A Simple Story with a Sobering Message

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” – Luke 16:18-31 ESV

At first glance, this section of Luke 16 seems to come out of left field. It appears to lack any context. There has been no change of venue or scene, and yet, suddenly and unexpectedly, Jesus starts talking about divorce, adultery, remarriage, and the law. But the key to understanding this apparent shift in topic is found in verse 15, where Jesus pointedly addresses His adversaries, the Pharisees, brusquely pointing out the nature of their problem:

You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15 NET

Jesus had just disclosed that it is impossible to serve God and money at the same time. Whoever tries will “will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13 NLT). And the Pharisees, whom Luke reports “dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). They found Jesus’ parable about the dishonest manager to be ridiculous and His comments concerning unrighteous wealth and true riches to be laughable. Obviously, his poor and uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth had not been blessed with great wealth as they had. They believed their superior social standing to be a direct reward for their faithful obedience to God’s commands.

But Jesus won’t let them take the high ground. He exposed them for what they really are: Men who love money, covet the praise of men, and pride themselves on being the spiritual elite of Israel. Their apparent allegiance to the law was simply a means to an end. It earned them the awe and reverence of the masses. They were looked upon as the religious rock stars of their day, holy men who lived in perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law. Yet Jesus knew the truth. These pious religious leaders spent far too much time justifying themselves in the eyes of men when they should have been worrying about what God thought about them.

Earlier, Jesus had given His disciples a sobering warning concerning the Pharisees.

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.” – Luke 12:1-2 NLT

Their true natures would eventually be revealed for all to see. Their cleverly disguised hatred for Jesus would come to light when they forcefully arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. There they would level false accusations against Him, demanding that Jesus be put to death for posing a threat against the Roman government. It was all be based on lies, but they would eventually convince Pilate to crucify Jesus. But Jesus, knowing exactly what the Pharisees had planned for Him, told His disciples, “don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear” (Luke 12:4-5 NLT). And that same warning applied to the Pharisees. That’s why they needed to show far greater concern about God’s assessment of their lives, rather than trying to impress their peers and the peasants.

Back to Luke 16. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of what is taking place right in front of their eyes. The kingdom of God that the law and the prophets predicted has appeared in their midst. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel has come to earth, and His arrival has inaugurated a new age.

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it.” – Luke 16:16 NET

In a sense, John the Baptist was the last of the old-school prophets. He came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2 ESV

But John, like all the prophets before him, added a message of judgment.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:10 ESV

John called the people to be baptized, and he clarified that it was intended to illustrate their willingness to turn from their sinful ways. He even told the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). John believed that Jesus, in His role as the long-awaited Messiah, would be bringing judgment.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12 ESV

But Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He had told His disciples that His incarnation had been intended to make salvation available to those who already stood condemned before God.

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” – John 12:46-48 ESV

Jesus was offering sinful men and women a means of finding favor with God that was not based on human effort. The law of God had never been intended to provide salvation. According to the apostle Paul, the law was “given…to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). In his letter to the Romans, Paul expands on this thought by adding, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). 

All of this helps us better understand what Jesus is saying in the closing verses of Luke 16. He is attempting to explain the significance of His incarnation. He is the king of Israel whom the prophets and the law foretold, and He has brought His kingdom or, better yet, His kingly right to rule. He is the Son of God and the anointed Savior of the world. And everything He is doing and will do is in fulfillment of the law and prophets. That is why He declared, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:18 ESV). Nothing and no one was going to stand in His way – not even the Pharisees. Jesus was faithfully fulfilling the will of His Heavenly Father. And, even after His resurrection, He would tell His disciples:

“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.” – Luke 24:44 ESV

Yet, while Jesus was busy fulfilling the law, the Pharisees were doing it great harm. They were adding to it and creating loopholes for it. They were constantly coming up with ways to make its observance easier by designing clever workarounds. Even its clear teaching regarding divorce and remarriage had been diluted through their efforts. Adultery had become commonplace and the Pharisees had played a major role in justifying its ubiquitous existence among the Jews. This led Jesus to reiterate God’s unwavering outlook regarding divorce.

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. – Luke 16:18 ESV

Then Jesus followed this up with a rather interesting story. One of the first things we need to understand is that this story is descriptive and not intended to be prescriptive. In other words, Jesus is not teaching a doctrinal truth about heaven and hell, this life or the afterlife. He is simply telling a story designed to expose the erroneous beliefs of the Pharisees. They are represented in the story by the rich man who enjoyed great wealth in this life. But he proved to be uncaring and uncompassionate to the needy in his midst. In fact, every day he callously overlooked the sorry state of a poor man named Lazarus. In the story, both men die, and that’s where it gets interesting. Contrary to the common view among the Jews of Jesus’ day, the poor man ends up in heaven, while the rich man finds himself suffering in Hades. This would have been a shock to everyone that heard the story, and that was Jesus’ intent.

The rich man, stunned at this unexpected turn of events, begged God to show him mercy. And notice that he asks that God send Lazarus to do for him what he had refused to do for Lazarus all those years. Now that he was suffering, he wanted Lazarus to relieve his anguish. But God gave the rich man some very bad news.

“Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.” – Luke 16:25 NLT

As stated earlier, this parable is not meant to be a treatise on heaven and hell. Jesus was not suggesting that there are lines of communication between Hades and heaven. Jesus does not tell us how the rich man knew that Lazarus was in heaven because that is not the point of his story. The point of the story is found in its closing verses, where Jesus brings back up the law and the prophets.

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’” – Luke 16:27-29 ESV

The law contained all they needed to know about the treatment of the needy and oppressed. And the prophets had more than clarified what God would do to all those who chose to disobey His laws. The rich man’s brothers stood condemned because they refused to obey.

But, unswayed by the words of Abraham, the rich man continued to beg, stating, “if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God” (Luke 16:30 NLT). And this is where Jesus drives home the real point of his story.

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31 NLT

Subtly, but oh so clearly, Jesus reveals the underlying problem of the Pharisees. They were so arrogantly confident in their standing before God, that they refused to heed the warnings of Scripture. Jesus, the Son of God, stood before them and they refused to acknowledge Him. And even when He died and rose again, they would still reject His claims to be the Messiah.

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

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

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

A Fate Worse Than Death

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5 ESV

Jesus was adept at using the comments and questions of His listening audience to further the point He was trying to make. Unperturbed by these seeming distractions from His primary discourse, Jesus would simply and seamlessly integrate them into His message, and in chapter 13 of his gospel account, Luke provides a perfect illustration of Jesus displaying this particular oratory skill.

