus’ teaching, leaving out the seven “woes” that Matthew records. After putting up with a constant barrage of condemnation from these religious leaders, Jesus turned the spotlight on them. And, according to Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially told the crowd to “do as they say, but not as they do.”

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

In other words, these man taught the law of God, but failed to live up to it. They could proclaim the truth of God’s Word but had no desire to let it influence the way they lived their lives. And in Matthew’s account, He records that Jesus called these men hypocrites and blind guides. They were frauds. And, not only that, they were like blind men futility attempting to provide guidance to others.

Jesus declares that these men were more interested in their reputations than they were in living according to God’s will. They loved being recognized for their fine robes and coveted their status as celebrities. They were addicted to honor and recognition. It was all about them. And Jesus declares that these men will receive greater condemnation. God would hold them accountable for their pride and arrogant mistreatment of His people.

These men had no right to question the authority of Jesus. He was the Son of God and was doing the will of God. But they were supposed to be the servants of God, caring for the flock He had placed under their care. Yet, they had failed miserably.

But Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God, would faithfully fulfill the the will of His Father, sacrificing His life for the sake of His Father’s flock.

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 Light at the End of the Tunnel

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:1-11 ESV

It must have pained Jesus greatly to watch His disciples struggle as they tried to take in all He was telling them. He knew their hearts were troubled and their minds were reeling from all that He had shared with them. Jesus was fully aware that little of what He had told them made sense to them. His announcement that one of them would betray Him had stunned them. His repeated mentions of His coming death had left them depressed and disillusioned. And His warning that, in His absence, the Jewish religious leaders would turn their attention and anger on them, must have petrified them. It had all been more than they could handle. But Jesus assured them that He had told them these things for a reason: “so that you won’t abandon your faith” (John 16:1 NLT).

It’s difficult to comprehend exactly what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. The Greek word is skandalizō and it has a variety of meanings. It is a verb that typically refers to someone’s reaction to an unexpected event or circumstance. It is often translated as “offended.” If a person accidently stumbles over a rock or other unseen impediment, they they may react with anger, frustration, or resentment. Their response may even result in sin.

Jesus knew that the events of the next few days were going to be difficult for His disciples. And He did not want them to be taken by surprise. So, He was going out of His way to bring them up to speed on what to expect. Even so, there was a good chance that they might respond in anger and resentment, regretting their decision to have followed Jesus in the first place. One of the other meanings of the Greek word skandalizō is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey.” This seems to be the very thing Jesus is trying to prevent.

And once again, in an effort to remove any possibility of surprise, Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to them once He is gone.

“For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” – John 16:2 NLT

With Jesus out of the way, the Jewish religious leaders will simply refocus their hatred onto His disciples. Remember, these men had been willing to murder Lazarus, just because he had been raised from the dead by Jesus. So, the disciples were going to find themselves facing the full brunt of the irrational and unrelenting anger of the Sanhedrin. It would begin with their excommunication from their local synagogues. They would be ostracized as heretics and prevented from gathering with other Jews as they had done since they were little boys. But Jesus warns them that their persecution will not end with their physical removal from the synagogues. They will likely suffer the same fate as their Lord and Master.

Jesus pulls no punches. He is brutally honest with His disciples about what they can expect in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Their continued relationship with Him would cost them. These men were going to become outcasts and social pariahs, even facing death at the hands of their fellow Jews. And “the world” – the unbelieving and unrepentant Jewish population out of which they had been called – will think they are doing God a favor by killing the followers of Jesus. This is exactly the attitude that Paul had before He came to faith in Christ. In his former life as a Pharisee, he had persecuted the followers of “the Way,” rounding up Christians and putting them in prison – all out of His zeal for God. His own testimony provides insight into the mindset Jesus is trying to describe.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

And Jesus informs His disciples that this intense hatred will not be motivated by love for God, but will stem from their ignorance of Him. The Jews will think they are doing God a favor but, in reality, they will be opposing the very will of God. Like their ancestors, they will end up resisting the sovereign will of God by putting to death those who have been by God with His message of repentance and salvation.

You can almost hear the disciples asking, “Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” They had to have been shell-shocked by these last-minute revelations from Jesus. And He answers their unspoken question by telling them, “I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer” (John 16:4 NLT). As long as Jesus was physically with the disciples, there was no need for them to know this information. His main focus over the last three years with them was to reveal His identity to them. He had spent all His time manifesting His glory to them through His miracles and messages, so that they might believe Him to be the Son of God.

Now, it was time for Him to manifest His glory one final time. The hour had come for Him to fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many. He was about to lay down His life for the sheep. And when His work was done, He would be restored to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and glorified by His Father by returning to His rightful place at His side in heaven.

But the disciples are filled with sorrow. Nothing they have heard Jesus say has left them with any sense of hope. And He is fully aware of their inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, He reminds them of His earlier promise concerning the coming Holy Spirit.

