When Men (and Women) Play God

11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Behold, you are pregnant
    and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
    because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. Genesis 16:11-16 ESV

A  pregnant and homeless Hagar found herself in the middle of the wilderness having an unexpected conversation with the angel of the Lord. And much to her surprise, this divine messenger has just commanded Hagar to return home and submit herself to the Sarai, the very woman who had cast her out like unwanted trash. This disheartened and fearful woman must have reeled at the thought of risking further alienation and possible retribution from an angry and vengeful Sarai. But the angel of God provided a doubtful Hagar with a shocking revelation that was meant to elicit faith and produce obedience.

“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 16:10 ESV

God was assuring Hagar that the child she carried in her womb would not only live, but he would produce an abundance of offspring. This female Egyptian slave had been made the unwitting participant in Sarai’s clever scheme to fulfill God’s promise through human means. When Sarai’s barrenness continued to stifle any hope of her bearing a son for her husband, Abram, she had turned to Hagar as a possible and practical solution. It had been her idea to have Abram impregnate her personal handmaid. And when her plan worked, and Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s child, Sarai regretted her decision and ordered the threat removed.

But, as always, God had bigger plans in store for Hagar and, more importantly,  for the baby she carried in her womb. In the middle of the inhospitable wilderness, the forlorn and forgotten Hagar was given new hope.

“You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress. – Genesis 16:11 NLT

This announcement was meant to assure Hagar that her child would live. And God would not only give her a son, but He would give that boy a name: Ishmael. This name is actually a compound word in Hebrew (yišmāʿē’l). It stems from the word for “hear” and the word for “God.” So, the boy’s God-given name would mean “God hears.” His name would reflect the reality that Yahweh had heard Hagar’s desperate cries for help and had determined to answer them. One can only imagine the fear-driven pleas of this abandoned woman as she pondered her own fate and that of her child. Was she destined to die in the wilderness, pregnant and alone? Would she live long enough to witness the birth of her child, but then be forced to watch its life slip away due to hunger and exposure to the elements? Was this some kind of divine punishment for her role in the whole affair surrogate birth mother affair?

What is interesting to consider is that, due to her identity as an Egyptian, it is highly likely that Hagar was not a follower of Yahweh. Her ten-year exposure to Abram and his family may have resulted in her conversion, but it is just as likely that she remained a worshiper of one of the many gods of Egypt. And her cries in the wilderness could have been directed at one of these false deities.

But who heard her? And who responded to her pleas for help? It was Yahweh, the very same God who had called her former master out of Haran. It had been this God’s messenger who had shown up in the wilderness and delivered the good news about her son and his future descendants. But not everything about the angel’s message would have sounded positive to Hagar. He also delivered what must have come across to her as bad news.

“This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.” – Genesis 16:12 NLT

At first glance, this pronouncement comes across as anything but good news. But to a woman who had been faced with the possible death of her unborn son, this news was hopeful. He would grow up to be a man who lived independently. He would be powerful and resourceful. And, while he would end up alienated from his own relatives, he would father a sizeable nation of his own that would have a lasting impact on the world.

In time, the descendants of Ishmael would end up as the mortal enemies of their blood relatives, the Israelites. Islamic lore teaches that Ishmael would become the patriarch of the Muslim people. But the Bible simply states that Ishmael and his descendants would live in open hostility to the descendants of Abram through his son, Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac had the same father, but two different birth mothers. And their family trees would branch off in two distinctively different directions. But God was behind it all. In fact, Paul picks up on this story when writing to the believers living in the Roman-ruled province of Galatia. He would use the disparate relationship between these two half-brothers as an illustration of those who live as slaves to the law and those who enjoy the freedom brought about by God’s promise.

Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says? The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. – Galatians 4:21-24 NLT

Paul uses this Old Testament story to drive home a very important point to his Christian readers who are struggling with the difference between law and grace. He points out that Ishmael was born to a slave woman, while Isaac was born to Sarai, a free woman. The status of the two boys would dramatically impact their positions in the family of Abram. In fact, Moses makes clear that Ishmael would end up being alienated from and at odds with the other children of Abraham.

Secondly, Paul stresses the difference between their two births. Ishmael was the result of a purely human relationship. There was no miracle involved. Abram impregnated Hagar, she ended up pregnant, and eventually gave birth. There was nothing supernatural about it. But, in comparison, Sarai’s pregnancy was divinely ordained and ordered. She was old and barren, but God miraculously intervened and produced a child in fulfillment of His promise to Abram. Isaac was a son born to Sarai and not Hagar. That had been God’s plan all along. He is the God of the impossible, and He had never been in need of Sarai’s help or advice.

And Paul elaborates further on the distinction between these two women and their respective seed.

The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. – Galatians 4:24-26 NLT

Paul is not suggesting that the story of Sarai and Hagar is mythical or purely metaphorical. But he does suggest that it contains an important allegorical lesson. These two women were very real, but their lives also served as power illustrations of a much deeper truth that would apply in the not-so-distant future. Much to the chagrin of any Jews in his readership, Paul uses the slave-born son of Hagar as an illustration of the Jewish people who refused to believe in Christ. They were stuck relying upon the law for their salvation. They considered themselves to be legitimate sons of Abram, but God viewed them differently. In Paul’s analogy, Isaac becomes a representative of those born under freedom from the law. This is a direct reference to Christians, those whom Jesus has set free from the burden of the law.

Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant, with all its laws and legal requirements. But Sarai represents the New Covenant, made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is fascinating to consider that Jesus, the Savior of the world, also entered the world through the means of a miraculous, Spirit-enabled birth.

The promises of God will always be fulfilled by the divinely ordained means of God. Hagar had never been intended to be the mother of the offspring of Abram through whom God would bless all the nations. Human means never produce spiritual outcomes. And, while God would end up blessing Ishmael, and produce from him a great number of descendants. There would be no future Messiah or Savior born from his family tree. That was reserved for the son of the promise: Isaac.

In response to the message of the angel, Hagar declares that this God of Abram is a “God who sees.” He had seen her plight and responded to her plea. He had graciously given her a promise and a hope, and she believed. And the chapter ends on a somewhat anticlimactic note with the simple declaration:

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. – Genesis 16:15-16 NLT

God was far from done because the promise had not yet been fulfilled. But it would be, according to His terms, and right on time with His preordained schedule.