Jesus’ ongoing discussion regarding judgment must have left the 12 disciples and everyone else in the crowd more than a bit confused and less than thrilled. All His talk about wakefulness, watching, and waiting for His eventual return must have disappointed them. And His admission that He had come to bring division, not peace, would have seemed counterintuitive. Yes, since they believed Him to be the long-awaited Messiah, they fully expected Him to wage war with the Romans, dividing the enemies of God from the children of God. But Jesus had been talking about dividing households – pitting “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:53 ESV). None of this was what they had been expecting.

As Jesus was speaking, some individuals arrived with news of a tragic event that had just happened in Jerusalem. The way in which Luke records this scene implies that these people were bringing news about something that had just taken place. It was fast-breaking news that no one in the crowd had yet heard, including Jesus.

Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. – Luke 13:1 NLT

It is important to remember that Jesus was currently in the southern region of Judea. But He had spent a great deal of His ministry in Galilee. His birthplace of Bethlehem was located there, as well as His hometown of Nazareth. While ministering in Galilee, He and His disciples had made Capernaum their unofficial headquarters. And most of His disciples were Galileans. So, this news would have had a particularly strong impact on these men. There is some speculation that this horrible tragedy took place during the annual celebration of Passover since this was the only time when non-priests were allowed to offer sacrifices. But whatever the case, this news was devastating and would have reminded everyone in the crowd of their hatred for the Romans.

Pontius Pilate was appointed by Emperor Tiberius to be the Roman governor over Judea, and he served in that post for ten years, from A.D. 26-36. His job was to maintain peace within the province of Judea, using the Roman military as a kind of police force to keep the Jews in check. The ubiquitous presence of the Roman legions made life for the average Israelite miserable, providing a constant reminder of their oppressed state. Because of the high taxes levied by the Romans, the average Jew lived in a state of near poverty.  And now, the news has arrived that this Roman-appointed governor has slaughtered innocent Jews who were offering sacrifices at the temple of Yahweh.

But rather than express outrage at the actions of Pilate and his Roman goons, Jesus directs a rather strange question to the crowd.

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? – Luke 13:2 ESV

It could be that Jesus overheard the discussions going on in the crowd. As the people attempted to process this horrible news from Jerusalem, they probably speculated as to the cause. While some placed all the blame on the Romans, there were likely those in the crowd who deemed the dead Galileans as somehow deserving of their fate. This was a common idea within Judaism that they applied to everything from disease to poverty and even death.

John records an occasion when Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind since birth. Upon seeing the man, Jesus’ disciples asked for an explanation for the man’s tragic state.

Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” –Luke 9:2 NLT

It’s clear that they associated this man’s blindness as a form of curse from God. The question in their minds was not whether the man’s condition was a result of sin, but whether it had been him or his parents who had committed the sin. Since the man had been blind since birth, it seems that the disciples were expecting Jesus to expose the parents as the guilty party. But Jesus surprised His disciples by stating, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3 NLT).

And, in Luke’s account, Jesus takes the news regarding the murder of the Galileans to expose the faulty teaching of the religious leaders of Israel. They were primarily responsible for the propagation of this false understanding of sin and suffering. The self-righteous and prideful Sadducees and Pharisees deemed themselves to be blessed by God because of their health, wealth, and prosperity. They were quick to spread the lie that anyone who struggled with poverty or disease must have offended God and were only getting what they so richly deserved.

But Jesus blows holes in the false teaching of the religious leaders by stating, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 ESV). Once again, Jesus deftly steers the discussion back onto His original topic: The coming judgment of God. The tragic fate of the Galileans had nothing to do with their sin. They had simply experienced one of the inevitable outcomes of living in a fallen world. They had been in the right place but at the wrong time. What happened to them could have happened to anybody.

Just a few minutes earlier, Jesus had warned the crowd about the difference between death at the hands of men and final judgment at the hands of God.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. – Luke 12:4-5 ESV

Jesus went on to say, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9 ESV). He wanted His audience to realize that there was going to be a future judgment where men would stand before God Almighty. And the only way they could escape the judgment of God would be through belief in His Son.

Those Galileans had not suffered death at the hands of Pilate due to their sin. The Roman governor could put them to death but he had no power to condemn them to hell. Only God could do that.

Not long after this exchange, Jesus would find Himself standing in the very presence of Pilate. The man who had put the Galileans to death would stand in judgment over Jesus of Nazareth, another Galilean accused of crimes against the state. And Pilate, irritated by Jesus’ silence, will state, “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (John 19:10 NLT). To which Jesus will reply, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11 NLT). The lowly Galilean Rabbi will stand before the all-powerful governor of Judea, who believes he holds the fate of Jesus in his hands. But he will be wrong. And while Pilate will be the one who ultimately sanctions Jesus’ death on the cross, it will be Caiaphas, the high priest, whom God will hold responsible. Because of the false accusations leveled by Caiaphas, Jesus will die a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. But it will be Caiaphas who will one day stand before the judgment seat of God and answer for his rejection of the Son of God.

What is interesting about this story is the way the messengers described the fate of Galilean martyrs. Pilate had “mingled their blood” with their sacrifices. And that is exactly what will happen when Jesus goes to the cross. His own blood will flow down and mingle with the sacrifice – His body. And in the upper room on the night of His betrayal, during the celebration of Passover with His disciples, Jesus will explain the significance of His death.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – Luke 22:19-20 NLT

Those Galileans had shed their blood, but not because of their sin. Yet Jesus, the Galilean, will willingly pour out His blood as an atonement for the sins of mankind. His body will be broken and His blood will be shed so that others might one day stand before the Father fully forgiven and uncondemned.

Jesus wanted His audience to understand that death was the inevitable outcome for all humanity. It was inescapable and unavoidable. But there is a second death that is far worse than physical death. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus spoken as He sits enthroned as King.

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:7-8 ESV

This was the death that all men need to fear. Attempting to live a good and moral life will not prevent death or suffering. While you might make it through life relatively unscathed, you will still face the ultimate judgment of God and the reality of the second death. This is why Jesus repeated His point for emphasis.

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:5 ESV

Jesus had begun His earthly ministry by declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). He was the Messiah and He had come to usher in the Kingdom of God. But it would not come in the manner they had hoped or according to the timeframe they were expecting. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, but He had not come to rule and reign, but to offer Himself as a ransom for the sins of many. He had come to provide freedom from sin, not emancipation from Roman rule. But unless one chose to repent and believe in Him, they too would likewise perish. Their fate would be no better than the Galileans or those who were crushed beneath the tower of Siloam. All who refuse to place their faith in the Messiah’s death will ultimately face the second death.

