Lumina Obscura

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:33-36 ESV

Jesus has been falsely accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan. And, despite all the miracles He has performed, the people continue to ask that He perform some kind of sign that might prove His identity as the Messiah. It seems likely that they are wanting Him to do something that might fall in line with their expectations of the coming Messiah. Since the anointed one of God was to conquer their enemies and re-establish the independence of the kingdom of Israel, they were probably demanding that Jesus display His royal power through some kind of military exploit against the occupying Romans.

But Jesus had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. His mission was to set people free from their captivity to Satan and provide them with a means of escaping the sentence of eternal condemnation that hung over their heads. But they were missing the point. They had their eyes and their hopes focused on the wrong thing.

Their problem was their failure to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be. They attributed His power to Satan. They deemed His miracles as inadequate proof of His Messiahship and demanded more. But Jesus warns them that there will be no more light than that which they have already received. To make His point, He reaches back into a lesson He had taught earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 ESV

On that occasion, Jesus had placed the emphasis on His listeners. He had declared them to be the light of the world. They were the ones who were to shine before others, giving evidence of their relationship with God. But they had failed to do so. In fact, they were incapable of doing so because of their sin natures. The entire sermon on the mount was designed to describe life in the kingdom of God. Jesus was letting His audience know that the righteous requirement for godly living was far more demanding than they had ever expected. And without a relationship with Him, it would be impossible.

So here, Jesus seems to be placing the emphasis on Himself. In this scenario, He is the lamp, providing light to the inhabitants of the house.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. – Luke 11:33 ESV

This fits in well with the declaration He made about Himself as recorded in John’s gospel.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

But the problem is that those in His audience are refusing to recognize the light. Jesus was sent into the world to illuminate the darkness of sin. But through their refusal to accept Him as their Messiah, the Jews were guilty of placing a basket over the light of life. They were attempting to obscure the very light that could eliminate the darkness of sin in which they were held captive. And the apostle John paints a less-than-flattering picture of their stubborn rejection of the light.

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. – John 3:19 NLT

But  John also reminds us that man’s love affair with darkness cannot and will not overcome the light of the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 ESV

Jesus would not be put under a basket. His light would not be extinguished.

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:5 ESV

But the day was coming when He would leave this world. His earthly ministry had a shelf life and He wanted all those who heard His message to understand that His light would not shine among them forever.

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” – John 12:35 ESV

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” – John 12:46 ESV

But so many who stood in the light of His glory remained immersed in the darkness of sin. And Jesus infers that it was because they had an eye problem.

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” – Luke 11:34 ESV

The human eye is not the source of light, but the means by which light enters the body. It is the lense through which the light flows and provides sight. That is why Jesus refers to a good eye and a bad eye. One allows light to enter, providing sight. The other, marred by cataracts or some other disease, prevents the light from entering, resulting in blurry or distorted vision. The word “healthy” in Greek is haplous (hah-ploos), and it means “single, whole, singleness of purpose, undivided loyalty.” Jesus is saying that your eye, like a lamp, is to have a single purpose. The one who is approved by God is to have unswerving loyalty to God’s kingdom purposes. Jesus is talking about heart fidelity toward God. The good eye is the one fixed on God, unwavering in its gaze, and constant in its focus. We should not suffer from a “wandering eye.” An eye that has a single focus will have a single byproduct: Light (purity).

but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. – vs 34

The word “bad” in Greek is ponēros (pah-ney-rahs), and it means “bad, blind, or wicked.” Jesus is referring to spiritual blindness or an inability to focus on the right things. It results in darkness (a void of God’s precepts). A dim light is a light without focus or purpose. It results in darkness. The one who is approved by God will live a life of single-mindedness. Consider the following Old Testament passages regarding the one with a “bad eye.”

A stingy man [a man whose eye is evil] hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him. – Proverbs 28:22 ESV

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; [a man whose eye is evil] do not desire his delicacies. – Proverbs 23:6 ESV

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly [be evil] on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. – Deuteronomy 15:9 ESV

Those who were accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan were suffering from bad eyesight. They could not see the light shining in their midst. In a sense, they had placed a basket over the light of life, which left them living in darkness. Those who demanded that Jesus perform some kind of spectacular sign that would prove He was the warrior-king and emancipator from Rome they were expecting were blind to the truth. They were looking for the wrong kind of Savior. That is why Jesus warned them, “Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness” (Luke 11:35 NLT).

These people thought they knew what was right. They believed their understanding of the Messiah to be accurate and were having a difficult time accepting Jesus as the fulfillment of their long-held expectations. But Jesus wanted them to know that their faulty eyesight had left them with a severely distorted vision of who He was and what He had come to do. But all they had to do was remove the basket they had placed over His light.