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

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

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

The Mysterious Ways of God

5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Genesis 16:5-10 ESV

The story of Sarai’s decision to give her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram as a surrogate birth mother for their future inheritance, brings an old hymn comes to mind. The events surrounding her clever solution to her own barrenness problem seem to be headed in a decidedly troubled direction. And yet, as this timeless song so aptly states, God was in full control of the entire situation.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm

Deep in unsearchable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

William Cowper, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” – 1774

Every detail recorded in this story seems to be taking place outside of God’s preordained will. Nowhere in the narrative does Sarai receive orders from God instructing her to implement His “Plan B.” And yet, as William Cowper so elegantly put it, God was treasuring up His bright designs and working His sovereign will.

From Sarai’s perspective, things had gone terribly wrong. Her bright idea had produced some decidedly dark outcomes. What should have been a joyous occasion, had turned into a toxic scene filled with jealousy, envy, and deep resentment. Sarai had given Hagar to Abram so that she might bear the offspring he was so desperately seeking. But when her wish came true and Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s child, she began to have a case of buyer’s remorse. Sarai’s lowly maidservant suddenly found herself in the envious position of serving as the future mother of Abram’s long-awaited son. She considered herself to be the “chosen” vessel through whom God would fulfill His promise to produce from Abram a great nation.  And she flaunted her newfound celebrity status in Sarai’s despondent face.

Sarai suddenly found herself in a dramatically diminished role. She was still Abram’s wife, but she was damaged goods – unable to conceive and, therefore, of little value. But rather than blame herself for this unpleasant predicament, she lashed out at Abram.

“This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” – Genesis 16:5 NLT

She admits that the idea had been hers, but she demanded that Abram take responsibility for the unfortunate outcome. After all, he was the one who got Hagar pregnant. But Sarai seems to be suffering from a severe case of selective memory. It was she who gave Abram both the idea and the permission to impregnate Hagar.

“Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

Her plan had worked to perfection. Abram had faithfully (and, most likely, with great eagerness) followed her instructions and accomplished his assignment. He had successfully gotten Hagar pregnant but, in doing so, he had inadvertently made Sarai mad.

Sarai portrayed herself as the innocent victim, even suggesting that God would not hold her culpable or blameworthy for this disastrous situation. Fueling her unbridled anger and resentment was the arrogant attitude exhibited by Hagar. Moses identifies this newly elevated servant an Egyptian. It is most likely that Hagar had become a part of Abram’s family when, 10 years earlier, he had taken his family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land of Canaan. Upon his departure from Egypt, Abram had been rewarded by Pharaoh with great wealth.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

Hagar had probably been among the many male and female servants who accompanied Abram back to the land of Canaan. And, at some point, she had been elevated to her position as Sarai’s personal maidservant, which eventually led to her selection as the surrogate birth mother for her mistress.

It is fascinating to consider the intricate and interconnected plot lines that permeate the story of Abram’s life. Early on, even before God called Abram and commanded him to move to Canaan, Abram’s father had already decided to uproot his family from Ur and relocate them to the very same spot. It was while they were temporarily residing in Haran, that God shared His plan and promise to Abram.

Later on, Abram made a decision to escape a famine in Canaan by seeking food and shelter in Egypt. Little did he know at the time that the famine had been God’s doing. Once in Egypt, Abram feared the Egyptians would kill him in order to gain access to his attractive wife. So, he concocted a misguided plan to save his own skin declaring Sarai to be his sister. This resulted in Pharaoh confiscating Sarai as his own personal property and placing her in his harem. But paid a handsome bride price to Sarai’s “brother.” Abram ended up a much wealthier man despite his deceit and deception. And God graciously rescued Sarai from her captivity, returning her to Abram, and sending the two of them back to Canaan.

God had been working behind the scenes “in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” All along, God had been working His sovereign will – despite Abram’s selfish and self-centered actions. And the same thing was true for Sarai’s misguided attempt to do God a favor by implementing her own plan to fulfill His long-delayed promise.

Both Sarai and Abram were oblivious to what God was going. She was mad and blamed Abram. Abram simply shrugged his shoulders and told her to do what she thought best.

“Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” – Genesis 16:6 NLT

He wasn’t about to come between his disgruntled wife and her pregnant maidservant. In fact, he wanted no part of what he considered to be a no-win situation. Abram displays a disappointing lack of leadership and integrity throughout this ordeal. He had been willing to “go into” Hagar, but now he refused to stand up for her. He was abandoning his responsibilities as a husband and a father. He placed Hagar at the mercy of his disgruntled and vengeful wife.  And Moses makes it clear that Sarai wasted no time inacting her revenge.

Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. – Genesis 16:6 NLT

But as before, God’s sovereign, all-knowing will reveals itself again. Hagar fled into the desert to escape the wrath of her mistress but, while there, she encounters the mercy of gracious God. Moses indicates that “The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur” (Genesis 16:7 NLT). This does not mean the angel had been sent on a search-and-rescue mission from God, hoping to find this missing pregnant woman. God knew Hagar’s exact whereabouts, and that is right where the angel found her.

The angel asked Hagar two questions that were designed to elicit the rationale behind her flight. The angel already knew the answers but he wanted Hagar to consider the absurdity of her decision to seek refuge in the wilderness. She was an abandoned and unprotected pregnant woman attempting to fend for herself in the most inhospitable of places. She was hopeless and helpless. Or so she thought. In her mind, she had gone from the prized position as the mother of Abram’s offspring to a social pariah preparing to give birth to a bastard child in the middle of nowhere. Yet, God had news for Hagar.

When Hagar acknowledged that she was running from the wrath of Sarai, the angel gave her the surprising and somewhat disconcerting instructions to return. And then he added a shocking addendum to his command.

“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 16:10 ESV

This was the angel of the Lord speaking on behalf of His Master. He was delivering to Hagar the very same God-guaranteed promise that Abram and Sarai had received. This transplanted and recently abandoned Egyptian slave girl had just received a promise from God that she would be the mother of a great nation. Abram and Sarai had condemned she and her yet-born son to a certain death, but God had chosen to reward her with progeny and a fruitful posterity.

