Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:1-6 ESV

Jesus has been unrelenting in His judgment of the Pharisees. He has castigated them relentlessly and even accused them of refusing the heed the words of their own Scriptures.

“…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

Their hatred for Jesus had reached such a fevered pitch that they had become incapable of recognizing Him as being the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold. Jesus was the Son of God, making Him not only the law-giver, but the perfect law-keeper. In His sermon on the mount, He declared of Himself:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Mathew 5:17-18 NLT

But while the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders were outwardly committed to the law, they failed to recognize Jesus as its fulfillment. And their rejection of Him was causing others to question the validity of His identity and mission.  After all, if the religious leaders of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, maybe He wasn’t really  who He claimed to be. Perhaps He did cast out demons by the power of Satan. Maybe He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leading the gullible and the innocent to fall for His cleverly disguised lies. But Jesus had refuted these accusations, arguing, “if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matthew 12:28 NLT).

Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees of acting as road blocks to the good news of the kingdom. It was one thing for them to reject Jesus as the Messiah, but it was another altogether for them to persuade others to turn down God’s gracious offer of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

But as Luke begins this section of his gospel, he portrays Jesus focusing His attention off of the religious leaders and on to His followers. He wants them to understand that they too can become stumbling blocks to the gospel. They all ran the risk of losing hope in His identity as the Messiah. The days were coming when the pressure against Jesus would reach a fever pitch and He would become the focal point of the Pharisees’ rage and the enemy’s wrath. Satan was going to unleash his entire arsenal of weapons against the Son of God, all in a last-ditch effort to thwart the redemptive plan of God.

Even on the very night when Jesus would share His final Passover meal with the disciples, they would get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. This would take place after He washed their feet and described the death He was about to endure. And then, Jesus would turn to Simon and deliver what had to have come across as a rather a disturbing message:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 NLT

Simon was going to be tempted. He would find himself faced with the choice of admitting His relationship with Jesus or denying it to save his own skin. He would choose the latter. In doing so, Peter sinned. He let his fear of men overcome His faith in Jesus. But in Luke 17, Jesus encourages His disciples by acknowledging the reality of the temptations they would face. He knew the days ahead would be difficult and filled with opportunities to turn their back on Him. Even on the night when Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50 NLT).

The days ahead would be filled with temptations to turn their back on Him, and all of them would dessert Him in some form or fashion. Only Peter and John would follow Him to His trials. Of all the disciples, only John is described as being at His crucifixion. But Jesus wanted these men to know that their abandonment of Him would be forgiven. Their loss of faith would not be held against them. But if their lack of faith caused another to reject Jesus, the consequences would be serious.

The context is critical to understanding this passage. Jesus had been hammering away at the religious leaders and their lack of compassion for the people. These arrogant and prideful men viewed themselves as spiritual superior to everyone else. And in their highly educated and religiously savvy opinion, they deemed Jesus to be a fraud and phony. He was a wannabe Messiah who lacked the proper credentials, pedigree, and education to serve in such a prestigious and prominent role. And these men were leading others to sin against God by rejecting His anointed Messiah.

So, Jesus was warning His disciples to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the days, ahead, when things got dark and all looked lost, he wanted to them to remain faithful and not allow their doubts to cause others to dismiss Him as Savior. And He gave them some sobering words to consider:

It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.” – Luke 17:2 NLT

He forewarns them: “So watch yourselves!” (Luke 17:3 NLT). Things were about to get dark and deadly. His earthly mission was going to culminate with His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it would be followed by His miraculous resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And despite of His victory over death and the grave, the temptations would continue for the disciples. That is why He continues to encourage them to live in a constant state of preparedness, because the enemy was defeated but far from dead. Satan would continue to attack the disciples long after Jesus was gone. They would face ongoing temptations to sin and would need to avail themselves of the forgiveness Jesus made possible by His death on the cross.

Sometime after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would later:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

Forgiveness would be an ongoing commodity because sin would be an ever-present reality. Jesus’ death provided the payment for mankind’s sin debt, but it did not eradicate the danger of sin’s presence. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples:

“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4 NLT

When Jesus departed from earth, He left His disciples on their own, but He did not leave them defenseless and helpless. He provided them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, alone and on their own. No, He assured them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). The Holy Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to fulfill the Great Commission and survive in a hostile environment in which the enemy still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). The tempter, though defeated,  would still be alive and well and working overtime to distract and destroy the followers of Christ. Temptations would come. Believers would sin. And forgiveness would need to be extended.

All this talk about temptation, trials, sin, and forgiveness left the disciples wondering if they were up to the task. In their simplistic way of thinking, they believed they would need additional faith in order to survive what was coming their way. They didn’t want to flake out or run the risk of causing a brother or sister to stumble. So, they asked Jesus to increase their faith. It was like asking for more energy to survive a particularly strenuous task. But Jesus pointed out that it was not the quantity of their faith that mattered. Nor was it a matter of quality.

“If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you! – Luke 17:7 NLT

To the disciples, faith was the missing ingredient. But in their defense, on more than one occasion, they had heard Jesus say, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). That sounds like a declaration of need or an accusation of lack. In their minds, they simply presumed that more faith was the answer. But the amount of faith is not the issue here. It is the object of our faith that matters. A little faith placed in the right source will produce staggering results. It was Paul expressed in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jesus was going to ensure that they had all the strength they needed to endure what they were destined to face as His disciples. And Jesus would later assure His disciples that they would have all the faith, power, strength, wisdom, and words they needed to accomplish even greater works than He had done.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 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

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

All Swept and In Order

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:24-28 ESV

The Jewish religious leaders, who greatly despised Jesus, had effectively spread the rumor that his power to cast out demons came from Satan himself. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus performed inexplicable miracles, so they attempted to cast doubt on their efficacy by raising concerns about their source. Not only had they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, but they had also regularly tried to expose Jesus as a violator of the Sabbath laws. Jesus had a habit of performing many of His miracles on the Sabbath, and this proclivity provided the Pharisees with plenty of evidence to accuse Him of being a law-breaker.

