When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

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

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

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

A Resurrection and a Transformation

9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Mark 16:9-20 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate among biblical scholars regarding the true ending of Mark’s gospel. Two of the oldest Greek manuscripts (4th-Century) of this book end with verse 8. But the majority of the extant manuscripts include an alternative ending, which is found in verses 9-20. While there are some of the early church fathers who fail to mention this alternative ending in their commentaries on Mark’s gospel, there are others who do. Since the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts do contain the longer ending and many of the early church father’s believed in its veracity, these verses are usually included in most modern translations. They are usually accompanied by a disclaimer or statement that qualifies their inclusion, but it would seem that the events included in this longer ending are of great value when studying the final hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 8 ends with a statement regarding the fear of the women who had encountered the angels at the empty tomb. They had been given strict instructions to deliver the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples, but the entire experience had left them in a state of shock. Mark reports that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 ESV).

But the angels had clearly told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reason they had found the tomb empty was that Jesus was no longer in need of a grave. He was alive. And the angels had assured the women, “he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7 ESV).

One of the first persons privileged to see Jesus in His resurrected state was Mary Magdalene. Mark states that “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9 ESV). John provides us with the details surrounding this unexpected reunion. Mary Magdaline had been one of the women who had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. But she had been the first to arrive on the scene and discover the tomb to be empty and the body of Jesus to be gone. Rather than waiting on her two companions, she ran to tell Peter and John the devastating news. The three of them returned to the tomb, and when Peter and John had seen the truth for themselves, they returned home, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping outside the entrance. Mary finally mustered up the courage to look inside the tomb and was shocked to see two angels. When one of them inquired about the cause of her tears, Mary responded, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” (John 20:13 NLT). And when she turned around, she saw someone standing there. Unaware that it was Jesus, she asked the stranger, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him” (John 20:15 NLT).

But when Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she suddenly recognized Him. Evidently, Mary was so overcome with joy that she clung to Jesus in the hopes of preventing Him from ever leaving her again. Yet Jesus commanded her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17 NLT).

And Mark records that Mary “went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10 ESV). Peter and John had returned from the empty tomb, but had not regaled their companions with news of Jesus’ resurrection. They had simply shared that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone. And this news had left the 11 disciples in a state of deep despair. Even the reports by Mary and the other women had left the disciples unconvinced. When they told these men all that they had seen and heard, their “words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11 NLT).

The common denominator in all these scenes is doubt. None of the followers of Jesus were expecting to find Him resurrected. In their minds, Jesus was dead and buried, and any hopes they had of taking part in His earthly Kingdom had died along with Him. This defeatist attitude can be seen in the encounter Jesus had with two of His disheartened followers who were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Mark simply states that Jesus “appeared in a different form to two of them while they were on their way to the country” (Mark 16:12 NLT). Jesus evidently disguised His appearance so that these two disciples were unable to recognize Him. Luke reports that they were walking along the road “talking to each other about all the things that had happened” (Luke 24:14 NLT). 

Suspecting Jesus to be just another pilgrim making His way home after the Passover celebration, the two disciples struck up a conversation with Him. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, one of them responded somewhat sarcastically: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18 NLT). Had this man been living under a rock? How could He be ignorant of all that had happened over the last 24 hours? But Jesus continued to play dumb, asking, “What things?”

And these two disheartened disciples began to regale this uninformed stranger with all the details concerning Jesus’ death.

“The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” – Luke 24:19-24 NLT

Notice those three revealing words: “we had hoped.” These two individuals were leaving Jerusalem and headed back to Emmaus, filled with doubt and despair. Even the testimonies of the women regarding the news of the angels had failed to convince these two unbelieving disciples. And Jesus immediately confronted them for their refusal to believe.

“You foolish people—how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

And John reports that Jesus gave these two disciples an Old Testament survey class, revealing how the entirety of the Scriptures had all pointed to Him. He was the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets had spoken about.

After having shared a meal with Jesus, these two returned to Jerusalem and told the 11 disciples all that had happened. But Mark indicates that “they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13 ESV). But they were about to have their disbelief shattered by the irrefutable presence of the resurrected Lord. Luke indicates that even while the two disciples were sharing their news, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.

While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 NLT

Yet instead of peace, their hearts were filled with fear, believing Jesus to be some kind of apparition. But Mark reveals that Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 ESV). Angels had declared His resurrection and these men had failed to believe their word. Then others had testified that they had seen Jesus alive, but these men had remained stubbornly doubtful. Now, as He stood before them, all they could come up with for an explanation was that He was a ghost.

But Jesus let these doubting disciples know that they were going to have a job to do. The time for disbelief and despair was over. He was alive and would soon be returning to His Father’s side, and the ministry of the Gospel would be their responsibility.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Jesus was leaving, but the work was far from done. They were to continue to preach the Good News. And their word would be backed by a divine power to perform supernatural signs and wonders. The followers of Jesus would be equipped with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They would have divine enabling that would empower and protect them. It would also validate their message by proving that they had been sent by God.

Luke records that Jesus would later take His followers back to Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. There He would give them His final commission and then ascend back into heaven, returning to His Father’s side. And these formerly doubtful and discouraged disciples would go on to change the world.