God even assured Hagar that she could safely return to her mistresses’ side and fear no repercussions. He would go with her and protect her. At this point, Hagar has no idea what God has in store. The prospect of returning to the unfriendly and potentially hostile atmosphere of Abram’s household must have frightened her. Would she be welcomed with open arms or clenched fists? Upon his birth, would her son be accepted or rejected? She had no way of knowing how God would fulfill the promise He made, but as the following verses will make clear, she eventually took God at His word and obeyed.

Despite Sarai’s plotting and scheming and Abram’s spineless leadership, Hagar had a future, because God had a plan – a plan even included her.

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

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

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

A Case of Déjà Vu

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Genesis 8:1-19 ESV

The ark had been God’s idea all along, and He had graciously shared the plans for its construction with Noah. And when Noah had faithfully completed his work on the massive project, God had extended a gracious invitation for him and his family to enter the safety and security of the ark.

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation. – Genesis 7:1 NET

After years of faithful and obedient service to God, constructing the vessel that would be the means of his own salvation, Noah was offered a chance to cease from his labors and enter into the rest that God had ordained for him. Noah had proven his reverence for God by doing all that the Lord commanded him to do. And the reward for all his work was rest and refuge from the coming storm.

This divine invitation, offering Noah a chance to rest in the safety and security of God’s chosen means of salvation, is echoed in the words spoken by Jesus as He inaugurated His earthly ministry.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NET

The ark had always been intended to foreshadow the coming of Christ. In a sin-stained world, condemned to suffer the wrath of God’s just and righteous judgment, a means of salvation had graciously been provided. God had invited a weary and worn-out Noah to enter into His rest and find salvation from the coming judgment.

One of the fascinating things to consider is how many trees Noah would have had to cut down in order to build the ark. Created by God, these fully mature trees would have been cut down in the prime of their lives, so that Noah and his family might be saved. They sacrificed their lives so that others might live. And, in the same way, Jesus would offer up His life so that others might find salvation. It was Isaiah who later prophesied of the Messiah’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity.

Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

The ark provided Noah and his family with protection from the judgment of God. He invited them in and then closed the door behind them. And there, in the safety of God’s preordained vessel of salvation, a remnant of humanity found refuge from the flood of divine judgment. And Moses paints a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace when he writes, “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1 ESV). The waters rose and covered the face of the earth. And the majority of God’s creation was destroyed in the process. But God remembered (זָכַרz – āḵar) Noah. In other words, God had not forgotten the covenant promise He had made.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you.”  – Genesis 6:17-18 NLT

The ark was not intended to be Noah’s final destination. It was simply the means by which he and his family would find access to the preferred future God had in store for them. In the same way, Jesus became the ark of mankind’s salvation, offering His life as a ransom for many. As He Himself stated, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

Noah wasn’t meant to stay on the ark. He had been delivered from death so that he might enjoy abundant life in a new, recreated world. The old was gone. God was giving humanity a new opportunity to begin again. But it took time for the waters to recede. This period of waiting provided time for the planet to be cleansed from all the death and decay caused by the flood.

Moses puts a great deal of emphasis on the steady decline of the deadly floodwaters.

the waters receded from the earth continually. – Genesis 8:3 ESV

And the waters continued to abate – Genesis 8:5 ESV

Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. – Genesis 8:8 ESV

So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. – Genesis 8:11 ESV

The time came when the waters of destruction receded and the formerly sin-saturated world was cleansed of all wickedness.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. – Genesis 8:13 ESV

It was time for Noah and his family to exit the ark and re-enter the world. So, God extended yet another invitation to His faithful servant.

“Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” – Genesis 8:16-17 NLT

In a way, Noah was invited by God to enjoy the resurrected life. For months, he and his family had been “entombed” in the ark. But the day came when they were invited to walk out of the “grave” and into the light of God’s new day. The apostle Paul would later write about the vicarious death-to-life experience that comes to all who place their faith in Christ.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:1-4 ESV

God invited Noah to exit the ark and reenter the world. He and his family were to fulfill the original kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve. God expected them to be fruitful and fill the earth. He was starting over with a man who walked with Him, and whom He had deemed to be righteous and blameless. This was to be a new beginning. And Moses records that “Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives left the boat. And all of the large and small animals and birds came out of the boat, pair by pair” (Genesis 8:18-19 NLT). When they stepped out of the ark, they were beginning a new chapter of the human story. This man and his wife were the new Adam and Eve. They were the divinely ordained pair who would be given the opportunity to act as God’s vice-regents, bearing His image, and faithfully stewarding the vast resources He had placed at their disposal.

But this passage is filled with a sense of déjà vu. It seems that a new chapter in the play has begun, but has anything really changed? With the floodwaters gone and the judgment of God fulfilled, will the story of humanity take a sudden turn for the better? Will Noah succeed where Adam failed? Will righteousness fill the earth? Will the godly remnant replicate and spread the image of God across the planet? Sadly, those questions have all been answered. Humanity was given a chance to begin again. Noah was provided with an opportunity to raise up a new generation that would walk with God. But as chapter five pointed out, Noah was a direct descendant of Adam. And as the apostle Paul later revealed, Noah had inherited the same sinful predisposition as his ancestor.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 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.

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

The Heights of Humility

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV

The church needs godly leadership. So, Peter called on the elders of the local congregations in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to step up and do their God-appointed duty well.

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

But Peter knew it was almost impossible to lead those who refused to follow. That’s why he turned his attention to the members of those local congregations and urged them to live lives of humble submission and obedience, graciously and willingly submitting themselves to their elders and to one another. And he began by addressing the young men who, in every generation, sometimes find submission to authority to be a difficult and distasteful proposition. Naturally headstrong and strongly independent, young men inherently desire to come out from under the authority of their elders. They want to sow their oats, captain their own ship, and operate as the masters of their own fates. But Peter challenged them to “accept the authority of the elders” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT).