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

Well Worth the Cost

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them? 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:51-62 ESV

The disciples were having difficulty understanding Jesus’ seeming obsession with suffering and dying. He had begun to disclose to them the details regarding the fate awaiting Him in Jerusalem, and they were not thrilled by what they heard. In fact, Jesus had just told them, “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies” (Luke 9:44 NLT). And Luke indicates that this disclosure made no sense to the disciples. They were incapable of grasping its significance because it had been “hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it” (Luke 9:45 NLT).

But despite the inability of the disciples to comprehend the true nature of the Messiah’s mission, Jesus was fully aware of His Father’s plans and committed to carrying them out. And Luke subtly reveals the determination with which Jesus went about His divinely ordained task.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV

In doing so, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy concerning the obedient servant found in Isaiah 50.

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened.
    I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
    from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
    determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:5-7 NLT

Jesus was not an unwilling or helpless participant caught in the overwhelming flow of God’s grand redemptive plan. He was the fully committed and wholly dedicated co-author of this divine rescue operation. He knew what awaited Him in Jerusalem and He was totally prepared to carry out the assignment He had willingly taken on. And John makes it clear in his gospel that everything Jesus did was out of humble submission to His Heavenly Father and according to His own will.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” – John 10:18 ESV

“I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” – John 14:31 ESV

After an extended stay in the northern region of Galilee, Jesus was preparing to make the fateful return to Judea and the city of Jerusalem. This change of plans probably thrilled the disciples because they believed it would be in the capital city of Israel that Jesus would finally reveal Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. It was in Jerusalem that King David had ruled and reigned, and it would be in Jerusalem that the heir to David’s throne would declare His kingship and deliver the people of Israel from their bondage to the Romans. With His return to Jerusalem, the disciples were hoping that Jesus would finally get down to business and use His divine power to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6 ESV).

But Jesus had other plans. He had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. His incarnation had far greater implications than the national renewal of Israel. The apostle Paul explains the full import of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

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 2:6-8 NLT

When the disciples became aware of Jesus’ change in destination, they would envision a throne and a royal crown. But Jesus knew Jerusalem would be a place of rejection, suffering, and death. The only crown awaiting Him would be made of thorns, not gold. And instead of ascending to a royal throne, He would be lifted up and nailed to a wooden cross. But the disciples were oblivious to all of these things. While they were still naively hoping for a coronation, Jesus knew Jerusalem would be the place of His crucifixion. Yet, He set His face to go there.

To reach Jerusalem from Galilee, Jesus and His disciples would have to pass through the land of Samaria. This region was occupied by the descendants of Jews who had remained behind after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. While many of their peers had been exiled to Assyria, these individuals were forced to fend for themselves and ended up intermarrying with other people groups. When the Israelites returned from their captivity, they declared these people to be half-breeds who had abandoned their Hebrew heritage and set up their own sacred site for the worship of Yahweh. The Jews considered them to be unclean and impure and would have nothing to do with them. That is why it was particularly upsetting to the disciples when Jesus had struck up a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).

So, it must have shocked the disciples when Jesus sent a few of them into Samaria to arrange for accommodations. It was one thing to pass through Samaria, but it would have been unthinkable to spend the night there. Yet that is exactly what Jesus intended.

He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. – Luke 9:52 NLT

The disciples who had been given this distasteful task would have been even more upset when they discovered that these unworthy Samaritans were unwilling to have Jesus stay in their village. James and John were particularly upset and offered to “call down fire from heaven to burn them up” (Luke 9:54 NLT). Their rather harsh reaction is almost humorous when you consider that the disciples had been unsuccessful in their attempt to cast out a demon. What led them to believe that they had the power to call down fire from heaven? But their reaction reveals the intensity of their hatred for the Samaritans. These men deemed the Samaritans’ treatment of Jesus as a sin worthy of death. But Jesus didn’t share their animosity. Instead, He rebuked the two “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), and made plans to stay in another village.

What the disciples failed to understand was that Jesus had just illustrated the rejection He had been talking about. Even the Samaritans refused to accept Him. They would have been aware of all the miracles He had performed throughout Galilee and it is likely that they would have longed to see Him do something similar among them. But when they heard that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, they rejected Him. They shared the same sentiment as the woman at the well, who had boldly told Jesus, “you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped” (John 4:20 NLT).

They viewed Jesus as a false worshiper because He was headed to the wrong sacred site. But little did they know that, unless Jesus went to Jerusalem, there would be no way for anyone, Jew or Samaritan, to gain access to God. Jesus Himself was about to become the door through which all men had to enter if they wanted to worship God.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. – John 10:7-9 ESV

As they made their way to another village, someone in Jesus’ retinue stated, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57 NLT). But Jesus warned this well-meaning individual that there was a high cost to following Him. He had just been rejected by the Samaritans. In doing so, they had denied Him a place to lay His head. But that was nothing compared to the true cost of discipleship. Following Jesus was going to require significant sacrifice. So, when Jesus invited another individual in the crowd to follow Him, this man responded, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father” (Luke 9:59 NLT). It would appear that this person wanted to delay his discipleship commitment until his father had died and he had received his inheritance. There is no indication that the man’s father was already dead. He was simply asking for a deferment. He was not quite ready to risk losing his future inheritance by following Jesus. But Jesus declared that there was something far more important than riches and temporal reward.

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:60 ESV

Discipleship required sacrifice and commitment. There was work to be done. The good news regarding the kingdom of God needed to be declared. Because without it, all were facing a fate worse than physical death. They were doomed to experience eternal separation from God the Father because of their sin. But Jesus had come to provide a means by which sinful men and women could experience new life, the forgiveness of sins, and a restored relationship with God as citizens of His kingdom.

Finally, a third person accepted Jesus’invitation to follow Him but with one caveat.

“Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” – Luke 9:61 NLT

And Jesus rather bluntly and unsympathetically responded, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT). Jesus was attempting to teach His disciples that the kingdom of God was all about the future, not the past. Burying the dead, saying goodbye to relatives, debating over worship sites, and living with a preoccupation on the here-and-now would render a disciple unfit for the kingdom. Jesus had come to offer something new. He was not presenting a slightly improved version of the present, but a whole new future based on His sacrificial death on the cross. Following Him would be costly, it would be well worth it. Jesus wanted His disciples to consider the cost and, later on in his gospel account, Luke records these sobering words from the lips of Jesus.

“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost.” – Luke 14:26-28 NLT

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

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

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

The True Cost of Discipleship

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:23-27 ESV

When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought Him to be, Peter quickly responded with the correct answer: “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:209 ESV). But Jesus knew that Peter had a somewhat cloudy understanding of what his statement even meant. Like the blind man Jesus had just healed (Mark 8:22-26), Peter was experiencing blurry vision – a fuzzy and incomplete understanding of Jesus’ identity. And Peter was not the only one of the disciples who was suffering from a foggy perspective concerning Jesus.