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now during the blessing he departed and was taken up into heaven. So they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple courts blessing God. – Luke 24:50-53 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

Missing the Signs

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:11-21 ESV

After dismissing the crowds who had benefited from His miraculous transformation of the bread and fish, Jesus and His disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee to Dalmanutha, in the region of Magadan (Matthew 15:39). It seems likely that the disciples had stashed in the bow of the boat the 7 baskets of leftover bread and fish they had gathered. Mark provides no insights into the conversations these men may have had as they sailed to their next destination, but it only makes sense that they would have discussed the events of that day, including the miracle Jesus had just performed.

As soon as their boat touched the shore, they were met by another contingent of Jewish religious leaders. Matthew records that, on this occasion, the Pharisees were accompanied by a group of Sadducees.

“. . . the Sadducees were a wealthy, conservative party concentrated in Jerusalem. Their members were from aristocratic families of patrician and priestly stock. They refused adherence to the tradition of the elders and advocated a rigorous application of the law of Moses to the life of the nation. In general, they espoused a political and religious policy, including cooperation with Rome, aimed at preserving the status quo.” – Kingsbury, J. D., Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples. Minneapolis: Fortress
Press, 1989

The Pharisees and Sadducees both had representatives who sat on the 70-member Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews. But these two powerful and highly influential religious sects were not on friendly terms with one another. While they shared a common belief in God and held the Hebrew Scriptures in high regard, they held differing views on a wide range of topics, including the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees rejected the idea of an afterlife, arguing instead that the soul simply perished at death. So, the whole concept of a resurrection and a system of rewards and punishments after death was unacceptable to them. In fact, they rejected any notion of a spiritual dimension populated by demons and angels. And all of these beliefs put them at odds with the Pharisees.

Yet, oddly enough, these two opposing parties were willing to set aside their differences in order to take on their common enemy: Jesus.

Mark indicates that these men confronted Jesus, “seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him” (Mark 8:11 ESV). They were not asking Jesus to perform a miracle. They had already been eye-witnesses to many of Jesus’ more spectacular displays of power. What they were demanding was a “sign from heaven” – some kind of celestial proof that would verify His claims once and for all time. They had refused to accept any of His many miracles as being evidence of His divine calling. Instead, they had accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mark 3:22). As Mark states, this was all nothing more than a test, an attempt to force Jesus’ hand and expose Him as the fraud they believed Him to be.

And Jesus, exasperated by their stubborn refusal to receive Him as their Messiah, “sighed deeply in his spirit” and responded, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation” (Mark 8:12 ESV).

Jesus exposes their true intentions. There was nothing He could have done that would have satisfied their demand. They were already convinced that He was a charlatan and no sign or celestial manifestation was going to change their minds. Mark indicates that Jesus simply walked away, leaving these men with neither a sign from heaven nor the definitive proof that He was a fraud. But, Matthew adds an important detail in his account of this same scene. He reports that Jesus confronted these men about their inability to recognize the obvious.

“You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times! – Matthew 16:2-3 NLT

They could predict the weather based on “the signs” in the sky, but they were unable to recognize the Messiah based on the preponderance of evidence taking place around them. According to Jesus, everything He had said and done had been more than enough proof to support His claim to be the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. He was not going to provide them with any other “signs” other than “the sign of Jonah.”

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Matthew 16:4 NLT

This was not the first time Jesus had used this kind of language with the religious leaders. Matthew records an earlier encounter in which Jesus said the very same words and added, “For 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). Jesus used the well-known story of the Old Testament prophet, Jonah, in order to predict His own pending death, burial, and resurrection. The Jewish religious leaders would have been familiar with the story of Jonah but would not have understood the connection Jesus was making.

And Jesus condemned these men for their stubborn refusal to believe in Him. Jonah had been “resurrected” from the belly of the great fish and taken the message of God to the people of Ninevah. As a result, they had believed and repented. But even the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus would not be enough to make these stubborn religious leaders believe. And Jesus predicts the outcome they will face for their unbelief.

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

The Ninevites to whom Jonah ended up preaching had been Gentile pagans. And yet, when they heard the message of God from the lips of the prophet of God, they had repented and been saved. And yet, the religious leaders of the Jewish people were refusing to hear the message of God from the lips of the very Son of God, choosing instead to remain unconvinced and unrepentant.  And Jesus, unwilling to debate with them any further, got back in the boat with His disciples and sailed away.

What happens next reveals a great deal about the men whom Jesus had chosen to be His disciples. Mark records that they got back in the boat and then adds, “they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat” (Mark 8:14 ESV). So, they had not brought along the seven baskets of leftovers after all. We’re not told what they did with all that food, but only that they brought a single loaf of bread to share among 13 hungry men. Perhaps they thought that Jesus could multiply that loaf as well, so they decided to travel light and left the rest of the food behind.

But whatever the thought process behind their decision, Jesus took advantage of the moment to teach a valuable lesson.

“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” – Mark 8:15 ESV

The disciples, confused by Jesus’ words, immediately assumed that He was upset with them for their failure to bring enough bread. It’s likely that they began casting blame, each accusing the other for this obvious lapse in judgment. And Jesus had to remind them that the quantity of bread was not the issue. He was not talking about literal bread at all.

“Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember?” – Mark 8:18-19 NLT

Had they already forgotten what He had done? Were they so hard-hearted that they couldn’t recall how, on two separate occasions, He had miraculously fed thousands of people with nothing more than a few loaves and fishes?