Peter knew that the health of the church was dependent upon the willingness of its members to lovingly submit to one another. There was no place for competition within the body of Christ. While the church requires a God-ordained hierarchy of leadership, there is no excuse for attitudes of superiority or favoritism. Paul addressed the unique nature of the body of Christ in his first letter to believers living  in the city of Corinth.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

He went on to use the human body as an apt illustration of the spiritual body of Christ – the church.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? – 1 Corinthians 12:14-17 NLT

Each part of the body is necessary and serves its own unique purpose. It is only as they function in harmony that they all enjoy the mutual benefits inherent in their relationship. And the same is true of the church. That is why Paul insisted, “our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:18 NLT). Yes, there are those who are designated as elder and teachers, but that does not mean they have greater value or worth. It is as each member of the body of Christ learns to utilize its unique attributes for the benefit of the whole, that the church grows and thrives. And Paul insisted that it was all of God’s divine plan.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NLT

Having addressed the younger generation within the church, Peter expanded the circumference of his message by including every “part” of the body.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5 NLT

According to Peter, every member of a local congregation had the responsibility to adorn themselves with an attitude of humility. No one was to view themselves as irreplaceable or indispensable. An elder, while holding a leadership position within the body of Christ, was expected to be a servant of all. Every individual within a local fellowship was to maintain a humble evaluation of themselves. The apostle Paul put it a bit more bluntly.

I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:3-5 NLT

Peter was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34 when he wrote “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And James did the same thing in the letter that bears his name.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. – James 4:6-7 NLT

Humility is a non-negotiable characteristic of a Christ-follower. That’s why Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe exactly what kind of attitude Jesus had.

…he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7-8 NLT

Jesus was the Son of God and, yet, He did not think of Himself as too good to take on human flesh and live among sinful humanity. The co-creator of the entire universe willingly left His Father’s side and entered this world as the servant of all. He was the suffering servant and the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. And we are to follow His example. we are to share His mindset of humility and selfless service.

And with Jesus as the prime example, Peter urges his readers: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). Slaves who submitted to their masters, wives who lived in loving submission to their husbands, husbands who submissively and sacrificially served their wives, and individual Christians who willingly submitted to one another would each be submitting to God. And He would eventually reward them just as He had rewarded His Son. Which is exactly what Paul had written about our humble and selfless Savior.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

As Peter states earlier, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. His grace is our reward. The grace of the gospel, made possible by the selfless sacrifice of Jesus rewards us with salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, and, ultimately, our future glorification. We can look forward to a future reward that will include eternal life in His unshakeable Kingdom.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. – Hebrews 12:28 NLT

Peter wanted his readers to live humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, and expectantly. Yes, they would suffer in this life. And yes, they were expected to live submissively in this life. And yet, one day, their humility will be richly rewarded.

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

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

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

 

Self-Inflicted Suffering

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:15-19 ESV

As a student of human nature, Peter felt the need to address the topic of self-inflicted suffering. He knew from his own experience that not all suffering was for righteousness’ sake. His three-part denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest had resulted in a period of prolonged emotional suffering. The shame and humiliation he bore for having denied the one very whom he had confessed to being the Messiah had left him devastated and demoralized. And he did not want his brothers and sisters in Christ to confuse suffering for the sake of sin with suffering for the sake of righteousness. That’s why he told them:

…remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” – 1 Peter 1:17 NLT

The whole point of Peter’s letter was to encourage godly living among those who were privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God. He had been very clear regarding his expectation of their behavior.

God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

To do good was to emulate the character of Christ Himself. It was to live as Christ lived. And that kind of selfless, obedient, and righteous lifestyle would result in suffering. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. Those who followed Christ would experience the same resistance and rejection that He did. Their attempts to spread the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrate its power through their own reconciled lives would be met with hatred and hostility. But Peter reminded them, “if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2L20 NLT).

Suffering was inevitable. But Peter wanted his readers to know that there were two different causes for suffering and they were not to be confused. Living for Christ was a sure-fire way to experience suffering. The world hated Him and it would hate His own. But Peter reminded the recipients of his letter “if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). Righteous suffering in this life would be graciously rewarded in the next one.

But every minute of every day, believers are faced with the constant decision to choose right or wrong. They must decide whether they will live in the flesh or according to the power of the Holy Spirit. They can choose to live in obedience to God and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the world, or they can choose to compromise their convictions and live according to their old sinful nature. But that decision will also result in suffering.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! – 1 Peter 3:17 NLT

Sinful decisions always produce sinful consequences. But when believers choose to live in disobedience to God’s will, their choices result in God’s loving discipline.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

After quoting from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the author of Hebrews went on to explain, “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all” (Hebrews 12:8 NLT). The loving discipline of God can be painful but it is a reminder of His love. Yet Peter would prefer that his believing friends avoid that kind of painful discipline by staying away from such things as “murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT).

It is not clear why Peter chose to list these four particular sins. But each of them reflects a decision to do harm to another individual. They are inherently selfish sins that show no care or concern for the other person. Peter seems to be describing four different ways of life: That of a murderer, a thief, a troublemaker, or a meddler. These four ungodly pursuits stand in stark contrast to the life of a Christian. Those who practice such behavior deserver to suffer and bring shame upon themselves – even among the unbelieving world. “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16 NLT). A murderer will not only suffer the penalty for his crime but he will have to endure the added pain of public shame. He will get what he deserves.

But while a Christian might suffer for doing what is good, he will have no reason to be ashamed. He can hold his head high because he is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is following in the footsteps of Jesus.

One of the things Peter wants his readers to understand is that their suffering is relegated to this life. As long as they live in this world, they will be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT), and they will experience the unpleasant reality of living as strangers in a strange land. But their eternal future will be suffering-free. Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Corinth.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Rome the very same thing.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

And Jesus told His disciples, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). For the believer, the future holds no judgment or suffering. Yet, for all those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, the future is one of judgment and eternal suffering. That is why Peter states, “what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT).