So, in an attempt to add context and clarity to Peter’s answer, Jesus began to teach that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22 ESV).

When Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ, he had none of these things in mind. The suffering, rejection, and murder of Jesus were not on his radar screen. There was no place for such things in his concept of the Messiah. And without them, there was certainly no need for a resurrection.

This announcement from Jesus would have made no sense to the disciples. They knew He and the religious leaders didn’t get along, but they would never have dreamed that these holy men would attempt to kill the Messiah of Israel. Yet Jesus made it clear that “the elders and chief priests and scribes” would be the ones behind His death. Men from these three groups populated the 70-member Sanhedrin, the high council of Israel. These were powerful and influential religious leaders who were revered for their righteousness by the common people. They were considered the spiritual elite of the day. And to think that they would conspire to kill Jesus was incomprehensible to the disciples.

Peter had been so appalled by this grim announcement that he had pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him. But Jesus had responded quickly and harshly.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:33 ESV

Jesus accused the very man who had just confessed Him to be the Christ of being “Satan.” This public rebuke was meant to send a message, not just to Peter but to every one of the disciples. By declaring his opposition to the revealed will of God, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the enemy. When Peter had shouted, “God forbid,” it was almost as if he was demanding that God alter His plans. Jesus had just revealed the Father’s will for His life but Peter didn’t approve. He found any mention of suffering, rejection, and death to be unfathomable and, therefore, unacceptable.

Matthew adds that Jesus accused Peter of being a skandalon, a stumbling block. Rather than assisting Jesus in His God-ordained mission, Peter was acting as an impediment. His well-meaning desire to prevent Jesus from experiencing suffering and death was more in line with the will of Satan than it was with God’s divine redemptive plan. Satan had been trying to derail the mission of Jesus from the beginning. All the way back at Jesus’ birth, Satan had attempted to use King Herod to eliminate the Christ child. And more than 30 years later, after Jesus was baptized by John and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Satan had repeatedly tempted Jesus, trying to convince Him to abandon His mission.

Now, here was Peter, one of the 12, declaring his opposition to the divinely-ordained ministry of Jesus the Christ. Jesus had made it plain and simple. He must suffer, die, and then rise again. Every aspect of God’s plan non-negotiable and completely necessary. Jesus had come to fulfill the will of His Father. And Jesus revealed to Peter that his perspective was skewed.

“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Mark 8:33 NLT

Without realizing it, Peter had been demanding that his will be done. He had put his expectations and desires ahead of God’s. He could see no personal benefit from Jesus suffering and dying. He had no need for a dead Messiah. Or so he thought.

Peter didn’t realize that his wish for Jesus to escape death was actually a nightmare waiting to happen. Little did he know that, without Jesus’ death, there would be no kingdom. There would be no forgiveness of sin. As Jesus had made clear, He had to be “lifted up.” Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and brought healing to all those who were guilty of sin and facing death, so Jesus must be lifted up on the cross so that mankind’s sin debt might be paid in full. It was only through Jesus’ sacrificial death that sinful men and women could find restoration and redemption. Clinging to a living Jesus was not going to save Peter. He was going to have to embrace the crucified Christ as his only hope of being reconciled to God.

And Matthew records that this encounter launched an ongoing series of lessons from Jesus to His disciples. He began to prepare them for what was to come. This would not be a one-time discussion, but a oft-repeated lecture on the Messiah’s role and God-ordained fate.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:21 ESV

Having rebuked Peter in front of his peers, Jesus turned His attention to the entire band of disciples. And the message He delivered to them was intended to provide them with further insight into His mission and their role in it.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. – Luke 9:23 NLT

Jesus was calling Peter and his companions to abandon their agendas. He knew they had all kinds of expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. They were hoping that when Jesus finally got around to establishing His Kingdom on earth, they would play vital roles in His royal administration. But Jesus was letting them know that those who would be citizens of His kingdom would be required to sacrifice. Just as He was going to be required to take up His cross, so would they. He was going to willingly lay down His life so that He might take it up again (John 10:17-18), and He was expecting them to follow His example.

Peter and the rest of the disciples couldn’t help but focus all their attention on the present. They were living for the moment. In a real sense, they had joined Jesus with selfish motives. They were in it for what they thought they could get out of it. But Jesus had a much-longer perspective. He realized that humiliation must precede glorification. Death had to come before life. Sacrifice would the key to obtaining the riches of God’s goodness and grace.

The disciples had short-term outlooks. They were interested in immediate gratification and were hoping to enjoy their best life in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. But their over-emphasis on the physical world was misguided and missing a very crucial point. Their desire to “gain the whole world” in this life was short-sighted, and Jesus wanted them to understand that their perspective would actually result in loss. Mark records that Jesus put the comparison in spiritual terms.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” –Mark 8:36-37 ESV

Jesus’ emphasis on the soul was meant to realign their thinking by reminding them that there was a spiritual dimension to their lives. Their souls would outlast their physical bodies. They were eternal creatures living in a temporal world, and Jesus was trying to clarify their vision so that they might embrace God’s plan of redemption with open arms and willing hearts.

Years later, long after Jesus had suffered, died, been resurrected, and had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would write these powerful words of admonition and encouragement. His audience was made up of believers living near the end of the 1st-Century who were facing persecution, suffering, and even death because of their faith in Christ. They were living out in daily life what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. But they were constantly being tempted to lose sight of the future and to pursue the pleasures of the present. So, John warned them:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Jesus closed out His message with a sobering word that was clearly intended for the ears of His disciples.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. – Luke 9:26 NLT

Jesus was not insinuating that Peter was in danger of losing his status as one of God’s chosen. He was simply warning Peter and the other disciples that they were about to face a difficult period of time that was going to test their allegiance and tempt them to abandon all hope. But notice that Jesus assures them that, in spite of all that was going to happen, He would be coming back. That was to be their focus. Yes, they would see Him arrested, tried, humiliated, crucified, killed, and buried. But they would also be eye-witnesses to His resurrection and watch Him ascend into heaven. And just before He returned to His Father’s side, He would leave His disciples with comforting words concerning His eventual return.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 NLT

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

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

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

Victory Over Death

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17 ESV

After healing the centurion’s servant in Capernaum, Jesus made His way to the town of Nain on the northern slope of Mount Morah. Nain was located across the Jezreel Valley, just six miles from Nazareth where Jesus was raised. As Jesus and His disciples arrived at the gate of the town they encountered a funeral procession. Many of the townspeople were accompanying the grieving mother as she prepared to bury her only son. Because she was a widow, her son’s death had left her on her own with no one to help provide for her physical and financial needs. Her prospects of surviving as a widow were grim and that’s one of the reasons God warned the people of Israel to protect and provide for widows and orphans.