Their problem was not a lack of bread, but a lack of belief. In fact, Matthew adds that Jesus confronted them for their lack of faith.

“O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? – Matthew 16:8 ESV

While they were busy arguing about their paucity of bread, Jesus was trying to warn them about the teachings of the religious leaders. These men posed a serious threat because their prominent positions allowed them to propagate dangerous doctrines that could keep others from hearing and accepting Jesus as their Messiah. And Jesus would later condemn these men for the infectious and deadly nature of their influence.

“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.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” – Matthew 23:13-16 NLT

Jesus posed a rhetorical question to His disciples: “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21 ESV). He knew the answer and was well aware that it would only be after the coming of the Holy Spirit that the disciples would be able to comprehend all that He had said to them while He had been with them. But He would continue to use His confrontations with the religious leaders as prime teaching opportunities to instruct His 12 disciples. He wanted them to continue to believe, regardless of what the Pharisees and Sadducees might say. Their greatest need was not bread, but to continue to place their hope and trust in the Bread of Life.

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

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

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

From Empty Pockets to Full Baskets

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Mark 6:30-44 ESV

After a brief diversion to inform his readers about the fate of John the Baptist, Mark brings the focus of his narrative back to the 12 disciples. Jesus had sent them in pairs to preach the gospel of the Kingdom and call the people to repentance. And to validate their message, He had given them the power to perform miracles. Mark provides no hints as to the length of this missionary journey, but simply states, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30 ESV). 

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 exploits. Luke provides an idea of the kinds of reports these men would have given to Jesus upon their return. He recalls another occasion when Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples, providing them with the same instructions He had given the 12.

“Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” – Luke 10:9 ESV

When these disciples returned from their mission, their eagerly shared with Jesus what had happened. And the focus of their report reveals much about their takeaway from their experience:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” – Luke 10:17 ESV

Notice that they mentioned nothing about the message of the Kingdom or the peoples’ to it. They were blown away by their ability to cast out demons – just like Jesus had done. Their focus was on the more sensational aspect of their mission. But, as if to bring their egos back to earth and to refocus their attention on what was truly important, Jesus responded, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 ESV).

So, when the 12 disciples returned from their missionary journey, it is likely that they shared similar stories about casting out demons and healing the sick and the lame. 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.

Mark indicates that they crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat and headed to a desolate area near the town of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). But their every move was under constant observation by the crowds. So, as Jesus and His disciples made their way by boat, the people ran along the shoreline, trying to guess where they were headed. And when the boat made its way to shore, Jesus and the disciples found themselves surrounded yet again. 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 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. Luke indicates that Jesus “taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick” (Luke 9:11 NLT). 

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.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” – Mark 6:35-36 NLT

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” (Mark 6:37 ESV).

The ludicrous nature of this command is easy to miss because we have no idea how many people Jesus is actually referring to. It is not until later in the story that Mark 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 “to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money” (Mark 6:8 NLT).

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 somewhat sarcastic response.

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!” – Mark 6:37 NLT

They estimate that it would take at least two hundred denarii to buy enough bread to feed a crowd that size. A denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a common laborer. Their quick calculation was meant to emphasize the sheer impossibility of what Jesus was asking them to do. They didn’t have those kinds of resources. In fact, they were broke. And just to expose the true nature of their insufficiency, Jesus has them take an inventory of what food was on hand.

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.” – Mark 6:38 NLT

Don’t miss what happened next. Jesus sent the men among the crowd, just as He had sent them into the towns and villages of Galilee. But this time, they came back with a less-than-thrilling report. After they had canvassed the crowd, the disciples could only return with a miserly five loaves of bread and two fish. It was not good news.

But Jesus was nonplused. As the disciples watched, Jesus simply instructed the people to sit down in groups of 100 or less. This would have taken a bit of organizational planning on the part of the disciples. 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 to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share” (Mark 6:41 NLT).

It seems that the disciples played the roles of waiters, distributing the food to the various groups of people. And as Jesus broke the bread and the fish, the disciples kept returning to find yet more food to hand out. They would bring back an empty basket, only to be handed another one full of bread and fish. And, as if to stress the truly miraculous nature of this scene, Mark holds off the most important detail until the end.

A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed. – Mark 6:44 NLT

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 Mark reported. It could have easily been as many as 10,000. And yet, as Mark makes clear, “They all ate as much as they wanted” (Mark 6:42 NLT). No one went hungry. Not a single person went without or failed to receive as much as they wanted. And that includes 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. 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. And 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

Who Is This?

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:35-41 ESV

It had been a long and event-filled day for Jesus and His disciples, and as it came to an end, they sought to escape the constant pressure of the ever-present crowds. Jesus instructed the disciples to take Him by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Mark indicates that “other boats were with him” (Mark 4:36 ESV). It seems that there would be no rest for the weary. Perhaps these additional boats were carrying home those who had traveled from other towns in the region to see Jesus. Or it could be that when some of those who had been following Jesus saw Him sail away, they decided to continue their pursuit by boat. They were not going to let Him out of their sight.

The interest in Jesus was at an all-time high. It’s obvious that His miracles had attracted many, but it’s also likely that His messages concerning the Kingdom had also proven to be a draw. There were already rumors circulating that Jesus might be the Messiah. And having witnessed Him heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), many had begun to wonder if those rumors might be true. These same people had seen Jesus heal those possessed by demons and had heard the demons shout, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11) as He had cast them out.