But Jesus had refuted their charges, stating, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8 ESV). The term, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite appellation when referring to Himself and it is a direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

Every time Jesus referred to Himself by that moniker, He was declaring His identity as the Messiah of Israel, the long-awaited descendant of King David who would rule and reign in righteousness and for eternity. Jesus was the Son of Man and yet, the people of Israel were having a difficult time believing His claim. And the religious leaders were even attributing His miraculous powers to Satan. But Matthew records that Jesus refuted their accusation, claiming instead that His power came from the Spirit of God.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. – Matthew 12:28 ESV

Jesus was about to use this important distinction to level a serious charge against the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin. Whether they realized it or not, they were actually committing blasphemy against the Spirit of God by attributing His works to Satan.

And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:32 ESV

They could say what they wanted about Jesus. They could reject Him and spread all kinds of lied about Him. But when they boldly declared Jesus’ Spirit-empowered miracles to be the work of Satan, they were sealing their eternal fate.

These men had determined to oppose Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man. And, in doing so, they had become His adversaries and enemies of God Almighty.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. – Luke 11:23 ESV

What these self-righteous men failed to understand was that Jesus came to do far more than free those who suffered from demon possession. The many miracles Jesus performed, while profound in nature, were all short-term solutions to temporal problems. Those whom He healed from disease would still be capable of contracting yet another ailment. The lame who received the ability to walk would one day find themselves crippled by the ravages of old age. The eyes of the blind whose sight He restored would eventually develop cataracts. And Jesus even reveals that the formerly demon-possessed were far from out of the woods when it came to their former state.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.” – Luke 11:24-25 NLT

In a sense, Jesus is saying that casting out a demon is the easy part. But creating an environment where the demon is no longer welcome is much more difficult. Notice that Jesus emphasizes a home that “is all swept and in order” (Luke 11:25 NLT). He paints a picture of someone doing all they can to put their life back together so that the demon finds their “home” an unwelcome place to occupy.

This seems to be a direct slam against the Pharisees and their legalistic devotion to law-keeping and outward displays of righteousness. In fact, just a few verses later, Jesus exposes their obsession with appearances.

“You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!” – Luke 11:39 NLT

Casting out a demon does nothing to change the heart of a man, no more than washing the outside of a cup removes the dirt contained within it. When Jesus cast out demons, He was demonstrating His power and authenticating His identity as the Messiah. He was proving that He had God-given authority to oppose and depose Satan and His minions. But had Jesus cast out every demon In Israel and healed every individual suffering from sickness and disease, the fate of mankind would have remained unchanged. He had come to do far more than clean the outside of the cup. He came to provide cleansing from sin and deliverance from the condemnation of death.

Having their ability to walk restored was of no real benefit if the person refused to follow Jesus and have their sin-damaged heart made new. A blind person who had their eyes opened by Jesus would still find themselves living in darkness if they failed to recognize Him as the Son of God and their sole source of salvation from sin. And the individual who basked in the joy of being demon-free would soon discover that it was their unrepentant and unchanged heart that made their life the perfect habitat for evil spirits. If Jesus didn’t occupy their heart, something else would.

It’s likely that these comments from Jesus elicited a range of responses from the crowd who heard them. The Pharisees would have been enraged and offended by what they heard. They knew Jesus was accusing them of blasphemy. And they were more convinced than ever that He was a threat to their way of life and had to be eliminated. But Luke records that one anonymous woman spoke up and declared, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27 NLT). This unnamed woman, most likely a mother herself, expressed her deep admiration for Jesus by pronouncing a blessing on the woman who bore Him for nine months and then brought Him into this world. Had Mary, the mother of Jesus, not brought her son to full term, this woman would not have enjoyed the privilege of sitting under His teaching and benefiting from His wisdom.

But Jesus took the woman’s kind and gracious statement and used it to emphasize the need for belief.

“But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” – Luke 11:28 NLT

Yes, Mary was blessed for having brought Jesus into the world. But how more blessed are all those who invite Jesus into their hearts. As grateful as that woman may have been, she needed to hear what Jesus had to say and do what He was calling her to do: Believe.

This all goes back to the heart. The formerly demon-possessed needed to have their hearts cleansed. The formerly lame needed to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The blind whose sight had been restored needed to see the glory of God’s grace made possible through the gift of His Son. And the apostle John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the crowd whom He had just miraculously fed.

“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” – John 6:26-27 NLT

Jesus told them to seek the eternal life that only He could give. Physical bread could only sustain physical life. But Jesus, as the bread that comes down from heaven, could provide them with eternal life. Yet the people failed to understand what Jesus was saying and expressed their desire to emulate His divine works.

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” – John 6:28 NLT

They were asking for the power to miraculously multiply bread and fish. In other words, they were looking for a spiritual power that they could use to meet physical needs. But Jesus was offering them so much more, and the only way they could access the gift He was offering was through belief. They didn’t need more bread, they needed the bread of life.

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

The woman in the crowd blessed Mary, but Jesus wanted to bless her with the gift of eternal life. And the only requirement was faith. The key to true life change was heart transformation and only faith in Jesus could leave a heart “all swept and in order.”