“If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:36 ESV

Jesus had come to illuminate the darkness that filled the world and permeated their lives. He longed to shine the light of His grace and mercy into the hidden recesses of their hearts, exposing and expunging the last vestiges of sin and releasing them from the condemnation of death and eternal separation from God the Father. But to benefit from the light, they would have to allow it to penetrate their lives. They would have to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

“I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” – John 9:39 NLT

And in time, every person who had been exposed to the light would be forced to put it on a stand so that it might illuminate their life, or under a basket, so that they might continue living in the darkness they had learned to love.

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

Hope for the Hopeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Paul adds the good news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close, But No Cigar

18 Then Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now therefore call to me all the prophets of Baal, all his worshipers and all his priests. Let none be missing, for I have a great sacrifice to offer to Baal. Whoever is missing shall not live.” But Jehu did it with cunning in order to destroy the worshipers of Baal. 20 And Jehu ordered, “Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal.” So they proclaimed it. 21 And Jehu sent throughout all Israel, and all the worshipers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. And they entered the house of Baal, and the house of Baal was filled from one end to the other. 22 He said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.” So he brought out the vestments for them. 23 Then Jehu went into the house of Baal with Jehonadab the son of Rechab, and he said to the worshipers of Baal, “Search, and see that there is no servant of the Lord here among you, but only the worshipers of Baal.” 24 Then they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings.

Now Jehu had stationed eighty men outside and said, “The man who allows any of those whom I give into your hands to escape shall forfeit his life.” 25 So as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guard and to the officers, “Go in and strike them down; let not a man escape.” So when they put them to the sword, the guard and the officers cast them out and went into the inner room of the house of Baal, 26 and they brought out the pillar that was in the house of Baal and burned it. 27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.

28 Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. 29 But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. 30 And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” 31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.

32 In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: 33 from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. 34 Now the rest of the acts of Jehu and all that he did, and all his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 35 So Jehu slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son reigned in his place. 36 The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years. 2 Kings 10:8-36 ESV

Jehu’s meteoric rise to power left the people of Israel in a state of shock and confusion. Virtually overnight, he had radically altered the political landscape of the country, completely eradicating any vestige of the former regime. Ahab and Jezebel’s three-decade-long reign of evil had come to an abrupt and ignominious end. But what would happen now? What kind of king would Jehu prove to be? To most of the citizens of Israel, Jehu remained a mystery. He had not campaigned for office or taken time to communicate his particular political platform. This man had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, upsetting the status quo and creating a spirit of anxiety and confusion among the people. And he was far from done.

Jehu proved to be a clever and cunning individual who used his relative anonymity to his advantage. Having literally cleaned house by killing off every one of Ahab’s male descendants, as well as all of his relatives and former administrative officials, Jehu turned his attention to the godless citizens of Israel. And it appears he focused his attention on the capital city of Samaria.

The new king called for a solemn assembly, a mandatory gathering of all the worshipers of Baal. Since Jehu’s political and religious positions were unknown to anyone, he was able to leave the people with the impression that he was an ardent worshiper of Baal. He even pledged to outdo Ahab in his commitment to this false god of fertility.

“Ahab’s worship of Baal was nothing compared to the way I will worship him! Therefore, summon all the prophets and worshipers of Baal, and call together all his priests. See to it that every one of them comes, for I am going to offer a great sacrifice to Baal. Anyone who fails to come will be put to death.” – 2 Kings 10:18-19 NLT

He commanded that every priest and faithful adherent to Baal join him for a special assembly, to be held in the house of Baal in Samaria. He even sent messengers all over Israel, informing the people to gather for this great occasion. And as the news spread, the excitement among the people began to build. So, when the big day arrived, “They all came—not a single one remained behind—and they filled the temple of Baal from one end to the other.” (2 Kings 10:21 NLT).

Next, Jehu instructed that every Baal worshiper be given a special vestment or robe. And, as if to keep this solemn assembly free from contamination, he commanded that no worshipers of Yahweh be allowed in the building. This was going to be an exclusive, members-only service dedicated to the great god, Baal. You can almost sense the excitement and the air of eager anticipation as the people waited to see what would happen next. And when Jehu, their new king, offered up a sacrifice to their god, they had to have been beside themselves with joy and pride. Baal was being given a place of prominence and priority in the new administration. But little did they know that the whole affair had been nothing more than a clearly disguised ruse. They had been lured to their own deaths. When Jehu had pledged to make a great sacrifice to Baal, he had been talking about them. They were to be the sacrifice.

And Jehu ordered the slaughter of every single priest and parishioner. Within seconds, the standing-room-only crowd began to realize what was happening. Screams echoed through the halls as Jehu’s men made their way through the panic-stricken mass of humanity, striking down any and all who stood in their path. It was a virtual blood bath. Those who did not fall victim to the sword were likely trampled to death as they attempted to find the nearest exit. But Jehu had posted guards to ensure that no one escaped alive.

At some point, the killing ended, but Jehu was far from done. He ordered the destruction of any and all idols dedicated to Baal. If they were made of stone, they were demolished. If they were carved from wood, they were burned. In a sense, Jehu attempted to purge the memory of Baal from the nation of Israel. And in one last act of desecration, he ordered that the temple to Baal be converted into a public toilet.