“You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless. – Exodus 22:22-24 NLT

As the Son of God, Jesus shared His Father’s love and concern for the weak, defenseless, poor, and helpless.

The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
    He cares for the orphans and widows. – Psalm 146:9 NLT

The sight of the grieving mother stirred the heart of Jesus. It seems that He knew exactly what was going on and, moved with compassion, He spoke to the woman.

“Do not weep.” – Luke 7:13 ESV

There is no reason to believe that this grieving woman knew who Jesus was. She was distraught and overcome with sorrow at the death of her son, and a complete stranger suddenly addressed her and told her not to cry. But before she could question this unknown man’s identity or sanity, He stunned the crowd by reaching out and touching the pallet on which the body of the woman’s son was being carried. This unexpected action on the part of Jesus shocked the men who were carrying the pallet, causing them to stop dead in their tracks. What Jesus had just done was totally unacceptable behavior. According to the Mosaic Law, by touching the funeral bier, Jesus had just rendered Himself ceremonially unclean for a period of seven days. He had willingly and publicly violated the law of God. But Luke provides a subtle but significant insight into what was going on. In verse 13, he describes Jesus as “the Lord.” This is the first time in Luke’s gospel that he refers to Jesus with that title but he will use it often from this point forward.

The Greek word Luke used was kyrios, and it refers to a master or someone in authority. It was a title of reverence that was used by the Jews to refer to God Almighty. But Luke was applying it to Jesus. And years later, Peter would pick up that same term when addressing the Jews who had gathered to hear him speak after the miraculous events surrounding the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:36 ESV

Luke is subtly revealing that the one who addressed the woman and touched the funeral bier was none other than the Lord, the God of Israel. Jesus was the God-man, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). As the apostle John put it: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. And when He reached out and touched the dead man’s funeral bier, He was expressing the compassion of God and demonstrating His authority as the Son of God. As the stunned crowd looked on in silence, Jesus spoke.

“Young man, I say to you, arise.” – Luke 7:14 ESV

The location of this event is significant and far from coincidental. Luke provides us with no explanation as to why Jesus decided to leave Capernaum and travel to Nain. But it’s important to recognize that, just south of Nain, on the opposite side of Mount Moreh, was the town of Shunem. Centuries earlier, in that small and insignificant town, a similar death-to-life miracle had taken place. The prophet Elisha had been summoned by another mother whose child had suddenly become ill. But by the time he arrived in Shunem, the boy was dead.

When Elisha arrived at the house, there was the child lying dead on his bed. He went in by himself and closed the door. Then he prayed to the Lord. He got up on the bed and spread his body out over the boy; he put his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes over the boy’s eyes, and the palms of his hands against the boy’s palms. As he bent down across him, the boy’s skin grew warm. Elisha went back and walked around in the house. Then he got up on the bed again and bent down over him. The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called to Gehazi and said, “Get the Shunammite woman.” So he did so and she came to him. He said to her, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet, and bowed down. Then she picked up her son and left. – 2 Kings 4:32-37 NLT

It’s unclear whether anyone in Nain made the connection between Jesus’ healing of the widow’s son and Elisha’s healing of the Shunnamite woman’s son. But it seems clear that Luke understood the significance and similarity of these two miraculous events. Jesus, as the Son of God, displayed far greater power than the prophet of God. As Luke will reveal, Jesus simply spoke and the young man was immediately restored to life.

And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. – Luke 7:15 ESV

Elisha’s miracle was no less amazing, but it was not immediate and required that he call upon “the Lord” (2 Kings 4:33 ESV). Jesus was the Lord. He spoke and the dead man came to life because, according to the apostle John, He is the author of all life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:1-4 ESV

With his raising of the widow’s Son, Jesus demonstrated His power over death and His authority to bestow life on whoever He so chooses. It’s interesting to note that, nearly three years later, when Jesus was preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told the dead man’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT). Then He asked her, “Do you believe this, Martha?” (Luke 11:26 NLT).

With His raising of the widow’s son, Jesus was letting His newly chosen disciples know that He was far more than what they had been expecting. He was the Messiah, but He had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. He had come to deliver humanity from the inescapable and inevitable death sentence placed upon it for their rebellion against a holy God. The apostle Paul would later tell his young disciple, Timothy:

He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! – 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT

And Jesus would later tell His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). He is the source of eternal life and He proved it by miraculously restoring a dead man to life with nothing but a word from His lips. And Luke records that “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16 ESV). They were blown away by what they had witnessed and immediately assumed that Jesus was a prophet of God. They had been privileged to see the power of God exhibited through a man of God. But little did they know that they were actually in the presence of God Himself. When they declared, “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16 ESV), they were saying far more than they realized. They were testifying to the validity of John’s statement regarding Jesus and His incarnation.

…the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. – John 1:14 NLT

And the news of this amazing miracle spread like wildfire. Jesus’ reputation grew exponentially and with it, the anger and resentment of the Jewish religious leaders. News of this latest inexplicable episode would reach their ears and their hatred for Jesus would explode. And they would not be satisfied until the one who raised the dead to life was dead Himself.

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

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

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

Hope for the Hopeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Paul adds the good news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbelievably Unrepentant

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!Amos 4:6-13 ESV

In this section of Amos’ message, it would appear that he has 1 Kings 8 in mind. In that passage, King Solomon is offering his prayer of dedication for the newly constructed temple in Jerusalem. Solomon fully realized that it was impossible for the God of the universe to actually take up residence in a building made with human hands. The omnipotent, omnipresent God who created the heavens and the earth could not be contained in a man-made structure. But Solomon God to “watch over this Temple night and day” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). The temple was being dedicated to God’s glory and would bear His name.  So, with that in mind, Solomon asked God to “hear the prayers I make toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). Then he added:

May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:30 NLT

Then Solomon outlined for God a series of likely scenarios in which the people would find themselves needing divine assistance. Solomon knew his people well, and he was fully aware that they would commit sins against God that would result in the judgment of God. So, he asked that the temple might be a place of intercession where the people could come in repentance and offer up their prayers to the Almighty. And Solomon asked God to confirm that, if they prayed, He would hear and forgive.

Now, fast-forward to the reign of Jeroboam II. He is ruling over the kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten northern tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin shortly after Solomon’s death. The northern kingdom is wicked and unrepentant. They are idolatrous, immoral, unjust, and guilty of having turned their backs on God. And in verses 6-11 of chapter four, Amos records God’s words concerning their stubborn, unrepentant hearts.