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

Blinded by Disbelief

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

16 “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” – Luke 10:13-16 ESV

After commissioning and sending the 72 emissaries with instructions to deliver His message concerning the kingdom, Jesus delivered a public indictment against a handful of the cities He had visited during His Galilean ministry. He included the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, each located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. But why did Jesus condemn and curse these particular cities, and why did He choose to do it at this time in His ministry?

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and had already entered the region of Samaria, which separated Galilee in the north from Judea in the south. The messengers He had just sent were instructed to visit the villages and towns He would pass through along His way to Jerusalem. So, that would imply that their destinations were all within the regions of Samaria and Judea.

Jesus had just wrapped a  lengthy mission in Galilee, the region in which He was born. In a sense, the Galileans were His people. Bethlehem, His birthplace, was located there, as well as Nazareth, the town in which He was raised. Capernaum had become His unofficial headquarters not long after He began His earthly ministry.

But this still begs the question, why did Jesus choose to level His anger against these three particular cities in Galilee? And this is not the only time Jesus made examples of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Matthew records another incident when Jesus referred to these same Galilean cities in a less-than-flattering light.

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” – Matthew 11:20-21 ESV

On this occasion, Jesus had just responded to the doubts of John the Baptist. Imprisoned by Herod, John had sent word to Jesus, asking whether He really was the one they had been expecting or should they expect another (Matthew 11:3). Sitting in a dank prison cell, John was having second thoughts about Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Things were not turning out quite the way he had expected. And Jesus had responded to John’s doubts with a message that declared the prophetic nature of His role.

“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” – Matthew 11:4-6 NLT

Not long after this exchange with John, “began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God” (Matthew 11:20 NLT). With these words, Matthew provides us with a partial answer to the question as to why Jesus indicted these particular cities, and it all had to do with belief.

Jesus had done a great many miracles in the vicinity of these cities, but, despite their personal exposure to Jesus’ power, the residents of these cities had failed to repent. They had been eye-witnesses to the miraculous nature of Jesus’ ministry, and they had heard His message of repentance, but they had refused to accept that call. Instead, they displayed a stubborn resistance to the signs of His Messiahship and His offer of forgiveness for sins. They loved what their eyes had seen, but rejected what their ears had heard.

These verses mark a watershed moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. Up to this point, He has spent most of His time ministering in and around this region of Israel. His base of operations had been located in the city of Capernaum. He had preached His sermon on the mount not far from there. The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 took place not far from Bethsaida. The people living in and around these three cities had been privileged to witness His works and hear His words but had failed to grasp the truth that Jesus was the Messiah.

Back in chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had commissioned the 12 for their first missionary journey. And He had given them specific instructions to avoid any Galilean or Samaritan cities.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 10:5-8 ESV

Not only had Jesus limited their ministry to the Jews, but He had told them to focus their attention on those who would receive them and their message.

“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:11-15 ESV

Notice what Jesus told His disciples. If the residents of a city or home refused to receive them or listen to their words, they were to “shake off the dust” from their feet.

To shake the dust off represented, on one level, shaking off the uncleanness from one’s feet. At another level, however, it is similar to a prophetic sign, representing the termination of all fellowship with those individuals or localities that have rejected the messengers along with their message of the coming kingdom of heaven. This in essence constitutes a sign of eschatological judgment, as confirmed in the following verse. (NET Bible study notes)

Accepting the miracles performed by the disciples while rejecting their call to repentance would be unacceptable. Physical restoration without spiritual regeneration would not be enough. As Jesus later told the Pharisee, Nicodemus:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV).

And Jesus had given these same instructions to the 72.

“But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you.’” – Luke 10:10 ESV

Jesus makes it clear that repentance is key to any hope of spiritual regeneration. And this applied to Jews and Gentiles alike. Everyone must change their minds and embrace their need for a Savior. The Jew’s status as God’s chosen people would not be enough to save them. Their confident assumption that their Hebrew heritage was enough was going to have to change. But Jesus knew that wasn’t going to happen. In fact, He asserts that the predominantly Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon would fare better on the day of judgment than these three Jewish communities. Jesus had gone out of His way to take the message of the kingdom to His own people. He performed the majority of His miracles in their presence. He displayed His power among them and declared the coming of His kingdom to them. But they had refused to listen. And just to make sure His audience understood the severity of His words, Jesus compared them to the infamous city of Sodom. According to Jesus, the wicked inhabitants of Sodom would have repented if they been seen only a fraction of the mighty works of God done among the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.

It’s interesting to note that Mark records that Jesus eventually removed Himself from Galilee and made His way to Tyre and Sidon (see Mark 7:24). He performed miracles there, including casting out a demon from a young Gentile girl whose mother was a Syrophoenician. Mark also records that when the woman begged Jesus to help her, He responded, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 ESV). But the woman, nonplussed by His response, simply said, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV).

And, amazed by the woman’s faith, Jesus told her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29 ESV). The woman believed, and her daughter was healed. She did not defend her status or become offended that Jesus had compared her to a dog. She simply expressed her belief that, in spite of her lowly status as a non-Jew, Jesus would extend mercy and grace to her. And He did.

One of the things that Jesus was looking for from those to whom He ministered was a recognition of their need. That is why He tended to minister to those who came to them with their disabilities, pains, brokenness, and extreme sense of unworthiness. That is why Jesus had said:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17 NLT

A major aspect of repentance is the acknowledgment of sin and the need for salvation – a salvation outside of oneself. The people who came to Jesus for physical healing did so because they had either exhausted all other avenues or their ailment was beyond the scope of human help. They were forced to turn to Jesus in the hope that He could do something about their problem. But the same would be true for those who suffered from the disease and destruction caused by sin. That is why Jesus would offer what has become known as the Great Invitation, which we will cover tomorrow,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

The city of Capernaum was filled with God-fearing Jews who believed they were the chosen people of God and so, in no need of a Savior. But Jesus asked them rhetorically, “will you be exalted to heaven?” And, just in case they failed to understand that the question was rhetorical, He clarified the answer for them.