And the author seems to give Jehu high marks for his actions that day.

Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. – 2 Kings 10:17 ESV

His campaign to eradicate the worship of Baal had been a rousing success. The false god of Ahab and Jezebel had been removed and reduced to a memory. But there was a problem. While Jehu had focused all his time and energy on the removal of Baal, he had failed to deal with the root problem that plagued the nation of Israel: Idolatry.

Baal had been a symptom, not the disease. The reason the people had so readily accepted the false god of Jezebel was that they had a long-standing track record for apostasy and idolatry. From the very moment when God had split the kingdom of Solomon in half, the ten northern tribes had dedicated themselves to the worship of false gods. Their newly appointed king, Jeroboam, had made the fateful decision to erect golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel. And while Ahab and Jezebel had promoted Baal as the premier god of the Israelites, the people had not abandoned the gods of Jeroboam. And, sadly, the author reveals that Jehu’s purging of Baal, while effective, was insufficient.

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. – 2 Kings 10:29 ESV

The people of Israel remained idolatrous and unfaithful. And Jehu’s fervor for Yahweh proved to be far from perfect.

Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 10:31 ESV

Jehu had addressed the symptom, but not the disease. In a sense, he had successfully removed the tumor, but the cancer cells remained. And it was only a matter of time before evidence of the deadly disease surfaced once again.

Jehu had done what God had commanded him to do. He had faithfully fulfilled the instructions of the prophet and was rewarded for his obedience.

“Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” – 2 Kings 10:30 ESV

But what Jehu had failed to do was reestablish the worship of Yahweh. He had removed Baal but had left the golden calves. He allowed the people to continue their pursuit of false gods rather than lead them back to the worship of the one true God.

For the next 28 years, Jehu would reign over Israel, but his kingdom would grow progressively weaker and smaller. His partial purging of Israel’s idols would allow the cancer of unfaithfulness to spread. Jehu had been successful in removing the foreign gods of Jezebel, but he had turned a blind eye to the home-grown gods of Jeroboam. And God had been very specific about his prohibition of false gods of any kind.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

But Jehu refused to obey the command of God. He not only tolerated the gods of Jeroboam, but he also promoted them. As the king of Israel, he encouraged the people to give their affection and attention to something other than Yahweh. And, as a result, God diminished the extent of his kingdom and, eventually, brought his dynasty to an end. Jehu proved to be a good king, but not a great one. He had been faithful to purge the kingdom of Ahab’s evil influence, but he had failed to lead the people back to Yahweh.

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

 

Take Sin Seriously

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:42-50 ESV

John had chosen to ignore the young boy Jesus was holding in His arms and, instead, had attempted to change the subject of conversation. He had wanted to divert attention away from Jesus’ object lesson on leadership and raise the issue of an unexpected and uninvited competitor, who was casting out demons without permission. This entire conversation had begun with an argument among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. And Jesus had picked up the little boy to use him as an object lesson for His ego-driven disciples.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3-4 ESV

Now, after John’s attempted diversion, Jesus refocuses their attention back on the boy. Jesus expected His followers to reflect the humility of a helpless and powerless child. Their lives were to be marked by innocence and trustworthiness. They were to exhibit a child-like faith, a willingness to be led and cared for by others. But at the same time, the disciples were to understand their role as caretakers. They were going to be given the sobering responsibility of caring for the sheep of God. So, Jesus provides them with a stern warning.

“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.” – Mark 9:42 NLT

What the disciples failed to understand was that their role as leaders came with serious responsibilities. They coveted the authority and notoriety that came with a position of prominence but were oblivious to the risk involved. Little did they know that their quest for power could have a devastating impact on those under their care. Years later, the apostle Paul would later warn the believers in Philippi:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3 ESV

And Paul would give an even more stark warning to the believers in Rome.

…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:8 ESV

The believers in Galatia would receive a similar word from Paul.

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:26 ESV

And Jesus warned His disciples that an agonizing death would be preferable to a life of leading the innocent astray. God would hold His shepherds accountable for the care and feeding of His sheep. The disciples, driven by envy and jealousy, were upset that some unknown individual was stealing their thunder by casting out demons in the name of Jesus. But Jesus viewed him as an ally. What faith it must have taken for this man to perform miracles in Jesus’ name? He had not been chosen or trained by Jesus. He had not received any kind of commission from Jesus. But He was faithfully following the example of Jesus and setting free all those who were being held captive by the power of Satan.

But the disciples had tried to prevent this man from doing the very thing Jesus had commissioned them to do. And Jesus wants them to know that their jealousy-induced actions could have easily led this man into sin. He could have taken their words as a rebuke from Jesus Himself and chosen to stop following Him. What he needed was encouragement and a willingness on the part of the disciples to guide and instruct him.