God reminds them that He has brought judgment after judgment against them, in the form of famine, drought, disease, pestilence, and war, but they have repeatedly refused to repent. And with each description of the judgment He sent upon them, God adds the sad refrain, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

God had sent a famine among the cities of Israel. And because they had no food, they had “cleanness of teeth” (Amos 4:6 ESV). Their sin had resulted in God’s judgment and a devastating lack of life’s necessities. But Solomon had prayed with just such an incident in mind. He asked God, “If there is a famine in the land and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. Give your people what their actions deserve, for you alone know each human heart” (1 Kings 8:37, 38-39 NLT).

But notice what Solomon said: If there is a famine and if your people pray….

And there was a famine, but the people did not pray. They never turned to God in repentance. And because they were living in the northern kingdom of Israel, far from the city of Jerusalem, the temple of God was out of sight, out of mind. They had their own temples dedicated to their own false gods.

Next, God reminds them that He had withheld the rain, causing them to suffer the consequences of drought. This should have been no surprise to the people of God, because, generations earlier, Moses had warned them what would happen if they chose to disobey God’s laws:

The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. The Lord will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 28:23-24 NLT

And Solomon, knowing the sinful propensity of the people of Israel, had foreseen this day and had used it as another example of the need for God’s forgiveness.

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and if they pray toward this Temple and acknowledge your name and turn from their sins because you have punished them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sins of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them to follow the right path, and send rain on your land that you have given to your people as their special possession.” – 1 Kings 8:35-36 NLT

But the lack of rain had not produced repentant hearts. Instead, the hearts of the people remained as hard as the sun-baked, rain-deprived soil. They remained unwilling to repent and, therefore, they remained unforgiven by God.

But God had not stopped with famine and drought. He had also destroyed their crops with blight and mildew. He sent locusts to devour their fig and olive trees. These natural disasters were actually divine judgments, designed to get the attention of the apostate people of Israel. But, once again, they failed to repent and return. And, once again, Solomon had foreseen this situation and had included it in his prayer to God.

“If there is … a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars…whatever disaster or disease there is—and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:37-39

All the people needed to do was admit their fault and turn to God in repentance. But they would stubbornly refuse to do so.

And their stubbornness proved costly. After sending diseases on the fields, vineyards, and orchards of Israel, God sent pestilence among the people. He brought upon the Israelites the same kind of plagues that had destroyed the people of Egypt. Solomon had seen this coming as well. He had specifically feared the possibility of this very thing happening when he prayed, “If there is … a plague…” (1 Kings 8:37 ESV).

But not only did God send a devastating and deadly plague, He sent enemy troops who killed the soldiers of Israel, leaving a mass of decaying corpses in their wake.

I killed your young men in war
    and led all your horses away.
    The stench of death filled the air!” – 1 Kings 8:10 NLT

And, according to the prayer of Solomon, the people of Israel had failed to pray to God before entering into battle with their enemies and, as a result, they were defeated.

“If your people go out where you send them to fight their enemies, and if they pray to the Lord by turning toward this city you have chosen and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name, then hear their prayers from heaven and uphold their cause.” – 1 Kings 8:44-45 NLT

The people of Israel didn’t turn to God because they didn’t believe they needed Him. And they refused to return to God because they no longer believed in Him. They had long ago rejected Him as their God. And they had paid the price.

God had even decreed the destruction of some of their cities. Enemy forces had besieged and destroyed many Israelite cities and towns, burning them to the ground and leaving them desolated wastelands, much like the sinful cities Sodom and Gomorrah had become.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. – Amos 4:11 NLT

But even these devastating consequences failed to produce repentance among the people of Israel.

“But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 LT

At no point do the people of Israel turn their faces to the temple in Jerusalem and turn their hearts to the God whose name it bears. Despite all God’s judgments against them, they refuse to confess their sins and call out for His mercy and forgiveness. So, God provides them with one final and fateful warning: “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12 ESV).

While they consistently refused to return to Him in repentance, they were still going to have to deal with Him. Closing their eyes and their hearts did not make God go away. Just because they failed to acknowledge Him as God, did not mean He no longer existed. And Amos adds his two cents worth by reminding them that Yahweh was the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He was the sovereign God of the universe who holds all things in His mighty hands and is fully capable of dealing justly and rightly with His creation. And He would.

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
    and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! – Amos 4:13 ESV

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

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

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

Raising the Dead Back to Life

10 In the thirty-seventh year of Joash king of Judah, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned sixteen years. 11 He also did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin, but he walked in them. 12 Now the rest of the acts of Joash and all that he did, and the might with which he fought against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 13 So Joash slept with his fathers, and Jeroboam sat on his throne. And Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.

14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

22 Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.

24 When Hazael king of Syria died, Ben-hadad his son became king in his place. 25 Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities that he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel. 2 Kings 13:10-25 ESV

Keeping up with the revolving door of kings who reigned over Israel and Judah is hard enough as it is, but it becomes even more difficult when two kings with the same name end up ruling at the same time. That’s the case in this particular passage. Jehoash ascends to the throne of Israel after the death of his father, Jehoahaz. And it just so happens that the king of Judah bears the same name. It seems only fitting and a bit ironic that these two nations that shared the same predilection for idolatry and apostasy would end up with rulers who shared the same name. And while their reigns would only intersect for a period of about two years, they shared far more than a common name. In the end, both men proved to be ungodly leaders who failed to lead their people back to the worship of Yahweh.

When Jehoash the king of Judah had received a less-than-encouraging message from God, he ordered the stoning of the messenger. It just so happened that the man he executed was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest. This was the same Jehoiada who had saved Jehoash from the hands of Queen Athaliah by providing him with sanctuary in the temple for six years. On Jehoash’s seventh birthday, Jehoiada had anointed him the king of Judah. But years later, when Jehoiada had died, Jehoash began to listen to the counsel of his ungodly advisors. He ended up forsaking Yahweh and, as a result, suffered defeat at the hands of a much smaller Syrian force. He was wounded in the battle and while recuperating from his injuries, he was assassinated by two of his own officials.

And the king of Israel, who bore the same name, shared a similar story of unfaithfulness and rebellion. The author sums up his 16-year reign with the words: “he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 13:11 NLT). He too forsook the Lord and led the people to continue their love affair with false gods. And it’s interesting to note that the heir to his throne was his son, Jeroboam II, whom he had named after the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. His admiration for Jeroboam seems obvious but undeserved. After all, Jeroboam had been responsible for leading the Israelites into idolatry. When God had split the nation of Israel in two after the reign of Solomon, He had given the ten northern ten tribes to Jeroboam as his kingdom. But Jeroboam had responded to this gracious gift from God by erecting two golden calves and encouraging his people to forsake the worship of Yahweh. Yet, Jehoash thought enough of this man that he named his own son after him.