“You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” – Matthew 11:23 ESV

They would end up rejecting His message and His offer of salvation. And the result would be judgment and eternal punishment. Their refusal to accept Him as Messiah would have dire consequences. They would remain unrepentant and sadly, unforgiven.

As Jesus prepared to make His way to Jerusalem, He knew what awaited Him there. He had already told His disciples that He would face rejection, suffer death, and be raised back to life. The greatest miracle was yet to be performed. Yet, even when Jesus had been crucified, buried, and resurrected, there would still be those who refused to believe. Like the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, they would reject God’s proof of His Son’s identity as the Messiah. And even the disciples would wrestle with doubt when they heard the news, “he has risen” (Matthew 28:26 ESV).

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

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

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

The Power of God

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 ESV

Just one day after the scene of Jesus’ spectacular transfiguration on the mountaintop, it was back to business as usual for the disciples. Peter, James, and John had been given the unique opportunity of watching the glorified Jesus having an intimate discussion with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Still on an emotional high from their experience, the three disciples must have been disappointed to find the ever-present throng of people who had gathered to see Jesus. They had probably seen the transfiguration as a sign that Jesus was about to establish His messianic kingdom. But now it appeared that nothing had changed.  They were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes (Mark 9:14). But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and another man in the crowd. The rest of the people were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. – Luke 9:38-39 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it. – Luke 9:40 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon-possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you? – Luke 9:41 NLT

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration He had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state, and had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. The three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the Almighty’s hand. But when He had descended from the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus was forced to look upon a similar scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more importantly, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention on the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child (Mark 9:21-22). And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, even the father is unsure whether Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the child up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, even the smallest portion of faith in the full power of God could “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

And Luke concludes that everyone who witnessed this scene was “astonished at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43 NET). Jesus had full faith and confidence in the power given to Him by God the Father, and He had demonstrated that faith by casting out the demon. And even those in the crowd had to recognize that what they had witnessed was the power of God. There was no other explanation. 

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

Feed My Sheep

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. – Luke 9:7-17 ESV

While the disciples were traveling about Galilee “preaching the gospel and healing everywhere,” news had reached Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee and Perea, of all that Jesus had been doing within his jurisdiction. Herod was the Roman-appointed ruler over the northern regions of Israel. In his gospel account, Mark refers to Herod as a king, but Herod was not a descendant of David and was not recognized by most Jews as the official king of Israel. He was little more than a puppet king who served at the discretion of the Roman emperor.

Herod was a particularly wicked man who coveted power and would do anything to solidify and maintain his lofty position. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, who ruled over Israel when Jesus was born. At the death of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and his brother, Philip, were appointed by the Romans to rule over a portion of their father’s former lands. In a sense, these two brothers became competitors, with each vying for the favor of Caesar and hoping to expand and solidify their power and influence. The Jewish historian, Josephus records how Herod Antipas fell in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Herod ended up divorcing his own wife and convinced Herodias to leave Philip and marry him instead. This kind of behavior by a “king” of Israel was unacceptable and John the Baptist had publicly called out Herod for this and other indiscretions.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

John the Baptist had publicly accused Herod of violating God’s laws concerning divorce and remarriage.

“It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” – Matthew 14:4 NLT

But his outspoken criticism of this powerful man resulted in his imprisonment. Herod had heard enough from John and decided to have him silenced by locking him away. As a result of John’s public condemnation of her immoral relationship with Herod, Herodias convinced her husband to have John executed. But while Herod gave in to his wife’s wishes and had John the Baptist beheaded, the decision must have haunted him for some time. When he heard all the rumors concerning Jesus, he began to question whether John had returned from the dead.

“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” – Mark 6:26 NLT

This statement is filled with fear and foreboding. Herod must have had nightmares about what he had done to John. He had ordered the execution of a man who had simply spoken the truth. Herod had been a convert to Judaism and knew that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. All that John had said had been true. And yet, due to his own pride and arrogance, Herod had made a rash vow and unintentionally sealed the fate of this innocent man. Now, he was having to live with the consequences.

But Herod’s curiosity concerning Jesus reached an all-time peak. He was intrigued by all the rumors and even stated, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:9 ESV). Who was this man performing miracles and preaching about a kingdom? Could He really be the Messiah of Israel? Had He come to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem? Perhaps Herod had recalled the story of how his father, Herod the Great, had ordered the execution of all the male children under two years of age in the region around Bethlehem. This heinous act by his father had been an ill-fated attempt to kill the one child that had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-18). And now, some three decades later, Herod Antipas was hearing rumors that this baby had grown to be a man and was gaining a reputation and a following in his domain. It could be that Herod feared that if Jesus was the king of the Jews his father tried to have killed, he might seek revenge. But whatever the case, Herod was conflicted, confused, and curious. And little did this pseudo-sovereign know that he would end up playing a significant role in the life of Jesus as the story unfolds.

But while Herod was wrestling over the identity of Jesus, the disciples returned from their short-term mission trip. Jesus had sent them in pairs to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and to validate their message, He had given them the power to perform miracles. Luke provides no hints as to the length of their mission, but simply states, “When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done.” (Luke 9:10 NLT). 

This rather anticlimactic description of their return leaves a lot to the imagination. There is no sense of excitement. We are told nothing about their exploits. But we can assume that these men must have had stories to tell and were anxious to regale one another with their experiences. So, when the 12 disciples returned from their missionary journey, it is likely that they shared stories about casting out demons and healing the sick. Recognizing that these men were excited yet worn out from their journey, Jesus led them to a remote place where they might get some much-needed rest. But isolation and alone time were difficult commodities to come by for Jesus and His disciples. Everywhere they went, they found themselves encountering and accosted by large crowds. And this time would be no different.