And to make sure His disciples don’t miss the seriousness of what He is trying to tell them, Jesus provides them with some shocking illustrations involving self-mutilation. This little section was meant to get their attention. He wanted them to recognize the danger of indwelling sin and the deadly consequences it could have. Their jealousy could have caused this man to stumble. Their greed for greatness could easily create division among them and hamper their future mission. Personal sin had a way of infecting others. So, Jesus provided them with three graphic illustrations designed to encourage the self-purging of sin.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” – Mark 9:43-47 NLT

Hand. Foot. Eye. Jesus chose three body parts that were essential to living a normal life. The loss of any one of them could greatly diminish the capacity to perform the everyday functions of life. To lose a hand, a foot, or an eye would render someone lame and partially blind, and reduce them to the lowly role of a beggar. Just consider the miracles Jesus has performed. He healed the man with the withered hand. He restored the ability to walk to a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. He gave sight to a man who was born blind.

And yet, Jesus was telling His disciples that it would be better to lose a body part if doing so could prevent further sin. This hyperbolic language by Jesus was meant to shock and to drive home to His disciples the devastating nature of sin. Of course, it is not one’s hands, feet, or eyes that cause him to sin. It is his heart. This is exactly what Jesus had taught the disciples earlier.

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

But Jesus is using these extreme illustrations of physical dismemberment to make sure His disciples get the point. They were not to tolerate sin in their lives and were expected to take whatever measures necessary to eradicate its influence. Because it was deadly. And three different times, Jesus refers to the ultimate destination of all those who allow sin to control their lives.

the unquenchable fires of hell… – vs 44 (NLT)

thrown into hell – vs 46 (NLT)

thrown into hell – vs 47 (NLT)

And then, Jesus provides a graphic depiction of this final abode of the wicked.

where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out – vs 48 (NLT)

The Greek word that is translated as “hell” is gehenna, and it is the transliteration of the Hebrew word, hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom was just south of Jerusalem and it had a sordid reputation. Jeremiah records that the apostate people of Israel had used this valley as a sacred location where they worshiped their false gods.

They have also built places of worship in a place called Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom so that they can sacrifice their sons and daughters by fire. – Jeremiah 7:31 NLT

In Jesus’ day, the valley had been relegated as a landfill where all the refuse from the city was dumped. It was said that the fires never stopped burning in gehenna. The stench was horrific and the maggots were ever-present. It became the visual representation of the place of eternal punishment. The average Jew avoided gehenna at all costs. And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that hell was real and far more repulsive than a human landfill. And a life of sin would render someone fit for the fires of hell.

Jesus was not teaching His disciples that they could lose their salvation. He was warning them to consider the seriousness of sin. There was no place for sin in the heart of a Christ-follower, because sin leads to death and Jesus had come to set them free from sin and death. As His disciples, John and the others were to develop a growing distaste for sin. And much later, long after Jesus had died and resurrected, John would write to Christians, providing them with a warning about allowing sin to influence their lives.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Notice the role the hands, the feet, and the eyes play in our pursuit of pleasure, achievement, and possessions. It begins with our eyes. With them, we lust and covet. We see things we desire and then begin to long for them. That’s where our feet come in. We pursue these things, chasing after them in a sad attempt to fulfill our heart’s desire. Then we use our hands to take hold of them. We make them our own. But in doing so, we replace the will of the Father with the desires of the heart. We make worldliness our goal, rather than godliness.

The last few sentences of Jesus’ teaching are difficult to understand. He moves from discussing amputation and disfigurement to talking about saltiness.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” – Mark 9:49-50 ESV

It seems that Jesus had shifted from talking about the unquenchable fires of hell to a different kind of fire that is present in this life. Rather than a fire of everlasting punishment for sin, it is a purifying kind of fire. He compares it to salt, which was used as a natural preservative in that day. Jesus describes a kind of purging, purifying fire that is meant to expose and remove the dross of sin in our lives. It is to be cut out and eliminated. This process is to be expected and appreciated by the Christ-follower. Jesus even encourages His disciples to “have salt in yourselves.”

They were to welcome the preserving and purifying nature of God’s work in their lives. Peter would later refer to the “fiery trials” that every believer would encounter during their time on this earth.

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. – 1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT

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

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

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

Completely Cleansed

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:1-11 ESV

As Jesus senses the day of His death drawing closer, He begins to focus His attention more directly on the men He has chosen to carry on His work in His absence. His public ministry is officially over. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would be His last miracle. There would be no more debates with the religious leaders or discourses with the people in the temple. At this point, with just days remaining before He went to the cross, Jesus’ primary mission became the preparation of His disciples for all that was about to happen.

In his account of Jesus’ final week on earth, John diverges from the narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke place considerable emphasis on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John chooses to leave it out. It would appear that John wrote his account late in the 1st-Century, likely making it the last of the four gospels to be written. Having had access to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John knew that they had amply covered the institution of the Lord’s Supper so, rather than echoing the same content, he focused his attention on Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His record of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and His followers contains material not found in the other three gospels. In fact, he is the only one who records the well-known scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

It is important to remember that John’s purpose for writing his gospel was to support the very important doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Even by the end of the 1st-Century when John likely wrote his gospel, there were those who had begun to reject or repudiate the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. And because John had addressed his gospel to a Christian audience, he was attempting to reassure them that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. John even reminded his readers of his purpose for putting pen to paper:  “that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31 NLT).