But not everyone believed Jesus to be the Messiah. His own family members had claimed He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and the religious leaders declared that He was in league with Satan (Mark 3:22). The reviews were mixed. Yet the crowds continued to show up, day after day. And even as Jesus and His disciples made their way across the Sea of Galilee, there were those who followed in His literal wake.

But something significant took place as they made their way across the sea. As Jesus slept in the stern of the boat, “a great windstorm arose” that turned the placid surface of the sea into a boiling cauldron, with waves so high that they washed over the sides of the boats. The unique geography surrounding the Sea of Galilee makes it extremely susceptible to these kinds of sudden and violent storms. It was not uncommon for these kinds of extreme weather conditions to appear without warning leaving even the most seasoned fishermen fearing for their lives.

So, even though Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all professional fishermen, they were just as concerned as the other disciples. The boat was quickly filling with water and the risk of capsizing was becoming increasingly more likely. Yet, in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, Jesus remained in a deep sleep, a likely indication of His extreme weariness. But in the desperation, the disciples woke Him up and exclaimed, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV).

Whether they realized it or not, their reaction to the storm and their response to Jesus revealed much about the condition of their faith in who Jesus was. Notice that they addressed Him as “Teacher.” Unlike the demons, the disciples of Jesus didn’t address Him as “the Son of God.” They didn’t call out to Him as their Messiah. At that point, in the middle of a life-threatening storm, they saw Jesus as nothing more than a physically worn-out Rabbi who was sleeping while they were suffering.

But if you read the accounts of this event provided by Matthew and Luke, it becomes clear that at least a few of the disciples saw Jesus as something more than just a Rabbi. In the confusion of the circumstances, all of the disciples were shouting as they tried to make themselves heard over the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves. But one of them cried out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25 ESV). Another one shouted, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Those terms, “Lord” and “Master” do not indicate anything other than the fact that the men in the boat regarded Jesus as their official leader. They were turning to Him for guidance. They wanted to know what He thought they should do about their dire circumstances.

It’s important to remember that this whole scene began with Jesus making the rather innocuous statement: “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35 ESV). When He had spoken those words, the disciples had thought nothing of them. Most of these men had made the very same trip on countless occasions. But this time proved to be different. Yet, there was more to Jesus’ words than a mere suggestion. He was indicating a point of destination and, in essence, assuring their arrival at that destination. But the unexpected presence of the wind and the waves had caused the disciples to lose hope and to take their eyes off the objective of their trip. They no longer cared where they were going or why they had begun the trip in the first place. All they were interested in was their own physical safety.

Mark matter-of-factly states that Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” (Mark 4:39 ESV). And according to Matthew “there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 ESV). At the words of Jesus, the wind and the waves immediately subsided. The storm ceased. The danger faded away. The chaos and confusion were replaced by a great calm. Just picture the scene for a moment. The disciples stood in the boat, drenched to the bone. They were breathing heavily from all their efforts at rowing, bailing water, and trying to keep the boat afloat in the storm. But now, they were surrounded by placid waters that gently lapped on the bow of the boat. 

But these men were also dumbstruck by what they had just witnessed. When they had woken Jesus up, they had no idea what He was going to do. They had no preconceived expectations as to how He was going to get them out of their predicament. But He had spoken and the waves and the winds had immediately ceased.

But it would be the next words out of Jesus’ mouth that made the greatest impact. He looked at His disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40 ESV). Luke seems to provide an interpretation of Jesus’ words by recording Him as saying, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV).

Jesus was addressing a pre-existing condition. The storm had not caused their lack of faith, it had only exposed it. Jesus knew that they had been struggling over His identity since the day they had first met Him. In spite of all the miracles they had seen Him perform and the messages they had heard Him deliver, they were still unsure of who He really was. They were filled with doubts and questions. Could He truly be the Messiah? Was there a chance his family was right and Jesus was nothing but a lunatic? What about the religious leaders? Could these learned men be telling the truth? Had Jesus been doing miracles by the power of Satan? All of these thoughts must have crossed their minds at one time or another. But in the heat of the moment, when the storm was pressing in and their lives were threatened, the disciples had begun to have some serious second thoughts about Jesus. And Jesus had been completely aware of the thoughts that had filled their minds as they faced what they believed to be their certain deaths.

And at the rebuke of Jesus, Mark describes the disciples as being “filled with great fear” (Mark 4:41 ESV). The storm was over, but their fear remained. But this was a different kind of fear. They were awestruck by what they had just witnessed. In a matter of seconds, Jesus had completely eradicated a violent storm with nothing but His words. And this never-before-seen experience had left them dumbfounded, but not speechless. Mark records that they turned to one another and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

Who then is this? This response sheds light on the nature of their limited understanding of who Jesus really was. Matthew reports that they said, “What sort of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV). This man, whom they viewed as their Rabbi, teacher, Lord, and master, had just done the unthinkable and inexplicable. He had exhibited complete power over the elements of nature. He had done what no one else had ever done before. The miracle they had just witnessed and lived through had been like something from the writings of Moses. It was reminiscent of the day when God had parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people of Israel could pass through on dry ground (Exodus 14). It was like the time God delivered the people of Israel by destroying their enemies with hail and prolonging the battle by causing the sun to stand still in the sky (Joshua 10).