Luke indicates that Jesus led the disciples to the town of Bethsaida, but the crowds followed them there. The weary disciples were probably frustrated by this turn of events. They had just returned from a long and arduous trip and were looking forward to some much-need R&R. But it was not to be. And Mark records that Jesus “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11 ESV). Mark indicates that Jesus saw the crowd and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV).

This statement sets up a subtle contrast between Jesus and His disciples that will become more obvious as the story unfolds. Jesus was moved by the helpless and hopeless state of the people. The very fact that they kept following Him revealed their desperate desire for leadership and direction. There were people in the crowd who were hurting emotionally and physically. Others were poor and needy, lacking the resources to meet the basic necessities of life.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did for these people exactly what He had commanded the disciples to do on their recent missionary excursion. And yet, there is no mention that the disciples participated in the teaching of the people or in doing any acts of healing. It is almost as if they were taking the day off. They had done their part and now it was time to relax. And one can almost sense their eagerness to bring this long day to a close by what they said to Jesus.

“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” – Luke 9:12 ESV

There is not much compassion in those words. The disciples were ready for the crowds to disperse so they could finally get the rest they so richly deserved. Their feigned concern for the well-being of the people was nothing more than a way of getting rid of them. Yet Jesus, always aware of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those around Him, simply stated, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13 ESV).

The ludicrous nature of this command is easy to miss because we have no idea how large the crowd was. It is not until later in the story that Luke reveals the actually size of the crowd. But the disciples could see the problem with their own eyes. As they heard Jesus speak those words, the disciples were staring at literally thousands of men, women, and children. And don’t forget that when Jesus had sent these men on their missionary journey, He had told them “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money” (Luke 9:3 ESV).

They had just returned and would have had no resources with which to fulfill the command of Jesus. And you can sense their confusion and frustration in their response.

We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people. – Luke 9:13 ESV

They were tapped out emotionally, physically, and financially. They lacked the resources and the energy to deal with this problem. These same men who had personally experienced the power of God by healing the sick and casting out demons were at a loss as to how to solve this pressing problem

Don’t miss what happened next. As the disciples watched, Jesus instructed the disciples to organize the crowd into groups of 50 or less. And when their work was complete, “Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people” (Luke 9:16 NLT).

The disciples played the role of waiters, distributing the food to the various groups of people. And as Jesus broke the bread and the fish, the disciples would return and find yet more food to hand out. And, as if to stress the truly miraculous nature of this scene, Luke reports “there were about five thousand men” (Luke 9:14 ESV).

And even that large number is a bit misleading. It is safe to assume that many of those men were married and their families were made up of at least one or two children. So, it would be safe to assume that the actual number of people fed that day was likely twice what Luke reported. It could have easily been as many as 10,000. And yet, as Luke makes clear, “They all ate as much as they wanted” (Luke 9:17 NLT). No one went hungry. Not a single person went without or failed to receive as much as they desired. And that included the disciples.

But the truly amazing fact is that when the crowd had dispersed, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. They had shown up that day with no food, but each man walked away with a basket filled to the brim with bread and fish.

These men, who had lacked compassion for the people, had been given a once-in-a-lifetime lesson on God’s power to provide for the needs of the helpless and hopeless. When Jesus had looked on the crowd, He had seen sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). But the disciples had simply seen a problem for which they had no solution. And sadly, they lacked any desire to come up with one. In spite of their success at casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, these men had failed to learn the most important lesson of all: That with God, all things are possible. The man with whom they had linked their lives was God in human flesh and fully capable of meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of mankind. Yes, He could provide bread, but He had come to be the bread of life. He could fill stomachs, but He had come to satisfy mankind’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. And as these men walked away with the baskets brimming with bread and fish, their hearts and minds were still lacking a full assurance of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

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

Only Believe

49 While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56 And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened. – Luke 8:49-56 ESV

It is easy to get caught up in reading Luke’s description of the woman’s miraculous healing and forget all about Jairus. This poor man had been forced to bide his time and wait for Jesus to finish His conversation with the woman. There’s little doubt that his faith was bolstered by what he had witnessed, but it must have been difficult for him to hide his frustration at the unexpected delay. From his fatherly perspective, he would have seen his daughter’s circumstance as more pressing and immediate. The woman had lived with her chronic condition for 12 years and she could have waited a bit longer. After all, his daughter was dying.

But the chronology of these two events is critical. The woman’s decision to touch Jesus’ garment had caused what appeared to be an unexpected delay that appears to have compromised Jesus’ plans and placed Him in a difficult situation. While He had been dealing with the woman, the young girl had died. And Luke records that the news of her death came abruptly and bluntly.

While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” – Luke 8:49 NLT

The delay had proved costly. Yes, the woman had received healing from her debilitating medical condition, but it had been at the expense of the young girl’s life. And it seems that Luke wanted his readers to wrestle with the conflicting emotions this sad scene stirred up. Immediately, one is forced to question what would have happened had the woman not touched the edge of Jesus’ garment. What if she had not been able to force her way through the crowd and make contact with Jesus? There would have been no delay and the young girl might still be alive. What kind of thoughts must have been going through the mind of Jairus as he was forced to process this devasting news? Was he angry with Jesus? Did he blame the woman?

Neither Luke nor Mark provides us with answers to any of these questions. Both Gospel writers simply mention that Jesus overheard the messengers delivering the fateful news to Jairus. But rather than expressing His sorrow over Jairus’ loss or apologizing for the untimely delay, Jesus tells the grieving father, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50 NLT).