But sometime during his reign, Jehoash of Israel received word that the prophet Elisha was on his deathbed. Surprisingly, the king was grieved over this news and made a personal visit to see the dying prophet. While Jehoash was anything but a faithful worshiper of Yahweh, he knew that Elisha had great power and influence. This elderly prophet had proven time and time again that he spoke on behalf of God and was backed by the power of God. That’s why Jehoash greeted him with the somewhat cryptic statement: “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kings 13:14 ESV). Evidently, Jehoash had heard the story of Elijah’s miraculous departure and Elisha’s role in it. Perhaps Elisha had shared with the king the details of that fateful day when God had used a whirlwind to  Elijah from the earth.

…as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 ESV

This event had followed Elisha’s request for Elijah to provide him with a double portion of his spirit. He was to be Elijah’s replacement and he felt ill-equipped for the task. It could be that King Jehoash was hoping that Elisha would pour out his spirit on him as well. He understood that Elisha possessed power and had direct access to Yahweh. With the prophet’s death, all of that might be lost.

But rather than pour out his spirit on the apostate king, Elisha commanded him to take his bow and shoot an arrow out the window.

Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” – 2 Kings 13:17 ESV

Next, the prophet told the king to take his remaining arrows and shoot them into the ground. Jehoash dutifully obeyed, but when he stopped after the third arrow, Elisha responded in anger.

“You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” – 2 Kings 13:19 ESV

In a sense, Elisha had poured out his spirit on King Jehoash. He had placed his hands on those of the king and, together, they had shot the first arrow out the window. He then assured the king of his victory over the Syrians. But the extent of that victory would be based on the faith of Jehoash. By limiting the number of arrows he shot into the ground, Jehoash was unwittingly revealing his lack of faith. The first arrow had symbolized the Lord’s victory over the Syrians. When Elisha had commanded Jehoash to shoot additional arrows, he should have understood that the symbolism remained the same. Each arrow was to have represented the Lord’s victory. But Jehoash had chosen to leave some of his arrows in the quiver. In doing so, he had inadvertently limited his chances of success over his enemy.

Having pronounced his last prophetic message, Elisha died. But the author relates a story that reveals one last miracle associated with the prophet of God. Sometime later, the body of a recently deceased man was inadvertently thrown into the cave containing Elisha’s bones. When the body of the dead man came into contact with Elisha’s remains, he was immediately restored to life. Amazingly, the author provides no further details to the story. We have no idea what happened to this newly resurrected man or how the story became known. But it was meant to reveal that, though Elisha was dead,  Yahweh was alive and well. Elisha’s departure was not meant to be mistaken as the abandonment of Israel by God. He was still fully capable of restoring life to the lifeless. The all-powerful God of Israel used the bones of a dead prophet to restore life to a dead Israelite, a clear symbol of His desire to renew those among His chosen people who were marked by spiritual death.

And the author reminds his readers that God remained faithful to His disobedient people, refusing to abandon them despite their constant rejection of Him.

…the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now. – 2 Kings 13:23 ESV

The author also reveals that God kept His word concerning the fate of the Syrians. Jehoash experienced three separate victories over his enemy, matching the exact number of arrows he had shot into the ground. No more, no less. God gave allowed Jehoash to recover some of the territory stolen by the Syrians, but the fighting would continue throughout the rest of his reign. The sad reality is that the same God who raised a dead man back to life was fully capable of restoring a spiritually dead nation. But their continued stubbornness and lack of faithfulness would prevent them from experiencing the life-transformative power of Yahweh.

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

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

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

 

When Dreams Turn Into Nightmares

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. 2 Kings 4:8-25 ESV

When Elijah had been the prophet of God to Israel, his ministry seemed to focus on the royal household. Virtually all of the interactions he had were with King Ahab or his wife, Jezebel. And while Elisha had begun his own prophetic ministry with a confrontation between himself and King Jehoram, he seems to have been a prophet to the people. In the last story, Elisha came to the aid of a recently widowed woman who was facing the prospect of having her two sons sold into slavery because of an unpaid debt. In a sense, this woman represented the nation of Israel. She had been left destitute by her husband, a former prophet of God. While alive, this man of God had incurred a sizeable debt, and had he made no plans for its repayment in the case of his death. In a real sense, the people of Israel found themselves spiritually destitute and owing a large debt to God Almighty. Their kings had taken advantage of God’s love and mercy, using His resources to fund their own profligate lifestyles. They had lived for the moment, never considering what would happen when God called their debt due. Jeroboam, Ahab, Ahaziah, and now, Jehoram, all led the people into idolatry and left them with a debt they could not pay.

But Elisha had intervened on the widow’s behalf, providing her with a miracle that eliminated her debt, spared her sons, and met her needs for a long time to come. Through the actions of His faithful prophet, the God of Israel revealed His love and concern for His covenant people. Now, the story shifts to yet another encounter between Elisha and a woman in need. But this time, the woman isn’t even aware that she has a need.

For some unspecified reason, Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, made regular trips to the northern region of Israel that took them to the city of Shunem. In this city, Elisha made the acquaintance of a local woman who offered the prophet and his servant access to her home so they could rest. Realizing that Elisha was a prophet of Yahweh she showed him hospitality and even had her husband construct a room on the roof of their home where the two men could stay when they were in town.

Unlike the widow in the previous story, this woman was apparently wealthy and well-cared for. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. But she was also generous and willing to share what she had with others. The gracious hospitality she extended to the prophet of God reveals that, despite the apostasy all around her, she had maintained her dedication to Yahweh.

Desiring to thank the woman for her courtesy and care, Elisha sent his servant to ask what they could do for her. He wanted to repay her for her kindness. But it’s interesting to note that he offered to speak a good word on her behalf to the king or the commander of the army. Why would the prophet of Yahweh offer to act as an intermediary between this woman and these two apostate leaders of Israel? Perhaps it was a test, designed to see if the woman was a true follower of Yahweh. Would his offer of access to the king pique her interest and reveal a self-aggrandizing side to her personality? Or, instead, would she ask the prophet of God to appeal to Yahweh on her behalf?

But the woman simply responded, “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13 ESV). This rather cryptic-sounding statement was her way of saying, “I’m just fine. I’m well-taken care of and in need of nothing.”

Yet, Elisha somehow senses that her answer was not quite honest. She was hiding something. And it was Gehazi who made the keen observation that she and her husband were childless. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but she had no sons to carry on the family name. And Gehazi had recognized that her husband was advanced in years.

While the woman in the previous story had been without a husband, she had been blessed with two sons. But the Shunnamite woman had a husband but no children. For the moment, the woman had no perceived need, but the day was coming when her husband would die with no male heirs to whom he could leave his land and estate. In that culture, the inheritance could not be passed on to the wife. So, without a son, she would be left with nothing. She didn’t realize it, but her predicament was far more precarious than she imagined.