What Jesus had done had been God-like. It had the handprints of God all over it. But all they could manage to say was, “What sort of man is this?” Was He a teacher, a prophet, a holy man, or could He possibly be who He claimed to be: the Son of God?

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

Faith and Family

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 ESV

An examination of the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke reveals that Mark has taken some liberties concerning the timeline of this event. Both of the other two gospel writers indicate that Jesus had other things to say after His response to the accusation that He was demon-possessed. 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). These are the same men who had accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. They had flatly stated, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22 ESV). 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 alludes to the fact that He will 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 Mark describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His confrontation with the scribes. But as we have seen, 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. His actions would not have validated 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. Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and hearing 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 rumors about her Son, including that He was demon-possessed. 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 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.

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, educational achievements, or whether they were a relative of Jesus, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. 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 Lunatic Fringe

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  Mark 3:13-22 ESV

Jesus had a lot of followers. You might even call them fans. Mark stresses that they came from “Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 3:7-8 ESV). In other words, they came from all over the place and they followed Jesus wherever He went. To the point where Jesus had to institute His own form of crowd control.

he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him. – Mark 3:9 ESV

But it would be wrong to assume that all these people were dedicated followers of Jesus. The crowds would have contained a mix of the curious and the semi-committed. There were always those in search of healing. There were likely some who were simply bored and in search of entertainment. And there is little doubt that some were legitimately intrigued by this Rabbi from Nazareth.

But Mark indicates that a time came when Jesus decided to narrow the field of His followers. Mark doesn’t provide any insight into how Jesus carried out this winnowing process but simply says that Jesus “called for those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13 NET). Did He walk through the crowd pointing out those He wanted to accompany Him? Did He call them by name? We don’t know. How many did He call – 50, 100, or more? The text doesn’t tell us. All we know is that Jesus made a conscious decision to choose some and not others. We have no idea what criteria He had for making His selection. But we do know that from among all those He called, He set apart 12, and Mark provides us with their names.

Luke provides another important detail to the story. It seems that this entire selection process had been proceeded by a night-long prayer vigil.

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles… – Luke 6:12-13 ESV

Before Jesus began this recruiting process, He had sought the will of His Father. And this essential detail sheds light on another prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father more than three years later.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:9-10 NLT

Jesus had sought to know the will of His Father and, in response, He had been given the identities of those He was to choose, including the 12. And Mark provides us with their names.

Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Mark 3:16-19 ESV

Mark states that Jesus “appointed” (poieō) these men. The Greek word means “to make a thing out of something.” Jesus took these 12 men and ordained or set them apart for a special assignment.

…that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. – Mark 3:14-15 ESV

These ordinary men had been handpicked by Jesus and given an incredible opportunity to serve as His apostellōs or “sent ones.” They had been divinely chosen by God, called by Jesus, and set apart for a special two-part assignment. First, they were called to “be with him.” Jesus was inviting them to experience a personal and intimate relationship with Him. For the next three years, they would be given the unique opportunity to spend all their time with Jesus, and this intensive, full-time exposure to the Son of God would prove to be life-transformative.

But as the term “apostle” implies, there would be more to their relationship with Jesus than companionship. They would be expected to preach and be given the authority and power to cast out demons. These blue-collar nobodies from the backwoods of Galilee were going to become the hand-picked spokesmen for the Son of God. And to validate the message Jesus would give them, they would be equipped with divine power to perform miracles. But this would not be a permanent or full-time capability. Luke lets us know that Jesus would be the one to dictate the time and the place for their God-ordained powers to be exposed.

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,  and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:12 ESV

Matthew adds another level of detail, outlining the instructions Jesus gave to the 12 before sending them out on their own.

“Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

“Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.” – Matthew 10:5-10 NLT

The thought of possessing the power to heal or to cast out demons would have been heady stuff to these men. But Jesus wanted them to know that there would be more to their work than performing miracles. Their ministry would be restricted to their own people – the Jews. And they would be required to use the supernatural powers placed at their disposal to validate the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And their efforts were marked by humility and complete dependency upon God. They were to go empty-handed and wholly reliant upon the provision of God.

Over the next three years, these 12 men were going to learn some invaluable lessons. They would be tested. There would be plenty of times when they found themselves confused and conflicted by their relationship with Jesus. They would experience moments filled with awe and wonder as they took in all that Jesus said and did. But there would be just as many times when they would be left shaking their heads in disbelief as they tried to comprehend Jesus’ puzzling parables and His perplexing behavior.

In spite of their close relationship with Jesus, even the 12 disciples would find Him to be an enigma at times. And Mark indicates that this confusion over Jesus was commonplace. Even the family of Jesus found His behavior difficult to defend.

When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. – Mark 3:21 NLT

We know that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Technically, they would have been his half-brothers and half-sisters because Joseph was not the father of Jesus. But these siblings were confused by their brother’s actions. So much so, that they assumed He must be crazy. Keep in mind, they had witnessed an extreme change in the pattern of Jesus’ behavior. At some point, He had walked away from their home in Nazareth and made His way to the Judean wilderness, where He was baptized by John. Then He had disappeared for more than 40 days and nights, only to reappear again, preaching a message of repentance and declaring that the kingdom of heaven was near. This was not the Jesus they had grown up with. His sudden and strange change in behavior left them perplexed and concerned that He might be mentally unstable.