Let the weight of this statement sink in. Jairus has just been told that his 12-year-old daughter has died. And the one man who he believed could have healed her is telling him not to fear. In a sense, Jesus is encouraging Jairus not to allow this news to frighten or upset him. Instead, he is to replace his fear with faith. He is to believe.

But Jairus had believed. He had come to Jesus, kneeled at His feet, and begged Him to help his dying daughter. Mark records the man’s impassioned plea.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

He had believed that Jesus could do something about her condition. But now, it was too late. She was dead. And Jairus must have struggled to control his frustration and anger at this callous-sounding comment from Jesus. The time for believing was gone.

This whole scene is similar to one recorded by John in his gospel. He tells of another delay that resulted in death. Jesus had been called to the home of His dear friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent Jesus a message informing Him that Lazarus was ill. But upon hearing this news, Jesus delayed His departure for two days, then informed His disciples, “Lazarus has died,  and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, He was informed that the body of Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. And Martha, the sister of Lazarus, expressed her disappointment and frustration with Jesus.

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

And Mary would echo her feelings.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

But go back and look at what Jesus had told His disciples.

“…for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” – John 11:15 ESV

Jesus had delayed His departure on purpose. The two days had been more than enough time for Lazarus to die and to be buried. Jesus had purposefully created what appeared to be a completely hopeless scenario that even His disciples would have seen as beyond His power to remedy. But Jesus had allowed it so that they might believe. He wasn’t surprised by the news of Lazarus’ death. He wasn’t even concerned that, after four days, the body of Lazarus would have already begun to decay. He stepped up to the tomb, commanded the stone to be rolled away, and confidently shouted, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John records, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV). And the words that Jesus spoke to Martha just before this incredible event took place must have been ringing in her ears.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” – John 11:40 ESV

So, when Jesus told Jairus, Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”, He meant it. Because Jesus knew what He was about to do. And if Jairus would only continue to believe, he too would see the glory of God.

Jesus accompanied the grieving father to his home and invited Peter, James, and John to join them. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a scene of great sorrow. “The house was filled with people weeping and wailing” (Luke 8:52 NLT). The mourning process had already begun. The funeral preparations were well underway. But Jesus interrupted the proceedings with a shocking pronouncement.

Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep. – Luke 8:52 NLT

His words must have come across as either painfully callous and insensitive or simply misinformed. In either case, the people responded with derisive laughter. But Jesus, ignoring their reaction, had them removed from the scene. Then, accompanied by the deceased girl’s parents and His three disciples, Jesus entered her room. As Jairus and his wife wept and the disciples looked on in disbelief, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and spoke to her.

Child, arise.” – Luke 8:54 ESV

And according to Mark’s account, the transformation was instantaneous.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. – Mark 5:42 ESV

She went from being fully dead to being fully alive – in an instant. And her amazing transformation was almost as though she had simply been awakened from asleep. For Jesus, restoring the dead girl to life had been no more difficult than waking up someone from sleep. It’s no coincidence that Jesus used the waking-sleeping analogy in both of these death-to-life scenarios. Even when Jesus had known that Lazarus had died, He had told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV).

Death was no obstacle for Jesus, the Son of God. As John put it in his gospel account, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And Jesus would later refer to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). As the Son of God, Jesus was the author of all life. He was the giver of life. And He would soon prove Himself to be the conqueror of death.

These two events, the healing of the woman and the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were meant to encourage His disciples to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be. As impressed as they had been with His calming of the storm and His exorcism of the demons, this final miracle must have left the disciples in complete shock. Luke records that Jairus and his wife were amazed by this unprecedented display of supernatural power. But they were not alone. The three disciples who had accompanied Jesus into the room were blown away as well. Peter, James, and John couldn’t believe their eyes. They had just witnessed Jesus do the impossible. And they must have been chomping at the bit to tell their companions what they had just seen. But before they could rush out the door and spread the news of this amazing miracle, Jesus threw cold water on their enthusiasm. They heard Him prohibit the girl’s parents from disclosing the nature of this miracle to anyone.

Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened. – Luke 8:56 LT

At first blush, this command seems odd. Why wouldn’t Jesus want the news of the girl’s miraculous death-to-life experience to get out? If He was trying to convince everyone that He was the Messiah, wouldn’t this incredible display of divine power seal the deal? But it is important to remember that Jesus was on a divine timeline. His mission was on a tightly orchestrated schedule that was all part of God’s preordained plan. Jesus was also a student of human nature. He knew that if news of this particular miracle got out, the people would attempt to make Him their king. Their rationale would be that anyone with that kind of power would have no problem overcoming the Romans. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come. He had more ministry to accomplish and much more training to complete with His disciples.

And this amazing miracle was meant to provide His disciples with undeniable proof of His power and authority, but to also clarify the nature of His mission. He had not come to be their king. At least, not yet. He had not come to destroy the Romans and restore the political fortunes of Israel. No, He came to restore the spiritually dead to new life. And that was the message He had communicated to Martha just before He restored her brother to life.

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

The young girl and Lazarus would both end up dying – again. Their new lives were temporary, not permanent. And they would both need to experience the new birth that Jesus described to Nicodemus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [from above]  he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

The real resurrection from death to life is yet to come. And it provides not only new life but life eternal – a never-ending, uninterrupted existence with God the Father and His Son.

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

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

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

Where Is Your Faith?