Peter understood the reality of God’s coming judgment against sinful mankind. He alluded to the fact that we live in a time of judgment. As Jesus stated, mankind lives under the righteous wrath of God and already stands judged and condemned by Him. Their only hope is to be found in Jesus. But rather than turning to Him in faith, they were turning their hatred of Him on His followers. It was just as Jesus had said it would be.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:19 NLT

The world is “judging” God’s people. That is what Peter means when he writes, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). The sinful are judging the righteous. But the day is coming when the Righteous One will judge the sinful. All those who have refused to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus will face the Great White Throne Judgment and an eternity marked by suffering and pain.

Peter paraphrases Psalm 11:31 in an attempt to illustrate the difficulty with which the believer must navigate from this life to the next. It will not be easy. We are “barely saved” in the sense that our future glorification is preceded by suffering and pain in this life. Again, Peter’s emphasis is on present suffering and future glorification. This is exactly what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:14 ESV

Peter is unsparing in his disclosure that this life will not be easy for the follower of Christ. It will be marked by pain and suffering. But we are to remember that all our suffering takes place this side of glory. For us, eternity is suffering and judgment-free.

“He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 BSB

So, that is why Peter was able to provide his readers with the following words of encouragement.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT

You can suffer now or you can suffer later. For the believer, the choice is a simple one. It makes much more sense to suffer the momentary light afflictions of this life, knowing that there will be no more pain, suffering, or judgment in the life to 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.

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

 

To Love Like Christ

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Peter has just quoted from the book of Psalms in order to encourage his readers. He has used the Old Testament Scriptures to remind them that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Psalm 34:15). But not only that, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16). He wanted them to know that God the Father was watching over them and was on their side. The presence of difficulties and trials in the their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned them. The psalmist had called the people of God to live in obedience to the will of God, even in the face of opposition and the seeming absence of God’s presence. He was there. He was always there. And not only did God see their righteous response to the unrighteous actions of others, but the full weight of His righteous indignation was against those individuals. He would repay the wicked. Their only responsibility was to not return evil for evil. In fact, they were to turn away from evil and do good.

Then Peter follows up his quotation of Psalm 34 by paraphrasing yet another message found in the psalms.

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 ESV

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. – Psalm 118:6-7 ESV

And the author of the book of Hebrews used these same passages as when trying to articulate God’s unwavering faithfulness and care for His own.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV

Financial distress was no reason to worry or lose hope. And the love of or desire for money should never replace God as the believer’s sole source of sustenance and comfort. Material goods would make lousy substitutes for God. That is why Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The love of money and the fear of man are two powerful forces that constantly pull on the followers of Christ. We are prone to believe that money can bring contentment and that men are our primary source of acceptance. The world teaches us that material wealth can make us happy, and that our peers can make us or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. Yet the psalmists, Jesus, and Peter teach something quite different. And Peter chooses to make his point by asking a rather strange question that is cleverly worded paraphrase of Psalm 56:11.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? – 1 Peter 3:13 ESV

To those hearing Peter’s letter being read to them, the obvious and logical answer might be: Everybody! As they looked at the very real circumstances surrounding their lives, they could easily confess that there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able to do them harm for doing what is good. So much of their suffering was a result of their decision to follow Jesus.

But Peter was trying to get them to understand that their reaction to their suffering was a key demonstration of their faith in Christ. Were they willing to remain committed to doing good, even in the face of opposition and oppression? Would their mistreatment at the hands of their enemies cause them to respond in like manner or would they be a mimētēs or an imitator of Jesus. Centuries before Jesus suffered persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government, the prophet Isaiah prophesied how He would respond to their unjustified and unrighteous treatment of Him.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

And Matthew records how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. – Matthew 27:12 NLT

Jesus suffered for the sake of righteousness. He didn’t defend Himself. He didn’t lash out in anger or resentment. And Peter lets his readers know that they too would suffer for the sake of righteousness and, when it happened, they could know that their suffering would bring the blessing of God. They would one day be justly and rightly rewarded for their faithfulness, just as Jesus was.

God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. – 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Jesus had told His disciples, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). And He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was well aware that His future fate involved His own physical death at the hands of His enemies. They would kill His body, but fail to touch His soul. Jesus would die, but His body would be resurrected and reunited with His soul in its glorified form. His death was far from the end. It was just the beginning of God’s grand redemptive plan to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. It was on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, that Peter made the following statement to his Jewish audience.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:16 NLT

And it was some time later that Peter would stand before the high council of the Jews,  defending himself for having healed a lame man. And he would tell them:

“Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” – Acts 4:10 NLT

Jesus had suffered the ultimate for of persecution: Death by crucifixion. And yet, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was His resurrection power that enabled Peter, John, and the other disciples to do  “good deeds” even in the face of persecution. Peter knew from first-hand experience what suffering for the faith looked like. And he wanted his readers to know the secret to his ministry and resilience.

…worship Christ as Lord of your life. – 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

You might put it this way: Stop worrying and start worshiping. Rather than obsessing over what men might do to them, they needed to start praising Jesus for all that He had done for them. They were sons and daughters of God. They were heirs of the Kingdom. They were forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and had the Holy Spirit of God living within them. They had much for which to be grateful and plenty of cause to worship Jesus.

But along with praising Jesus for all that He had done for them, they were to tell others about the source of their hope, joy, and peace in the midst of life’s struggles.

if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

And as they shared their faith, even with their persecutors, they were to do so in love. They were not come across as judgmental or self-righteous. Their relationship with Christ was not to be a badge of honor or superiority that they flaunted before the less spiritual or ungodly. No, Peter told them they were to explain their faith  “in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT). In doing so, they would maintain a clear conscience, free from hate and marked by gracious humility. And this Christ-like response to suffering for the sake of righteousness would have a remarkable impact on their enemies. 

Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

It’s one thing to be hated for doing what is wrong. That is to be expected. But it is another thing to be hated for doing what is right and righteous. And Peter wants the believers to whom he is writing to understand the difference. If they respond to mistreatment with hate, they will only receive more hate in return. But if they respond in love, in total contradiction to human nature, their enemies won’t know what to do with it. This is not a promise of immunity from further suffering or even death. It is a reminder that the believer’s power to show love to their enemies is evidence that they belong to Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer. He warned them that the world would hate in the same way it hated Him. But Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. And as Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NLT). And, as His followers, we are love the world by sharing that message of divine love and salvation – even in the face of opposition, oppression, and the threat of death.