“…it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” – John 16:7 ESV

Once again, the words of Jesus must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion, wondering how He could possibly think His death could be to their advantage. But what they didn’t yet realize was that His leaving would make possible the Holy Spirit’s coming. And as Jesus had told them earlier, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth…he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:17 NLT). They were going to experience a new and profoundly different relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The Holy Spirit of God would take up residence within them, providing them with the permanent manifestation of God’s power and presence. And while they couldn’t fully comprehend that news, they would soon discover just how life-transforming and world-changing the Spirit’s coming would be.

And Jesus provided them with a brief synopsis of the Holy Spirit’s coming ministry.

“…when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. – John 16:9-11 NLT

When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the followers of Jesus, He will empower them in such a way that their lives will end up convicting the world of sin. Their very lives will become evidence of the truth. They will be lights shining in a dark world, reflecting the glory of God as they share the good news concerning salvation by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone. These men were going to become God’s messengers, preaching the truth that a right standing with God is only available through a relationship with His Son. By preaching the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the disciples would force the world to make a decision. They would have to choose belief over unbelief. With His death and resurrection, Jesus would make a restored relationship with God available, but it would require belief in Him. And the disciples were going to become the main purveyors of that redemptive message. Through the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit, they would become ambassadors for Jesus, taking His message of salvation to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

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

It Pays To Listen

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50 ESV

In this passage, John describes Jesus as crying out. He literally shouted, as if to ensure that everyone within the sound of His voice would not only hear what He had to say but understand its importance. The reason for raising His voice seems clear. Jesus is explaining the dramatic consequences that come with belief in Him. Earlier, in His late-night encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus had explained some of the other outcomes of expressing belief in Him.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

“…whoever believes in him [God’s Son] should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” – John 3:18 ESV

Later in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus spoken to the crowd who had experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” – John 6:47 ESV

And sometime later, on the final day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus declared another benefit or consequence of believing in Him.

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

On another occasion, after having arrived in Bethany and hearing the news that His friend Lazarus had died, Jesus informed Martha:

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

Belief in Jesus comes with some fairly significant benefits: Eternal life, freedom from judgment, release from death’s grip, and complete spiritual satisfaction and sustenance.

But now, with His voice raised for added emphasis, Jesus announces another vital consequence that accompanies belief in Him: Access to God.

“If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. – John 12:44-45 NLT

With this emphatic statement, Jesus stresses His unity with the Father. He wants His audience to know that to believe in Him is really an expression of belief in God because He had been sent by God. And, by inference, a failure to believe in Jesus would be nothing less than a refusal to believe in the one who sent Him. Jesus was not operating on His own initiative. He was on a divine mission, sanctioned by God Himself.

It’s important to note that John placed this statement from Jesus immediately after his notation about those who believed.

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:42-43 NLT

Their belief was mixed with timidity and fear – primarily a fear of man. But, as John’s careful ordering of events suggests, there was much more going on than meets the eye. These people had failed to understand the vital link between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. While they believed Jesus to be someone of great significance, possibly even the Messiah, they were less convinced of the indisputable reality of Jesus’ deity and unrivaled unity with God. To believe in Him was to believe in God. To see Him was to see God. Jesus was boldly declaring His identity as the Son of God.

Just days later, Jesus would respond to a request from Phillip, one of His own disciples.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:8-11 NLT

This link between God the Son and God the Father was to be a vital element of their belief. Believing Jesus to be a supernaturally gifted man who had been sent by God was not enough. Even believing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah promised by God was insufficient. Jesus was differentiating Himself from everyone else. He was not merely a well-spoken Rabbi. He was much more than a miracle-working teacher from Nazareth. And, even in His role as Messiah, He was far more than they could have ever imagined. He was the Son of God and the light of the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” – John 12:46 NLT

What these people needed to understand was that they were living in spiritual darkness, completely separated from God because of their sin. Their attempts to satisfy God through law-keeping had been completely unsuccessful and could do nothing to mitigate their state of condemnation and spiritual separation from God.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

Jesus was simply reiterating what John stated in the opening verses of his gospel.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:4-5 NLT

In the natural realm, darkness is an absence of light. But the same thing is true of the spiritual realm. To live in darkness is to live apart from the light of God. It is to experience an absence of His presence, provision, and power. Much later in life, John would discuss this important reality in a letter he wrote to believers living in the late-1st-Century.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1: 5-7 NLT

And Jesus was saying it was impossible to have fellowship with the Father without understanding that He was the Father’s Son. He was the very light of God illuminating the darkness of men’s lives and revealing the glory of the Father. Through belief in Him, sinful men and women could experience the joy of walking in the light of God’s glorious presence.

As the light of God, Jesus did not come to expose the sins of men, but to cleanse and forgive them. As He has stated before, His mission was not to judge the world but to provide salvation. But there would be dire consequences for those who refused to walk in the light. They would remain in spiritual darkness, condemned by their sin, and facing a future day of judgment that would result in eternal separation from God the Father.

“I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:47-48 NLT

Again, Jesus is simply expanding on the message He delivered to Nicodemus.