So, Elisha called the woman in and informed her, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!” (2 Kings 4:16 NLT). Her reaction to this news reveals that she had long ago given up hope of ever having a son.

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” – 2 Kings 4:16 NLT

When Elisha had asked the woman what he could do for her, she had hidden the desire of her heart. She gave the impression that she had no need and was perfectly fine. But she had lied. Her heart longed for a son but she had become convinced that her dream would never become a reality. So, she lived with a constant fear of the future. What would happen to her when her husband died? How would she survive?

But, once again, Elisha, operating on behalf of Yahweh, spoke a word of blessing over the woman, predicting that she would give birth to a son. And his words proved true. God did a miracle and gave the woman the desire of her heart. She conceived and gave birth to a son. But the story doesn’t stop there.

In the space of just a few verses, the author reveals that the storybook ending was about to take a dark turn. This precious gift from God was going to be suddenly and unexpectedly taken away. One day, while visiting his father in the fields, the young boy complained of a headache. He was rushed home and, later that same day, he passed away in the arms of his mother. Every detail of this story makes the reader want to ask, “Why?” None of this makes sense. Why would God give this woman a son and then allow him to be taken away? What good did it do for her to give birth to a son if he would never live long enough to become the heir? The woman was no better off than before. If anything, her sorrow was only intensified by the loss of her long-awaited son.

But the actions of the woman reveal something about her faith. Upon her son’s death, she took the body and laid it on the prophet’s bed. Then she ordered her husband to saddle a donkey so she could fetch the prophet. At this point, it seems that the boy’s father was unaware that his son had died. For whatever reason, the woman chose to keep him in the dark, assuring him, “All is well” (2 Kings 4:23 ESV). Her son was dead but she still had hope. She knew that the very same man who had predicted the birth of her son would know what to do. This time, rather than hide her need, she sought the one who could do something about it. And she found Elisha at Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal.

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

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

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

A Life Gone to the Dogs

29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. 36 And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

37 So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. 38 And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken. 39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 40 So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 22:29-40 ESV

Despite being warned by the prophet Micaiah that his attack of Ramoth-gilead would end in disaster and his own death, Ahab had chosen to go through with his ill-fated plan. But in an attempt to thwart the will of God, Ahab had come up with the brilliant idea to wear a disguise that would keep the Syrians from recognizing him as the king. He knew he would be a target of Ben-Hadad’s wrath because his attack on Ramoth-gilead would be in violation of their long-standing peace agreement. And he was right to be worried because Ben-hadad had commanded his troops to focus their attention on Ahab.

Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” – 1 Kings 22:31 ESV

Ahab’s decision to go through with the battle despite Micaiah’s warning clearly indicates the rebellious nature of his heart and his blatant disregard for the will of Yahweh. He truly believed he could devise a plan that would allow him to escape God’s wrath and accomplish his will at the same time. Ahab was conniving and manipulative and, evidently, quite persuasive because he was somehow able to convince King Jehoshaphat of Judah to go into battle wearing his royal armor while he wore a disguise. He hoped that, in the heat of battle, the Syrians would mistake Jehoshaphat for himself and focus all their attention on him. Somehow, he convinced the king of Judah to go along with this blatant display of self-centered self-preservation.

And his plan almost worked. As the battle began, the Syrians spotted Jehoshaphat and gave chase, but they soon realized they were pursuing the wrong man. Ahab had managed to fool the Syrians, but he would not be able to hide his identity from God Almighty. And he would not be able to escape the judgment God had decreed against him.

As the battle raged, one of the Syrian archers loosed an arrow that flew through the air and ended up striking Ahab “between the scale armor and the breastplate” (1 Kings 22:34 ESV). But this seemingly lucky shot had been sovereignly ordained and directed by the hand of God. Ahab had tried to escape God’s will but had failed. His disguise had been unable to hide him from God’s all-seeing eye, and his armor had proved to be insufficient protection from God’s all-powerful judgment.

And as the battle continued all around him, Ahab slumped in his chariot, his blood pouring from his wound and his life slowly ebbing away. At sunset, he took his last labored breath and died, and the news of his demise quickly spread across the battlefield.

 …at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!” – 1 Kings 22:35-36 ESV

Micaiah had warned Ahab that his death was inevitable because his actions were in direct violation of God’s will. If he chose to go through with his attack on Ramoth-gilead, Ahab would suffer the divine consequences. And when Ahab died, lying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot, his troops abandoned the battle. The sheep found themselves without a shepherd, so they returned to their homes in peace, just as God had predicted they would.

“I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” – 1 Kings 22:17 ESV

With Ahab’s death, the battle for Ramoth-gilead came to an abrupt end, and the armies of Syria, Israel, and Judah abandoned the field and returned home. Ahab’s body, still lying in his chariot, was returned to Samaria. Amazingly, this wicked and rebellious king was given the honor of a royal burial. But the author describes a rather macabre scene that stands in stark contrast to the state funeral given to this unrepentant and undeserving king. As Ahab’s body was interred with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a royal funeral, servants went about the unpleasant task of washing his blood from his chariot.

…his chariot was washed beside the pool of Samaria, and dogs came and licked his blood at the place where the prostitutes bathed, just as the Lord had promised. – 1 Kings 22:38 NLT

This scene took place in direct fulfillment of the words of Elijah the prophet. He had warned King Ahab that his complicity in the death of Naboth would result in his own death.

And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’” – 1 Kings 21:19 ESV

It would seem that the place where the servants chose to wash Ahab’s blood from the chariot was the same place where the innocent Naboth had been stoned to death. Ahab’s body was buried in a royal tomb, but his life’s blood was unceremoniously poured out in a place recognized for its sin and degradation. It was a site within the walls of Samaris inhabited by those who were considered unclean and immoral. And the king’s blood was literally licked up by scavenging dogs.

Ahab’s reign as king of Israel came to an abrupt and violent end. And while he would be remembered for many of his achievements, he would go down in history as one of the most wicked of all Israel’s kings. His legacy would be marked by apostasy, rebellion, idolatry, and immorality. He had proved to be a competent king, but his stubborn refusal to honor God would forever mar his reputation and leave a permanent stain on the northern kingdom of Israel. And when the author states that “Ahab slept with his fathers” (1 Kings 22:40 ESV), it is a thinly veiled inference that Ahab died unrepentant and unforgiven, just like his predecessors. While alive, Ahab made no place for God in his kingdom. In death, he would discover that he had no place in God’s kingdom. In life, he had chosen to replace God with false gods, and that decision would prove to have eternal consequences.

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