And Mark adds that there were others who found Jesus’ actions less-than-normal.

But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:22 NLT

His family thought He was crazy. The religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed. And everyone else would wrestle with their own opinions as to who He was and how to explain the amazing things He said and did. And the 12 men He had just chosen would find themselves at the center of all the controversy, wrestling with their own expectations and apprehensions regarding His identity and the nature of their relationship to Him. There’s little doubt that they had moments when they questioned their own sanity. Had they lost their minds? Were they crazy for following this strange Rabbi from Nazareth? Having left everything else behind, had they sacrificed it all just to become part of the lunatic fringe? Time would tell.

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

Do Not Disbelieve, But Believe

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:24-31 ESV

From beginning to end, the Gospel of John is filled with admonitions regarding belief. In the very first chapter, John records the initial encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, who would become of His disciples. When Jesus spoke to Nathanael as if He knew him, Nathanael was surprised. And when Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48 ESV), Nathanael believed what Philip had told him about Jesus: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45 ESV). And he expressed his belief by exclaiming, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). 

But Jesus responded to Nathanael’s declaration of faith with a mild rebuke:

“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:50 ESV

Belief would become a central theme of Jesus’ ministry and message. For the next three years, He would teach, preach, perform miracles, and tell parables, in order to help His disciples grow in their understanding of who He was and the purpose behind His coming. But Jesus did not reserve His lessons on belief for the disciples alone. When He had His light-night encounter with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, Jesus had told him, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

In a later conversation with an adulterous Samaritan woman, Jesus shared with her that He was the Messiah and she had believed His words. She even ran and told her neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29 ESV). And John reports, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). But then they had met Jesus for themselves, their belief became fully convinced as to His identity and mission.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Chapter after chapter, John has provided illustrations and proof of the deity of Jesus. He has displayed the authority of Jesus over demons, disease, and even the natural elements. He has recorded the words of Jesus boldly claiming to be the bread from heaven and the source of living water. He has repeatedly emphasized Jesus’ unique relationship with God the Father, declaring their unity and the God-ordained nature of Jesus’ mission. John has made it clear that Jesus was sent by God and was faithfully accomplishing the will of God.

But the religious leaders refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, choosing instead to accuse Him of blasphemy. And Jesus had responded to their attacks by declaring that His miraculous works provided more than enough evidence to prove His claim.

“…why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

And now, after His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus began to appear to His still disbelieving and doubtful disciples. Even though He had told them He would rise again from the dead, they had refused to believe. And when the women had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus, they had been shocked to find an empty tomb and two angels, who told them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:5-7 NLT). 

Luke tells us that they ran to tell the disciples the exciting news they had received. But their words were received by the disciples with doubt and derision.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. – Luke 24:10-11 NLT

When Jesus later appeared to them, “he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected” (Mark 16:14 NLT).

“Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” – Luke 24:38-39 NLT

His resurrection should have been the final proof of His identity. Jesus had told Nathanael that he would see “greater things” and now they were all witnessing the greatest evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And the proof was in His nail-scarred hands and feet. He was not a ghost or an apparition. He was the resurrected, fully restored, and miraculously revived Son of God. And He still the Word of God in human flesh. He challenged them to touch and examine Him. And then He ate a meal with them.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched. – Luke 24:41-43 NLT

The author of Hebrews records a statement that Jesus made.

…when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

Jesus had become a man so that He might offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone or pay for the sins of humanity. It was through the selfless sacrifice of His unblemished life that the just judgment of God was satisfied and all those who believed in Jesus would become set apart as the children of God.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

But to enjoy our new status as the children of God we must believe in the Son of God.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:12-13 NLT

Which brings us to today’s passage. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, had been absent when Jesus had made His unexpected appearance to His doubt-filled and fear-ridden followers as they cowered behind locked doors. And when his fellow disciples excitedly informed Thomas that they had seen Jesus, he responded with sarcastic and stubborn disbelief.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” – John 20:25 ESV

His incredulous statement recalls the words of Jesus: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48 ESV). Thomas’ demand for tangible, touchable proof gives evidence of his own lingering doubt. He really did not expect to have his demands met, because he did not believe Jesus to be alive. But he was in for a big surprise. Eight days later, Jesus made a second impromptu appearance to His disciples as they gathered behind locked doors yet again. This time, Thomas was with them. And Jesus made a beeline to His doubting disciple, inviting him to dispel any further disbelief.

Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” – John 20:27 ESV

Jesus was graciously granting Thomas’ request. But Thomas had seen enough. He required no further proof. In a split second, his doubt turned to belief, and he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 ESV). With that statement, Thomas expressed his firm belief in the deity of Jesus. Whether he realized it or not, Thomas was committing blasphemy. He was declaring a man to be God. Here he was hiding behind locked doors out of fear of the religious leaders and yet, upon seeing Jesus in His resurrected state, Thomas was willing to risk everything to declare His belief that Jesus was exactly who He had always claimed to be.

And Jesus responded to Thomas with a powerful reminder that true belief requires no signs. While Thomas had been given the privilege of seeing the resurrection Messiah, millions upon millions of others would come to faith in Him without ever having had the joy of seeing Him.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29 ESV

And John closes this chapter by addressing some of the very people to whom Jesus referred. He has written his gospel so that those who have never seen Jesus with their eyes, might be encouraged to believe by reading about all that Jesus said and did.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31 ESV

It all comes down to believing. Thomas demanded evidence before he would believe. And John, anticipating the doubts of those who would later hear about Jesus, provides them with an entire gospel filled with proofs and personal insights into the deity and humanity of Jesus.