So, while the Lord’s Supper was important to John, it was not pertinent to what John was trying to convey to his audience. Instead, he chose to focus on an event that the other gospel writers left out of their accounts: The powerful object lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

John presents a very compressed and compacted account of what took place that night. He sets the scene by juxtaposing the heart of Judas with that of Jesus.

the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him – John 13:2 ESV

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… – John 13:3-4 ESV

The heart of Jesus was motivated by love for His own. He knew He was about to leave His disciples and He greatly desired to provide them with some final words of encouragement and insight. Jesus, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1 ESV), performed an act of unspeakable humility and love.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:4-5 NLT

The Son of God visibly placed Himself in the role of a servant and willingly washed the feet of His disciples. He provided them with an object lesson that left them stunned, embarrassed, and confused. Jesus even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. And He did so with full awareness of His deity and superiority. He was living out the words He had spoken earlier.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

But the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ actions, as evidenced by Peter’s response.

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:6 NLT

Always the first to speak his mind, Peter exhibited reticence at the thought of his master washing his feet. He knew this was not appropriate. Jesus was doing the work of a common slave and this embarrassed Peter. But there is far more going on here than first meets the eye. John describes Jesus as laying aside His outer garments. John did not use the normal Greek word for the removal of a piece of clothing. In fact, he will use this very same word again, when Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38 ESV). It is the same word Jesus used when speaking of His coming death.

“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18 ESV

This imagery of Jesus laying down and taking up His life is played out in the upper room, as Jesus lays down of His outer garments and then takes them back up again. And in-between doing so, He performs a sacrificial act of cleansing. But Peter and the disciples didn’t grasp the significance of what Jesus was doing. They didn’t make the connection. And Jesus makes this point perfectly clear.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7 ESV

When Peter vehemently refused to be cleansed by Jesus, he was unknowingly exhibiting the prideful, self-righteous attitude of the religious leaders.

In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. – Rodney A. Whitaker, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

But Jesus responded to Peter with a word of warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8 ESV). It would only be through Jesus’ death on the cross that true cleansing from sin could be attained. And without it, no one could have a right relationship with Christ or the Father.

Jesus’ words seemed to have gotten Peter’s attention because he immediately demanded that Jesus wash his hands and his head as well. If getting his feet washed by Jesus was a non-negotiable requirement, Peter wanted to show his enthusiasm by requesting even more cleansing. But he was missing the point.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t exactly clear up Peter’s confusion. His next statement is rather cryptic, providing the disciples with little clarity as to what He is talking about.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10 ESV

It would seem that Jesus is trying to let Peter and his companions know that they belong to Him. By having been chosen by God and placed in the care of His Son, the disciples have been set apart as His servants. In a sense, they have been cleansed, but not completely. The final phase of their cleansing will take place on the cross. And when that happens, they will be made ready for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Their lives will have been completely purified and made worthy vessels for the Spirit of God. It would not be until Jesus died, was raised again, and ascended, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His followers.

But there was one of them who would not experience this cleansing. He would not live to enjoy the coming of the Spirit of God. Judas was not clean. He was not a true believer in Jesus. He was a betrayer. And the death of Jesus would provide Him with no further cleansing from sin. As Matthew recorded in his gospel, Peter had clearly expressed His belief in Jesus when he stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But evidently, Judas did not share that belief. He was not fully convinced by Jesus’ claims to be divine. He likely began following Jesus because he had hopes that He was the Messiah. But as time went by and Jesus failed to announce His Kingdom on earth, Judas lost patience and interest. And he would walk out that very night with a preconceived plan to make the most of his relationship with Jesus by betraying Him to the religious authorities. But for the time being, Peter and the rest of the disciples would remain by Jesus’ side.

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

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

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

A Preview of Coming Attractions

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district. – Matthew 9:18-26 ESV

This narrative contains a story within a story. In it, Matthew records an episode in which Jesus responds to yet another third-party request for healing. The first one involved a Centurion who had asked Jesus to heal his servant. Now, a man approaches with a request that will surely test the power and authority of Jesus. His daughter is dead and he has sought out Jesus, believing that He can bring her back to life. This young girl is not suffering from a debilitating disease, a fever, or even a life-threatening illness. She is dead. And this man’s request must have left even the disciples stunned and a bit incredulous that this man would put Jesus in such an awkward predicament. After all, no one could raise the dead.

There are some discrepancies between the accounts of this event as provided by the three synoptic gospels. First of all, Mark and Luke indicate that the man was a leader in the local synagogue and even provide us with his name: Jairus. They also give the impression that the man’s daughter was not yet dead when he first approached Jesus.

Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:22-23 ESV

And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying. – Luke 8:41-42 ESV

The easiest and most plausible explanation for these apparent contradictions is that Matthew simply condensed the story, revealing the fact that, by the time Jesus arrived at the man’s house, the young girl was dead. When asking Jesus to come to his house to help his daughter, who was “at the point of death” and “dying,” this father was unaware that she had already passed away. Whether he realized it or not, he was asking Jesus to do, not just the improbable, but the impossible. And there is no way for us to know at what point in the story the girl’s death took place. Was it because Jesus took the time to talk to the older woman with the issue of blood? We don’t know.

But Matthew, in his ongoing effort to support the divinity of Jesus, and knowing how the story ends, emphasizes the dramatic nature of the father’s request. This had become, not a matter of life or death, but of life from death.

Another possible explanation is that during the intervening miracle took place, when the woman who touched Jesus’ robe was healed, the father received word that his daughter had died and his request shifted from “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” to “my daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” In the time it took for Jesus to heal the woman with the issue of blood, the daughter’s illness had ended in death.

But Matthew interrupts the story about the synagogue ruler’s daughter in order to describe another “chance” encounter between Jesus and a person in need. From Matthew’s description, this woman suffered from some sort of hemorrhage that had plagued her for 12 years. This chronic “discharge of blood” (Matthew 9:20) would have left this woman weak and also in a perpetual state of uncleanness. According to the Mosaic law, her bleeding would have rendered her impure and anyone she touched would have contracted her impurity.

“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies, all the days of her discharge, shall be to her as the bed of her impurity. And everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her menstrual impurity. And whoever touches these things shall be unclean…” – Leviticus 16:25-27 ESV

Yet, Matthew describes this unnamed woman as coming up behind Jesus and touching His garment. In doing so, she was passing her uncleanness onto Jesus. But her action was based not on evil intent but on faith.

 …for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” – Matthew 9:21 ESV

She had touched Jesus fully expecting to be made clean. And her faith was rewarded. Jesus turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:2 ESV). And Matthew records that she received immediate healing from her illness. Mark adds, “the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 529 ESV). Her physical disability, while invisible to everyone else around her, was very familiar to her, and she knew in an instant that her body had been made whole.

Luke adds an interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter that appears to indicate the sensitivity of Jesus to all those in His surroundings. Luke indicates that the woman received her healing as soon as she touched the robe of Jesus. And Jesus, knowing that something powerful had just taken place, stated, “Who was it that touched me?” (Luke 8:45 ESV). This was not so much an admission of ignorance on the part of Jesus, as it was a desire for the woman to expose the miracle she had just received.

Peter, a bit confused by Jesus’ question, pointed out that there was no way to know who had touched Him. The crowd was large and it could have been anyone.

“Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” – Luke 8:45 ESV

But Jesus knew that faith had been displayed, His power had been released, and a miracle had taken place. And He wanted everyone to know about it.

“Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” – Luke 8:46 ESV

The woman, shyly and somewhat reticently, made her way forward.

And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. – Luke 8:47 ESV

It was at that very moment that Jesus verbally commended the woman for her seeming indiscretion, declaring to everyone in HIs hearing that it was her faith that had made her well. He sent her away, encouraging her to “live in peace” – in the joyful understanding that she had been fully restored to physical health and moral purity.

But just as the woman was walking away, “someone from the ruler’s house came and said, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more’” (Luke 9:22 ESV). So, the delay did result in the daughter’s death. And sensing the disappointment in the messenger’s voice, Jesus replied, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well” (Luke 8:50 ESV). It was most likely at this very moment that the father uttered the words recorded by Matthew: “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18 ESV).

Jesus, accompanied by the father as well as Peter, James, and John (Luke 8:51), made His way to the man’s house, where He found “people weeping and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). It was a scene of despair and sadness. Yet, Jesus spoiled the pity party, sending them away with a somewhat dismissive tone.

“Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” – Matthew 9:24 ESV

This statement brought laughter from the crowd. But Jesus, undeterred by their reaction, took the young girl by the hand and gently commanded her to rise. Once again, Jesus broke protocol. He knowingly and willingly touched a dead body, immediately rendering Himself ceremonially unclean. Yet, the result of this breach of accepted religious practice resulted in the immediate restoration of life to the one who was dead. The little girl was miraculously revived, to the shock and amazement of all who were fortunate enough to witness this incredible scene.

Both Mark and Luke record that Jesus instructed the parents to tell no one of what had just happened. But Matthew flatly states, “the report of this went through all that district” (Matthew 9:26 ESV). There was no way this incredible event was going to remain under wraps. And Jesus fully understood that the word would get out. But it was His desire that the miracles He performed not be the focus of His ministry. He had come to do far greater things than heal diseases or even raise the dead. He came to give sight to the spiritually blind, healing to those crippled by sin, and resurrection to all who were living under the curse of death.