“…anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT

Notice what Jesus said. Those who refuse to believe in Him are really refusing to believe in “God’s one and only Son.” They are rejecting the Son of God. They are turning their backs on the light of God and, in so doing, they are expressing their love for the darkness. And Jesus closes out His short but vital discourse with a reminder that His words were not His own. He was acting as the mouthpiece for God. All that He has said was directly from the lips from His Father in heaven.

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” – John 12:49-50 NLT

So, in other words, it would pay to listen to what He had to say. These were not the words of a mere man. They were the very words of God Almighty and they came from the lips of His one and only Son.

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 Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. John 11:17-29 ESV

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

Those two statements sum up the first 16 verses of this chapter. After having received the news that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus had chosen to delay His departure for two days. When He had finally decided to leave Bethany beyond the Jordan for Bethany near Jerusalem, it took another whole day to make the journey. So, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.

This entire scene is intended to create an emotional disconnect in the mind of the reader. The mental picture John paints is meant to elicit feelings of pity, confusion, and even frustration. And these emotions are given voice by the two sisters who had sent word to Jesus about their brother’s desperate condition. Martha was the first to become aware of Jesus’ arrival, and she rushed out to greet Him, immediately expressing to Him her despair.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

Martha’s if-then statement to Jesus reveals her firm belief that had He arrived sooner, He could have healed her brother. But He was too late. There are some who read a hint of anger in her words and assume that she is berating Jesus for His late arrival. While that reaction would be understandable considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely based on the rest of Martha’s statement to Jesus.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” – John 11:21 ESV

She is not angry and she has not lost faith in Jesus. In spite of what has happened, she still believes that Jesus has the ear of His Heavenly Father and is able to ask and receive whatever He requests. With this statement, Martha is not suggesting that Jesus could ask God to raise her brother from the dead. She is simply expressing her continued belief in Jesus despite her devastating disappointment. That Martha harbored no expectations of resurrection is made evident when Jesus later commanded the stone to be moved from the tomb. Martha immediately responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 ESV). Her brother’s resuscitation was the last thing Martha expected.

This scene is filled with contradictions and contrasts. Mary and Martha are accompanied by mourners and friends who have gathered to console them. There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness because of the death of Lazarus. But for the reader, there should be a sense of eager expectation because the light of the world has just arrived on the scene. The words that Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a special significance at this point in the story.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But the 12 men who had accompanied Jesus to Bethany would have wrestled with the meaning behind those words because they had just heard the same news that Jesus had: Lazarus was dead. How would God receive glory now? How did Jesus intend to be glorified through the death of His friend? It all made no sense. The entire situation seemed hopeless and maddeningly pointless.

Yet the reader has been provided with 10 chapters of information that should act as a corrective filter through which to view this unfolding scene. John had opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus, the Word of God, had taken part in the creation of all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:3-4 ESV

He was the original giver of life. And His incarnation had not diminished His capacity to bestow life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus that He had come to earth so that He might provide eternal life.

“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” – John 3:35-36 ESV

Yes, Lazarus had died. But in spite of what Martha, Mary, their friends, and the disciples of Jesus believed, Lazarus’ death was not the end of the story. Yet when Jesus informed Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), the full import of His words escaped her. From her limited perspective, Lazarus’ death had been final, but she believed that she would one day see him again at the final resurrection. Her belief in the future bodily resurrection of the dead was based on several Old Testament passages.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2 ESV 

That Martha was thinking of this future form of resurrection is made clear by her response to Jesus.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:24 ESV

And rather than refute her belief in that future reality, Jesus provides her with additional information intended to clarify the nature of that future resurrection.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

While Martha’s mind was focused on a future event, Jesus was redirecting her attention to a present reality: Him. The very one who was life and had the power to give life was standing right in front of her. And He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life. There was no present life or future resurrection apart from Him. His power had not been impacted by the death of Lazarus. And while physical death was an inevitable and unavoidable reality for every human being, it was not the end. The death of Lazarus was not final. It was not the end of the story. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, though Lazarus had died, he would live again. It was just as Jesus had told the religious leaders.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:29 ESV

But the key to resurrection and eternal life was belief. Jesus had made that point perfectly clear: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26 ESV). And when Jesus asked Martha whether she believed, she responded, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV).

Martha responded affirmatively. She verbally confessed to her belief that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets had promised. But it seems clear that Martha had not fully comprehended all that Jesus had said to her. His declaration that He was the resurrection and the life had gone over her head. And the way she describes Jesus to her sister seems to verify that little had changed regarding her assessment of Jesus and His identity. John describes Martha as running to get her sister Mary and telling her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28 ESV).

Martha says nothing about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. There is no hint in her words that she anticipated something supernatural was about to happen. She simply informed her sister that “the Teacher” had arrived.

But little did Martha know that Jesus was about to back up His words with action. He was going to put on a never-before-seen display of power that would not only defy their limited expectations but the laws of nature. The Teacher was about to give them a lesson they would never forget.

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