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:22-25 ESV

Luke has made it quite clear that by this time in His ministry, Jesus had garnered a large following. There were people coming from all over Galilee and even as far away as Jerusalem to witness the miracles and listen to the preaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus had even attracted the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, including the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin. They were watching Him like a hawk, carefully scrutinizing everything He said and did. His growing popularity among the common people had become especially concerning to these powerful men because it threatened their power and control. Until Jesus had appeared on the scene, the Pharisees and other religious sects had enjoyed a kind of religious celebrity status. They were viewed as the spiritual superstars of their day and they had enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their elite standing among the people.

There were others who followed Jesus out of curiosity. They found Him to be intriguing and profoundly interesting, but they weren’t quite sure what to make of Him. His miracles amazed them and His preaching entertained them, but they weren’t quite ready to accept His claim to be the Son of God or the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

As news of Jesus’ miracles began to spread, the sick, diseased, disabled, and demon-possessed began to flock to Jesus like moths to a flame. They showed up in droves, some requiring the assistance of friends or family members. In Jesus, they saw hope for healing. He became a light that attracted all those who were trapped in the darkness and despair that accompanied their physical condition. They were social outcasts, forced to live in solitude and separation from their community because they were considered unclean and cursed by God. But they had heard that Jesus healed the sick, restored the lame, and even freed those who were under the control of demons – no questions asked. He had even raised the dead back to life. To these people, the debate over whether Jesus was the Messiah took a backseat to their physical and emotional needs. They were far less interested in whether Jesus had come to restore the kingdom of Israel than if He could restore them to health.

Jesus found Himself surrounded by people of all kinds and their interest in Him ran the gamut. Some were simply curious. Others were convinced that He was the Messiah they had long hoped for. Still, others were like rubber-neckers at a car wreck, hoping to witness the next confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. To them, Jesus was a rabble-rouser and trouble maker who was upsetting the status quo and irritating the ruling elite, and they loved it.

And in the midst of this mass of different individuals with varying agendas, there were the 12 men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples. Since choosing to follow the Rabbi from Nazareth, these men had been His constant companions. They had been eyewitnesses to every miracle. They had listened to every word He had spoken, questioned the meaning of every parable He had told, and wondered why He had not yet set up His kingdom on earth. These men were committed but they were also confused. Jesus was an enigma to them. They knew He possessed great power because they had witnessed it firsthand. They were convinced that He was wise and spoke with an authority greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And yet, they couldn’t understand why the Messiah was wasting His time up in the rural region of Galilee rather than entering Jerusalem, ousting the Romans, and restoring Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus was fully aware of His disciples’ confusion and growing consternation. He understood their frustration and knew they were anxious to see Him take His show on the road – all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. But there was much more they needed to understand. Their concept of the Messiah had been skewed by centuries of misguided expectations. They were longing for a political and military leader who would conquer Israel’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. But Jesus seemed to be spending all His time in the backwater towns of Galilee, wasting His power on the helpless and the hopeless. When was He going to get serious about His mission to be Israel’s Messiah?

This sets up Luke’s record of Jesus’ calming of the storm. After yet another full day of performing miracles among the “least of these,” Jesus and His disciples got into a boat and began to sail to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And this little excursion was Jesus’ idea.

“Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” – Luke 8:22 ESV

Mark indicates that they began their journey at the end of the day and were accompanied by other boats. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds attempted to follow Him. And it would not be long before they realized that following Him was going to prove costly and potentially dangerous.

As the disciples guided the boat along the shore of the sea, Jesus, exhausted by the activities of the day, fell asleep. But while He slept, a storm suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere. In no time at all, the disciples found themselves battling gale-force winds that turned the sea into a boiling cauldron of waves that threatened to sink their small vessel. Luke indicates that “they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23 ESV). Despite the fact that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, the severity of the storm caused these men to panic. They were in fear for their lives. So, in desperation, they decided to wake up Jesus and elicit His help.

“Master, Master, we are perishing!” – Luke 8:24 ESV

Mark reveals that they were more than a bit put out with Jesus’ apparent apathy. How could He sleep through such a life-threatening circumstance? They even questioned His concern for their well-being.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

Whether they realized it or not, these men were expressing their doubt in the goodness and compassion of the Son of God. They were accusing the Messiah of complacency and callousness. In the heat of the moment, they allowed their less-than-ideal circumstances to cloud their thinking and dictate their view of Jesus. In the midst of the storm, their faith in the Messiah evaporated and was replaced with incredulity and doubt. Without even realizing it, they had suddenly become the hopeless and the helpless. They found themselves in desperate circumstances and in need of rescue. The storm was more than they could handle and they realized they couldn’t save themselves. But notice that these men didn’t call out to Jesus in faith. Compare their response to that of the Roman centurion: “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7 ESV). Or consider the statement made by the man who suffered from the incurable disease of leprosy: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12 ESV).

The disciples express no faith in Jesus. They question His integrity and empathy. But rather than read the disciples the riot act for their faithlessness, Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Jesus attacked the source of their doubt: The storm. They had allowed the circumstances of life to determine their faith in Jesus. As the storm raged, their faith faltered. For a brief moment, they ceased to believe in Jesus.

But notice that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, not the disciples. He addressed the problem. He used His power to alleviate the source of their doubt. But then, He turned to His fearful and faithless disciples and asked, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV). The presence of the storm had caused an absence of faith. In the face of adversity, the disciples had displayed a lack of fidelity. Trials have a way of testing the quality of our faith. Difficulties put our faith to the test and reveal its efficacy and stability. For the disciples, the sudden storm had exposed the anemic nature of their faith. In the face of adversity, fear had replaced faith. Confronted with what appeared to be a life-threatening scenario, the disciples had displayed a fickle faith that had been blown away by the winds of the storm. 