Remember,” Peter writes,  “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

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

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

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

 

Equipped and Empowered

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25 ESV

You have been called to suffer. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how that thought must have come across to Peter’s audience. And he was quite specific about the kind of suffering he has in mind.

…if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. – 1 Peter 2:20 ESV

Peter had been addressing those within the local congregation who were slaves. The Greek word Peter used is oiketēs, which most often referred to a household servant. Another common reference to slaves was the Greek word doulos, which means “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.” It is estimated that, during the 1st-Century, as much as one-third of the Roman population were slaves. As a result, slaves were a ubiquitous part of society, with many of them coming to faith in Christ and becoming members of local congregations throughout the Roman empire. Some of these people had been taken as captives of war. Others were born into slavery. But there was another class of individuals who had been required to enter into indentured servitude out of necessity. If someone owed a debt he could not pay, he could agree to work off the unpaid balance by becoming a bondservant. This was a situation that was covered under the Mosaic Law and was essentially a form of welfare. The Law even made provision for an individual to remain a slave out of gratitude to his master.

“But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” – Exodus 21:5-6 NLT

Yet, it is difficult to understand how the New Testament authors seem to have remained silent about the injustice of slavery. In our day, when slavery has been deservedly castigated and virtually eradicated, we find it strange that Jesus and His followers had little to say about it.

“The church never addressed the institution of slavery in society, for it was outside its province—society in that day did not claim to be representative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with the Enlightenment—but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be allowed, for all were brothers and sisters (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11; Phile. 16), however shocking that was to society at large.” – Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter

Their silence on the matter should not be taken as a form of validation or justification. But as was pointed out in yesterday’s point, Peter and the other apostles were not out to redeem the culture of their day. They had a God-given mandate to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and make disciples of all the nations. Any impact they were to make on the culture would come through the reconciliation of individual men and women to God. And their efforts were bearing fruit. The church was growing and its presence was beginning to be felt all throughout the Roman Empire. It was within the body of Christ that individuals from all walks of life could gather together in an atmosphere marked by unity and equity. The apostle Paul repeatedly emphasized the equalizing nature of the gospel.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT

And Peter took the time to address the slaves within the local fellowship to whom he wrote. He wanted to use them as an example of what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ. These individuals, while free in Christ, still found themselves living as literal slaves to men. Considered to be little more than personal property, they had no rights. For Peter, the hopeless and helpless circumstance of a slave provided the perfect illustration of his earlier point.

For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. – 1 Peter 2:16 NLT

This message had been addressed to the entire congregation, but now Peter was applying it to the life of a slave. He knew that many of these enslaved brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering unjustly at the hands of their masters. It is quite possible that some of them were actually enduring increased hostilities for their profession of faith. So, Peter reminds them that “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment” (1 Peter 2:19 NLT).

And because Peter knew that this call would be difficult to hear, let alone obey, he turned their attention to Jesus. Peter could recall the teachings of Jesus and knew that His life had been the consummate illustration of humble servanthood and willing submission to doing good, no matter what the cost. The words of Jesus still rang in Peter’s ear.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 NLT

Jesus had been called by God to serve, suffer, and sacrifice His life, so His followers should not expect their calling to be any different.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

With the prophetic words of Isaiah in mind, Peter paints a vivid picture of Jesus, the suffering servant.

He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

Jesus provided an incomparable example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and yet He willingly allowed Himself to be rejected and ridiculed by those whom He had made. The Creator placed Himself at the mercy of His creation. Peter’s words echo the sentiment of Paul, expressed in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Peter understood the formidable nature of his admonition. He was asking his readers to do the impossible. Yet, at the same time, Peter knew from personal experience that this kind of selfless life could be accomplished through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. In fact, in a second letter he wrote, Peter introduced himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NLT). He considered himself to be a slave of Jesus and wanted his readers to understand that they not only shared his identity but were equipped with the same source of power to live it out in everyday life.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

There was nothing they would face for which they were not already equipped. There was no suffering they might undergo that Jesus Himself had not endured and overcome. Even enslavement could not prevent their successful emulation of Jesus. No circumstance they could face in life would be able to stand against the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. They had been called to do good, and even if suffering were part of God’s divine plan, they would find themselves fully capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus.

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

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

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

 

The Best Is Yet To Come

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49 ESV

Just as the two disciples were sharing about their recent encounter with Jesus, the eyes of everyone in the room were suddenly drawn away by the sudden and unexpected appearance of Jesus. The majority of the people in the room had not yet seen Jesus, so His arrival caught them completely off guard. According to John’s gospel account, “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NLT), and yet Jesus had no trouble gaining access. He just appeared out of nowhere. And in that moment, the rumors became reality.  The claims of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the two disciples from Emmaus were miraculously corroborated by Jesus Himself. The could see Him with their own eyes and hear the sound of His voice as He said, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36 ESV).

But His words fell on deaf ears and His inexplicable appearance produced fear rather than joy. Their dazed and confused minds wrestled to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing. Unable to mentally process the scene taking place before them, they concluded that they were seeing things – specifically, a ghost. This was the same conclusion they had reached when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:26). They had no mental category for dealing with what they were seeing. Even though many of them had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were having a difficult time believing that Jesus was truly alive. They were quick to write off His appearance as little more than an apparition.

But the ever-compassionate Jesus, lovingly asked them, “Why are you frightened?…Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38 NLT). The sound of His voice was meant to reassure them that He was real and not a figment of their imaginations. They were not experiencing a mass hallucination. There was no reason for them to fear and no cause for them to doubt. His appearance was living proof of what the angel had said. “He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:6 NLT). Jesus was standing right in front of them – in the flesh. And to prove He was anything but a ghost, Jesus showed them His wounds, stating, “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39 NLT).