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

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

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

The Breath of Life

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 ESV

John has already described how he had been impacted by his experience of entering the empty tomb with Peter. As has been his habit throughout his gospel, John referred to himself in the third-person.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. – John 20:8 ESV

Unlike Mary Magdalene, John had not yet had the joy of seeing Jesus with his own eyes, but he still believed that He had risen from the dead. Some of the disciples had struggled to believe when the women had returned from the tomb with the message from the angel regarding Jesus’ resurrection.

…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. – Luke 24:11 NLT

In his hurry to recount the moment when he and his fellow disciples finally saw the resurrected Jesus, John skips over a lot of details that the other gospel writers include. John fast-forwards from early Sunday morning to later that evening when the disciples had gathered together in one place. He sets the scene by indicating that they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19 ESV). This is a reference to the Jewish religious leaders who had conspired to have Jesus put to death. John and his fellow disciples knew that they were marked men because of their association with Jesus. So, they had been keeping a low profile ever since the crucifixion had taken place.

His reference to the locked doors also helped to set up what happened next. Despite the inaccessible nature of the room in which they were meeting, suddenly Jesus was standing in their presence. John simply states that “Jesus came and stood among them” (John 20:19 ESV).

Luke provides a bit more context. He and Mark both cover the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples who had been on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had been returning home after having witnessed the devastating events surrounding Jesus’ death. Suddenly, these two disheartened disciples were joined by another individual who asked them what they were discussing. They recounted all that had happened in Jerusalem, even sharing the news about the new from that morning.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.” – Luke 24:22-24 NLT

It was not until later in the day, as they shared a meal with their unknown traveling companion, that Jesus revealed Himself to them.

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! – Luke 24:31 NLT

Rather than continue home to Emmaus, they returned to Jerusalem in search of the disciples so that they might share their exciting news. And they wasted no time. Luke records that “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them” (Luke 24:33 NLT). But Mark adds another vital detail to the unfolding scene: “no one believed them” (Mark 16:13 NLT). The testimony of these two eye-witnesses was rejected by the disciples.

But despite the doubt and disbelief that filled the room, Luke records that “Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them” (Luke 24:36 NLT). All John records is that Jesus appeared and spoke to them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19 ESV). But Mark and Luke both reveal that Jesus had a bit more to say to them.

He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. – Mark 16:14 NLT

Luke adds that “the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!” (Luke 24:37 NLT). And Luke provides the exact nature of Jesus’ rebuke.

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. – Luke 24:38-40 NLT

And Luke reveals that even after all the evidence Jesus provided, “they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). John simply states, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20 ESV). He paints a much more flattering image of the disciples than do Mark and Luke. But this makes sense when you consider that neither of these men had been in the room that night because they were not part of the original group of disciples. Their recounting of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus were based on interviews with those who had been there. John was writing from first-hand experience. He shared his own personal recollections of what he saw and heard.

And rather than focusing on Jesus’ rebuke of His unbelieving disciples, John chose to highlight His commissioning of them. John had believed from the moment he had entered the empty tomb. He had not shared the doubt and disbelief of his fellow disciples. So, he was thrilled when he heard Jesus say, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV). John didn’t need to see the hands and feet of Jesus to believe. The empty tomb had been enough for him. And now, he was thrilled to hear that their mission was far from over. Jesus had more for them to do.

Luke and Mark add additional details that give a more well-rounded picture of what took place that night. Luke reveals that Jesus provided the disciples with an in-depth overview of Old Testament Scriptures and how they pointed to Him.

“When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Mark provides even more information that helps complete the scene.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Despite their disbelief and fear, this ragtag group of disciples was being given a divine mandate to carry on the work of Jesus in His absence. They were being trusted to take the message of the Gospel to the world, and Jesus reminded them that their ability to carry out their commission would not be left up to them.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. – John 20:22 ESV

There is much debate as to what is actually being described here. Was Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit to His disciples? This seems unlikely because they would not receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit until Jesus had ascended back to heaven. It would only be after His glorification that the Spirit would be sent. That’s why Jesus later instructed them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

Also, there is no indication that the disciples experienced any significant change as a result of what Jesus said and did that night. It appears to have been a symbolic act, designed to remind the disciples of the ultimate source of their coming power. The Spirit would be a personal gift from Jesus to His disciples. And when Jesus “breathed on them,” He was mirroring the gift of life given by God in the garden of Eden.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

John understood the significance of this act. He is the one who wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV).

John also wrote that “In him was life” (John 1:4 ESV). Jesus was the source of all life. And in breathing on His disciples, Jesus was letting them know that they were already recipients of the “breath of life” – eternal life – that would be sealed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. With His death, Jesus had provided these men with His righteousness. They had been cleansed and purified by His blood and were now fully acceptable in God’s eyes. They were also worthy of receiving the coming Holy Spirit. It would not be the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that made them holy. They were already holy because of what Jesus had just accomplished on the cross. By breathing on them, Jesus was assuring them that they were acceptable before God. They were clean vessels, worthy of containing the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul reminds us of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death on the cross.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:21-22 NLT

These doubting men were being commissioned by Jesus. He knew their weaknesses and He understood their reticence. But He was letting them know that it was He who was the author of all life, and He was imparting to them His very breath as a sign of His life-giving power.