Luke reports that they were fearful and amazed. For some reason, this episode made a greater impact on them than Jesus raising a dead man back to life. Maybe it was because this particular miracle had a personal touch to it. It was their lives that had been threatened, and the words of Jesus had suddenly turned certain death into life. And this unexpected but highly appreciated miracle left them wrestling with new questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:25 ESV

These are the same men who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But His ability to command the wind and the water left them baffled. They believed Him to be their deliverer from the Romans but were blown away to learn that He had the power to control nature. In doing so, Jesus had clearly displayed His divinity. And the disciples were not sure what to make of this powerful demonstration of Jesus’ deity. Jesus had done what only God could do, and the disciples were forced to wrestle with the implications of this mind-blowing experience. Just when they thought they knew who Jesus was, they had to rethink all their presuppositions and could only ask, “Who then is this?”

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

Believing and Belonging

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

One of the keys to understanding this rather abrupt and bizarre statement from Jesus regarding His family is to consider the context provided by the other gospel authors. An examination of Matthew’s gospel reveals that there was an important encounter that had taken place between Jesus and the religious leaders that Luke chose to leave out of his account. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. This man’s miraculous restoration by Jesus was met with amazement from those who witnessed it, except for the Pharisees. These men accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alluded to the fact that He would die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Luke describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His parables concerning the soils and the lamps. But an examination of the other Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. News of His recent activities would have done little to validate the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. It seems certain that Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and had heard the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the accusations leveled against Her son by the Pharisees, including that He was demon-possessed and a pawn of Satan. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But Mark records, that upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be. That is why Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21 ESV).

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with God.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, or educational achievements, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. And that included His own relatives. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

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 Benefit of Believing

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”Luke 7:24-35 ESV

John the Baptist had his doubts, but that did not mean he had begun to disbelieve. His imprisonment by Herod had left him confused and conflicted because it was not what he had expected. He had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he most likely believed that even Herod would repent of his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife. John truly believed that the Messiah had come and things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. Righteousness would rule and reign in the land. But it would be accompanied by God’s judgment of all those who refused to live in submission to the new King, and whose lives did not exhibit true repentance. So, when a group of Pharisees and Sadduccees showed up asking John to baptize them, he had responded:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” – Matthew 3:7 ESV

In John’s mind, there were only two outcomes to the Messiah’s arrival: Repentance and forgiveness or judgment and wrath. But now, he was in prison while the unrepentant Herod walked free.

The people who overheard this exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples must have begun to murmur among themselves. Evidently, John’s apparent crisis of faith left them confused. Was he right? Could it be true that Jesus was not the Messiah? Should they be expecting someone else? Sensing their uncertainty, Jesus spoke directly to them.

“What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? – Luke 7:24-26 NLT

In a sense, Jesus was asking them what they had expected to find when they had wandered into the Judean wilderness where John was preaching and baptizing. They had not been looking for a timid, meek, or weak-willed man. They were not expecting to find a sophisticated intellectual dressed in fine robes and living in splendor. They had been looking for a prophet and they had not been disappointed. John had fit the bill. He had a similar ministry to that of Elijah the prophet. They even dressed in a similar fashion (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).

And Jesus affirms that John was exactly what they expected him to be: A prophet of God. And yet, Jesus declares that John was more than a prophet. He was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

This is exactly what the angel had told John’s father, Zechariah, when he had come to announce that Elizabeth would bear a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

And Jesus also quoted from Malachi when He told the crowd, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you’” (Luke 7:27 ESV).

John was the God-ordained forerunner of the Messiah. He had shown up at just the right time, according to the sovereign will of God, and had proclaimed the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And Jesus called John the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived. He had been given the distinct privilege and responsibility of heralding the arrival of the Messiah. While the prophets had predicted His coming, John had been there to see it happen. Not only that, he had fulfilled the will of God by baptizing the Son of God. He had even been witness to the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus and had heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV).

But as great as John was, Jesus declares that “even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” (Luke 7:28 NLT). With this statement, Jesus refocuses the peoples’ attention on the whole point behind John’s earthly ministry. His role had been to declare the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 3:1-2 BSB

And when Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had preached that very same message.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
 – Matthew 4:17 BSB

But preaching that message was meaningless unless those who heard it believed in it. And Luke points out that the crowd that day was comprised of two types of people: Believers and doubters. There were those who heard the words of Jesus and took heart because they had heard John’s call to repentance and been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. – Luke 7:29 NLT

But there was another group within the crowd who had refused the call to repentance and whom John had denied baptism.

But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism. – Luke 7:30 NLT

These men represented the “brood of vipers” John had warned would experience the wrath to come. And Jesus points out these unbelieving, unrepentant individuals by comparing them with petulant children. These pompous and self-righteous men were like spoiled children, used to getting their way, and demanding that their peers dance to their tune. These religious leaders had grown used to controlling everyone around them, using the law and their burdensome list of man-made rules and regulations to dictate the behavior of the people. And when the people failed to live up to their standards, they criticized and condemned them as unrighteous and unacceptable to God.

These men had rejected the messenger of God. When John had shown up living the ascetic lifestyle of a Nazarite, they had accused him of having a demon. When Jesus showed up, choosing to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, they had declared Him to be a glutton and a drunkard. Their problem was that neither man would live according to their rules. They could not control John or Jesus and that infuriated them. And both men had attracted large crowds of followers, which threatened to diminish the Pharisees’ and Sadduccees’ control over the people.

Jesus ends this teaching by declaring, “wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Luke 7:35 NLT). Essentially, He is telling the people that the wisdom of God had been revealed. It has been made evident in the ministry and message of John. But it has also been manifested in His own words and works. And all those who will believe that He is the long-awaited Messiah will end up vindicating the wisdom of God. They will become living proof that what John had declared had been true and that Jesus really was who He had claimed to be. The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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