Jesus had come to purify the unclean and revive the dead. And these two miracles, while truly amazing,  were nothing compared with the miracle of new birth that would become available with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

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 Guilt of Innocent Blood

1 “If in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the Lord, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.– Deuteronomy 21:1-9 ESV

The opening of this chapter sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. A traveler, walking across open land, inadvertently discovers the body of an unidentified dead man. The only evidence we’re given is that the man has been murdered. There are no other clues provided as to the identity of the deceased or his killer. Cue Hercule Peroit or Miss Marple.

But unlike one of Miss Christie’s novels, this story seems less focused on discovering the identity of the murderer than expunging the guilt of his actions. While everything in us screams for the guilty party to be exposed and justice to be served, God seems much more concerned about the corporate character of His people. An innocent life had been taken, and God was going to hold the entire community responsible. Yes, one man had sinned, but all would be culpable for his actions.

This idea of corporate culpability was one of the differentiating characteristics of God’s people. He viewed the Israelites communally and not just individually. They were His chosen people collectively and not independently.  They jointly shared His unique designation of them as His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). And all it took was one bad apple to spoil the bunch. A single man’s sin could contaminate the entire nation, replacing the blessings of God with His just and righteous judgment.

We will see this played out in the early days of Israel’s conquest of the land. In just their second battle, the Israelites will discover just how seriously God was about corporate culpability. After their miraculous defeat of Jericho, God had commanded the Israelites to destroy everything within the city’s walls, taking nothing as plunder.

“Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” – Joshua 6:18-19 NLT

And it seems that the people did as the Lord had commanded.

Then the Israelites burned the town and everything in it. Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the Lord’s house. – Joshua 6:24 NLT

But then we come to chapter seven.

But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites. – Joshua 7:1 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of this verse. One man, Achan, violated God’s command, and, yet, the entire nation would be held responsible. Achan’s sin was unknown to Joshua and the rest of the camp. So, they planned their next conquest, setting their sights on the small town of Ai, assuming it would be a quick and easy victory. But to Israel’s shock and dismay, the much smaller army of Ai routed them.

The men of Ai chased the Israelites from the town gate as far as the quarries, and they killed about thirty-six who were retreating down the slope. The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away. – Joshua 7:4-5 NLT

Joshua and the rest of the people were at a loss as to why any of this had happened. They could not understand how they had gone so quickly from victory to defeat. But God would not leave them in the dark for long.

“Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction.” – Joshua 7:11-12 NLT

And God revealed to Joshua the nature of their problem. “Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you” (Joshua 7:13 NLT). Achan was eventually exposed and punished for his sin. But his individual actions had impacted the entire community. The whole nation had suffered because of his decision to disobey God.

So now,  when we read in Deuteronomy 21 of God holding an entire city responsible for the bloodguilt of an innocent man’s death, we can see what is going on. Discovering the identity of the murderer was less important than atoning for the sin committed. The victim’s death had left a stain on the entire nation.

God did not institute a plan for discovering the identity of the murderer. He did not form a posse or assemble a militia to seek out the guilty party. He provided a plan of atonement – a means by which the nation could receive forgiveness for the sin committed in its midst. Once it was determined which city was nearest the location where the dead man’s body was found, the elders and priests of that city were given explicit instructions to follow. They were to take a young cow that had never been used for plowing and take it into a nearby valley where its neck was to be broken. This young heifer was to serve as a substitute for the one guilty of the murder. Its life was given in exchange for the life of the one who had shed innocent blood. And the elders of that city were to wash their hands over the body of the heifer, pronouncing the innocence of the people and crying for God to accept their gift as atonement for the sin committed.

“Our hands have not spilled this blood, nor have we witnessed the crime. Do not blame your people Israel whom you redeemed, O Lord, and do not hold them accountable for the bloodshed of an innocent person.” – Deuteronomy 21:7-8 NLT

And Moses clearly states, “Then atonement will be made for the bloodshed. In this manner, you will purge out the guilt of innocent blood from among you, for you must do what is right before the Lord” (Deuteronomy 21:8-9 NLT).

It should be noted that God’s instructions concerning the atoning sacrifice are quite specific. The location for the sacrifice was to be “a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown” (Deuteronomy 21:5 ESV). The sacrifice was to take place outside the walls of the city at a location where there was running water nearby, necessary for ceremonial cleansing once the animal was killed and its blood shed. The requirement that the ground be unplowed seems to an assurance that the shed blood is never stirred up or becomes capable of contaminating a future food source.

God’s primary concern was the restoration of Israel’s relationship with Him. As long as the innocent victim’s life was unatoned for, the entire nation stood guilty and condemned before God. The name of the one who committed the murder was unknown, but the guilt of his actions was more than familiar. The sin of the one contaminated the whole, and God expected them to purge the guilt from their midst.

The sin of Achan brought judgment upon the people of Israel. His selfish and self-centered disregard for God’s command had far-reaching implications and serious ramifications. God would not allow the people of Israel to turn a blind eye to the sin in their midst. It was to be taken seriously because its influence was deadly.