Even in His resurrected body, Jesus retained the wounds He had received as part of His crucifixion. The holes from the nails were still evident. The wound caused by the spear still marred His side. The punctures from the thorny crown still adorned His head. The ragged stripes from HIs flogging were clearly visible for all to see. He retained all the marks associated with His sacrificial death. And yet, He was alive. In a sense, He still bore on His body the evidence of mankind’s sin debt. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). His wounds remained but man’s sin debt had been removed – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

But even as they tried to take it all in, the disciples wrestled with an odd mix of joy and disbelief. They were ecstatic and skeptical at the same time. Their hearts were overjoyed and their brains were overtaxed. It was just too much to take in. Recognizing their troubled state, Jesus graciously provided them with further proof of His physicality. He asked for something to eat. And as the disciples looked on in awkward silence, Jesus ate the piece of broiled fish they had offered Him.

Having finished His meal, Jesus turned His attention once again to His disciples. His time on earth was coming to an end and He had much to tell them before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, just as He had done with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). Using the Old Testament Scriptures as His text, Jesus revealed how everything that had happened since the day of His incarnation had been all according to the sovereign plan of God the Father. He declared, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). And not long after He spoke these words, the last part of this phase of His mission would be fulfilled. He would ascend back to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers. All in keeping with and in fulfillment of the will of His Heavenly Father.

Jesus assured His disciples that His death had all been part of the plan.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” – Luke 24:46 NLT

The Sanhedrin and the Romans had been little more than tools in the hands of God Almighty. They had been His instruments for fulfilling the divine plan of redemption through the selfless sacrifice of His one and only Son. Then Jesus reminded them of the role they would play in His absence. He would be leaving them but they would carry on His ministry.

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” – Luke 24:47 NLT

They were to be a light to the nations. These men and women who had gathered behind locked doors out of fear for their lives would become the vanguard of a might movement of God that would shake the world. They were about to discover the truth of the promise Jesus had made to them.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

When He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come, and with His arrival, they would experience a source of power that would transform them into agents of change who would revolutionize the world. And as He prepared to depart, He once again assured them that He would not leave them alone or powerless to face the future.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 24:49 NLT

All they had to do was wait and believe. Jesus wasn’t demanding that they be successful. He was simply reminding them to be faithful. Wait and watch. Rest and be ready. They were about to become instruments in the hands of God Almighty, accomplishing His divine will through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit. They were about to grasp the reality that Jesus death had been the beginning and not the end. The best was yet to 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

Limited Expectations

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27 ESV

Luke opened his gospel by clearly confessing that he had not been the first to chronicle the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He even admitted that he investigated those other resources as part of the extensive research he did for his own writing project. 

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. – Luke 1:1-3 NLT

Luke, a physician by trade, appears to have been a stickler for details. He went to great lengths to locate and interview those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry, including many of the disciples. But it seems that his detective work uncovered some whose stories had not been included by the other gospel authors. Luke’s goal all along had been to write an accurate and detailed account that disclosed as much about the life of Jesus as was humanly possible. And in his research, he ran across the testimonies of two disciples of Jesus whose recounting of their post-resurrection encounter with their former Rabbi and friend just begged to be included in his gospel account.

When Luke interviewed these two individuals, they shared with him the remarkable story of their unexpected encounter with the risen Messiah. On the same Sunday when the women had come to the tomb of Jesus and discovered it to be empty, these two disciples had been traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, located just seven miles away. They had to have been emotionally drained as they discussed the events of the last 3-4 days. It had all begun with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Like all of Jesus’ followers, they had been devastated by this unexpected end to their hopes and dreams. They had believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah who would usher in His earthly kingdom and restore Israel to glory. But instead, He had suffered a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. It’s likely that these two individuals had taken part in the raucous and celebratory triumphal entry that marked Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem earlier the previous week. They had heard the shouts of “Hosanna!” and had watched as the crowds threw down their cloaks and declared, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV).

But now, they were walking away from the city of Jerusalem, their minds filled with confusion and questions. They were having a difficult time reconciling all that had happened. The death of Jesus had left them completely devoid of hope. The one whom they had believed to be the rightful king of Israel was dead. Their dreams of Him ushering in the end times by restoring David’s dynasty and fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies had been crushed. But these two men had been in the room when the women showed up and made the mind-blowing announcement that Jesus was alive.

“…some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive!” – Luke 24:22-23 NLT

It seems a bit strange that these disciples were on their way out of Jerusalem when they had heard reports that Jesus had been spotted in the city. But it could be that they were acting on the report of the women, who had delivered the following message from Jesus.

“…go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” – Mark 167 NLT

Perhaps they were going to make a stop in their home village of Emmaus and then head on to Galilee. But as they walked along the way, they couldn’t help but discuss all that had happened. It was all a mind-bending blur of confusion and contradictions. There is no indication as to the exact content of their discussion, but it seems clear that they were wrestling with doubt and disbelief. Was Jesus truly alive or were the women simply delusional? How could anyone have survived such a brutal death?

And as they were busy debating and discussing the events of the last three days, a stranger suddenly appeared alongside them. Noting the intensity of their conversation, the stranger asked them what they were talking about. And Luke reports that they “stopped short, sadness written across their faces” (Luke 24:17 NLT). This statement suggests that they were anything but hopeful. The womens’ report that Jesus was alive had failed to convince them. And this stranger’s apparent ignorance of all that had happened in Jerusalem surprised them. 

Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” – Luke 24:18 NLT

With His identity somehow hidden from them, Jesus played the part of the innocent and uninformed stranger perfectly. He asked them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19 NLT). And this led them to disclose not only the events of the last three days but the state of their own hearts.

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” – Luke 24:19-21 NLT

Notice their use of the past tense. He was a prophet. He was a mighty teacher. We had hoped he was the Messiah. They make no mention of the news they had received from the women. For whatever reason, they can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus might be alive. All the evidence pointed to a very different and disappointing outcome. They had hoped Him to be the Messiah but obviously, He wasn’t.

They admitted that some of their fellow disciples had run to the tomb and found it to be empty, just as the women had declared. But they were having a difficult time accepting the possibility that Jesus had somehow survived His crucifixion. There was absolutely no way He could be alive. And yet, the irony of it all was that Jesus was standing right in front of them. Blinded by their doubt, they had failed to recognize their Lord and Savior walking right beside them as they gloomily made their way to Emmaus. Then Jesus spoke.