There is a powerful and sobering lesson for us to learn from all of this. God puts a high priority on community. As followers of Christ, we have been placed in God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and share a common identity as God’s children. And while each of us must take responsibility for our individual actions, we share a communal connection that should make the sins of the one a concern for us all.

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

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

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

A Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

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

Here I Am. Send Me!

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”– Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV

This chapter seems a bit out of place. It provides details concerning Isaiah’s divine call, but appears after the first five chapters, which contain a summary of Judah’s sin and God’s coming judgment. It would appear that Isaiah wanted to begin his book with a clear description of the state of affairs in Judah so that the people would understand the nature of his message to them. Now, in chapter six, he reveals that he is a messenger sent from God. He has received a commission from Yahweh Himself, and has been tasked with the responsibility to warn the people of Judah of what God has ordained, unless they repent and return to Him.

Isaiah prefaces this chapter by providing the date of his calling. It was in the year King Uzziah died. That would have been around 740 B.C. It’s interesting to note that King Uzziah was one of the few godly kings to reign in Judah since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign. He reigned over Judah for 52 years, but like so many of the other kings of Judah, Uzziah failed to remain faithful to God. He enjoyed the blessings of God, but allowed them to go to his head.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” 2 Chronicles 26:16-18 NLT

Don’t miss the details concerning Uzziah’s sin. He had entered the sanctuary of the temple and burned incense on the altar of incense. In other words, he had taken on the role of the priest and, in doing so, had violated the law of God. He had committed the very same crime that had resulted in King Saul’s removal and replacement by David (1 Samuel 13:9).

When confronted by the high priest, Uzziah had reacted with rage, screaming at Azariah and the other priests. As a result of his actions, God struck him with leprosy. And the text tells us that he remained a leper until his death.

So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:21 NLT

His God-ordained disease banned left him unclean and banned from ever entering the temple again. He spent the remaining years of his life in quarantine, secluded in a separate house and unable to govern the people of God.

And in the year of his death, Isaiah was given a vision by God. It is not coincidence that Isaiah saw God in His holy temple, the actual temple in heaven. He was given a glimpse into the actual Holy of Holies where God sits on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews wrote of the existence of the true temple in heaven where God dwells.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. – Hebrews 9:23-24 NLT

The earthly temple was modeled after the heavenly one. And while Uzziah, in his pride, had entered into the earthly temple and offered unlawful sacrifices to God, Isaiah was allowed to see into the heavenly temple where God’s presence dwells. And he describes it in great detail.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1 ESV

Isaiah, like John in the book of Revelation, was given the privilege of seeing God Almighty in all His glory. And Isaiah describes God as sitting on his throne, the mercy seat located in the Holy of Holies. We know this is the location of God’s throne because of Isaiah’s description of his immediate surroundings.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. – Isaiah 6:2 ESV

Over in the book of 1 Kings, we have a very similar description of the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon constructed.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold. – 1 Kings 6:23-28 NLT

These two cherubim are not to be confused with the two that were located on the top of the ark of the covenant. Notice their size. They were 15-feet tall and on permanent display in the Holy of Holies. It was inbetween these two massive statues that the ark of the covenant was to be placed.

Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple–the Most Holy Place–and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. – 1 Kings 8:6 NLT

But, while the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were lifeless statues, the two that Isaiah saw standing above the throne of God in heaven were living creatures. And they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). This is very similar to the scene John saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

In both visions, the emphasis is on the holiness of God. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is all-pervasive. Yes, He sits on His throne in the Holy of Holies, but He is not restricted in any way. God’s glory fills the entirety of His creation. And it is that fact that makes the sins of Judah so much more egregious. The reaction of Isaiah reveals that he fully understood the dramatic contrast between the holiness of his God and the sinfulness of his own people.

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  – Isaiah 6:5 ESV

He even saw himself as unworthy to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Even his lips were contaminated by his sinfulness, making him unworthy to sing the praises of his God. And he was not alone. The entire population of Judah was marred by sin. Like Uzziah, who found himself covered with leprosy and banished from the temple, the people of Judah were covered by the guilt of sin and unwelcome in God’s presence. It was their sin that separated them from God. Their unrighteousness kept them from approaching the righteous King, the Lord of hosts.

But with Isaiah’s confession of guilt came cleansing and forgiveness. One of the cherubim touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of incense and pronounced:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:7 ESV

The apostle John reminds us that this incredible opportunity is available to any and all who will simply confess their sins to God.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:9 NLT

Isaiah required cleansing before he could act as God’s spokesperson. He needed to have his own sins forgiven before he could deliver God’s message to the people of Judah. We see this lived out in the life of Aaron, the original high priest, who, each year on the day of atonement had to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could intercede for the people of God.

Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. – Leviticus 16:11-13 ESV

Once cleansed from his own sins, Aaron could then offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And, after having received cleansing for his sins, Isaiah was ready to serve as God’s messenger to His people.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 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