“You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

Jesus didn’t scold them for failing to believe the testimony of the women. He rebuked them for refusing to believe the word of the prophets. These good, God-fearing Jews had completely missed the predictions of Messiah’s suffering and sacrificial death. Like all their fellow Jews, they had focused all their attention on the conquering Messiah, the warrior-king who would bring the Kingdom of God to earth and re-establish Israel as a superpower in the region once again.

All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus had attempted to open the eyes of His disciples so that they might understand the true nature of His coming kingdom. It would not come as they expected. And His reign would not appear in the form they so greatly desired. He had not come to establish an earthly kingdom and bring heaven to earth – at least not yet. For centuries, the Jewish people had read the Hebrew Scriptures through a distorted lens that blurred the truth regarding the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They had made the Messiah’s arrival all about themselves. He would be the Jewish Messiah who would bring victory to the Jewish people. But Jesus had come to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

And the apostle Paul would later explain the significance of that promise.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:8, 17 ESV

So, Jesus, His identity still hidden from the two disciples, “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). The “offspring” of Abraham gave these two descendants of Abraham an Old Testament survey class that revealed God’s sovereign will concerning the Messiah. This must have been a mind-altering experience for these two men as they received a masters-level lecture on all that the prophets had written about the coming of the Messiah. It was a paradigm-shifting, mind-bending revelation that would radically transform their myopic view of the kingdom.

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 Inexplicable Ways of God

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  Luke 23:50-56 ESV

The death of Jesus was a devastating and demoralizing blow to His followers. He had repeatedly told them that His trip to Jerusalem would end in His death, but they had refused to believe Him because His words did not comport with their understanding of the Messiah. Peter had even rebuked Jesus for making such illogical and unacceptable statements. These men had no place for a dying Savior in their Messianic vision. They had been longing for Jesus to curtail His preaching ministry and begin His campaign to destroy the Romans and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem.

Earlier in the week, as the disciples sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). They were distraught because Jesus had delivered some devastating news to them. On their way to the Mount of Olives, they had passed through the eastern gate of the city near the temple mount. When the disciples mentioned the beauty of the temple complex, Jesus surprised them by stating, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Now, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, with the temple mount in view just across the Kidron Valley, they wanted to know if the destruction of the temple was the sign they should be looking for. They were desperate to know what would be the sign or evidence of His coming as the Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing king-like. He had healed, preached, and taught, but none of that was what they expected the Messiah to do. They were looking for some kind of tangible proof that His kingdom was about to begin. But Jesus went on to tell them that things were going to get dramatically worse before they got better. The “sign” they longed for would come, but not when during their lifetimes and not before they would face difficult days.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 23:9-14 ESV

Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and unacceptable to the disciples. They had envisioned a far different ending to the story. In their minds, Jesus should have been seated on the throne of David and not hanging on a cross like a criminal.  And yet, it was all according to the will of God. As dark as the moment may have appeared to Jesus’ followers, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God was evident throughout the narrative. Everything was taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail. Every facet of the story was unfolding just as the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

And, as Luke points out, the rich man Isaiah prophesied about was none other than Joseph of Arimathea, “a member of the council, a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50 ESV). Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and counterintuitive. It made no sense. And, as further proof, here was a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, unknowingly fulfilling the preordained will of God. Matthew describes Joseph as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57 ESV). Luke states that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51 ESV). Somewhere along the way, this high-ranking member of Israel’s religious elite had determined that Jesus was the Messiah. He had broken ranks with the rest of his brothers on the high council and begun to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The long-awaited Messiah of Israel. In fact, Joseph had risked his reputation by refusing to give his consent to the council’s decision to have Jesus arrested and crucified (Luke 23:51).

And now, he was further jeopardizing his livelihood and life by asking Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Luke provides no insight into the motivation behind Joseph’s actions, other than the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that the Gospels provide the name of only one other individual who assisted in the burial of Jesus, and he too was a member of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. – John 19:39 ESV

This was the same man whose curiosity had compelled him to schedule a late-night, clandestine meeting with Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus had gone on to tell this highly educated Pharisee about the key to seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it was not what Nicodemus had expected. In fact, Jesus’ words confused him. When Jesus had stated, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 ESV). None of this made sense to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a highly-respected member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus believed himself to have a permanent place reserved for himself in the kingdom. He truly believed he had earned his rightful place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. But Jesus revealed that entrance into the kingdom would require far more than good deeds and the right genes.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5 ESV

And then He added the one vital element that was missing from Nicodemus’ understanding of the coming kingdom.

“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

The Messiah would have to die. Jesus would have to be “lifted up” on the cross. And He would later restate this unexpected requirement for the coming kingdom.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” – John 12:32 ESV

Nicodemus had left that night confused and concerned by all that he had heard. But evidently, he had come to the conclusion that the words of Jesus were true and that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He showed up at the cross of Jesus, carrying 75-pounds of spices in order to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and he had gone to great expense and was taking a great risk to do so.

There at the cross of Jesus, these two members of the Sanhedrin carefully removed the lifeless body of Jesus and prepared it for burial. They “took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53 ESV). And then they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

What a remarkable and totally unexpected scene. It’s fascinating to consider that, over the centuries, countless paintings have been created that attempt to depict this event. But most of them portray images that are figments of the artist’s imagination. They show a dejected Mary cradling her dead Son in her arms, surrounded by compassionate and equally mournful disciples. But that is not what happened. Matthew reports that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:61 ESV). Luke indicates that the women watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared and buried the body of Jesus. They took note of where the tomb was located and made plans to return with spices so that they too might anoint His body. But the 11 disciples of Jesus are strangely absent from this scene. It appears that only John was near enough to know the details surrounding Jesus’ burial place, and he reports that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV).

In the place of death, there was a garden, and in the garden, there was a tomb. And as the lifeless body of Jesus was placed in the ground, a remarkable and unexpected reality was about to take place, just as Jesus had predicted.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26 ESV

Don’t overlook the fact that it was two Pharisees who buried “the grain of wheat” in the ground. This unlikely pair was given the privilege of sowing the seed that would produce a harvest of righteousness. They served the Savior by placing His body in the tomb. They risked their reputations and their lives so that the Son of God might be given a proper burial. But what they didn’t realize was that they were planting the seed that would produce fruit for generations to 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