But John adds one more important note regarding the events of that evening. He records something else that Jesus told them.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:23 ESV

Their commission was accompanied by incredible responsibilities. With the sharing of the Good News, they would be offering people the choice between forgiveness and condemnation. It was the same message that Jesus had given to Nicodemus.

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

Now, that message would be theirs. And, like Jesus, they would find some willing to receive the message and the forgiveness of sins that accompanies it. But there would be others who “hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed” (John 3:20 NLT). Some will receive forgiveness while others will find themselves condemned by virtue of their unbelief.

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

Empty Hopes and An Empty Tomb

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:1-10 ESV

Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Jewish high council, had discretely removed the body of Jesus from the cross and carefully cleaned it, anointed it with burial spices, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb. And there it remained for three days, while the disciples remained in a state of mourning.

Their friend and teacher was gone. The one they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah was no longer with them. And as they gathered together during those dark days, they must have discussed the words that Jesus had spoken to them.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

Everything had happened just as He said it would – down to the last detail. And this had not been the first time they had heard Jesus make prophetic statements concerning His death. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus divulged to His disciples the fate that lay in store for Him.

Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. – Matthew 16:21 NLT

And Peter had responded with outrage, even rebuking Jesus for saying such things.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

The outcome Jesus had described was unacceptable to Peter. He was unwilling to entertain thoughts of the death of his friend, teacher, and Messiah. The fact that Jesus had also declared He would rise again on the third day seems to have escaped him. And Jesus’ response reveals the true nature of Peter’s refusal to accept what was clearly God’s will.

“Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Peter and his companions had always wrestled with viewing Jesus from their limited earthly perspective. They believed Him to be the Messiah, but those beliefs were weighed down with all kinds of faulty interpretations and personal expectations. They had high hopes that Jesus was going to reverse the centuries of abuse and subjugation that their people had been forced to suffer under Gentile nations like the Romans. And because they had been among the first to follow Jesus, these men had lofty expectations that they would be rewarded with positions in His administration when He set up His Kingdom.

But now that Jesus was dead, Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples were in hiding. We have no idea what they were doing or the nature of the conversations they were having during those three days. But all of the gospel writers tell us that it was the female followers of Jesus who made the first attempt to visit His tomb. Mark reveals that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had seen where Joseph and Nicodemus had buried the body of Jesus (Mark 15:47). And Luke adds that, because the Sabbath was about to begin, “they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 ESV). They had every intention of returning after the Sabbath in order to anoint the body of Jesus.

Luke reports that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1 ESV). Matthew provides the identities of these women: 

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. – Matthew 28:1 ESV

Mark adds the name of Salome to the list of women who visited the tomb that morning (Mark 16:1). But regardless of how many women went to the tomb, Luke makes it clear that none of them had gone there looking for a resurrected Jesus. The burial spices they carried gave evidence that they fully expected to find a dead body, not a living one.  

In his typical, abbreviated style, John only mentions Mary Magdalene. This might be because she was the one who would return to the disciples and share the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He also leaves out any mention of the earthquake and the appearance of the angel that Matthew includes. And he chose not to include the words spoken by the angel.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” – Luke 24:5-7 ESV

It may be that John felt that all of these details had been adequately covered by the other gospel writers and were unnecessary for him to include. But John’s account seems to provide some missing details to the resurrection chronology. According to his version of the morning’s events, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb with the other women, but she was the first one to arrive. She found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. John adds that he and Peter were the first two disciples to whom Mary Magdalene revealed this news.

…she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” – John 20:2 ESV

At this point, she was unaware that Jesus was alive. Meanwhile, the other women had made it to the tomb, only to make the same shocking discovery.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:4-7 ESV

As these women ran to tell the good news to the disciples, Peter and John were already on their way to the tomb. The report that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone had shocked them out of their state of mourning and energized them into action.

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. – John 20:3-7 NLT

It is important to remember that John, the one writing this gospel, was “the other disciple.” He admits that he was the first to arrive at the tomb because he outran Peter. John peered into the tomb but refused to go inside. Yet, the always impulsive Peter, arriving a few seconds later, barged into the tomb, only to discover the discarded burial cloth. The body was gone, just as Mary Magdalene had said.

But John adds a personal word of testimony.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed… – John 20:8 ESV

Emboldened by Peter’s actions, John entered the tomb to have a closer look. And what he saw convinced him that Jesus was alive. He believed. And he admits that, until that moment, the disciples had not understood what the Scriptures revealed about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The words of King David, recorded in Psalm 16, were a prophetic statement regarding the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:10-11 NLT

And John admits that he and his companions had never understood these Old Testament passages to be applicable to Jesus. Not only that, they had not comprehended Jesus’ own words concerning His death and resurrection. But now, John saw and believed.

But he seems to speak only for himself. He doesn’t indicate whether Peter believed. Luke tells us only that, upon seeing the empty tomb, Peter “went home marveling at what had happened” (Luke 24:12 ESV). And John gives the impression that there was a bit of unbelief still lingering among the disciples. He simply states that “the disciples went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV).

John and Peter left the tomb as they had found it: Empty and abandoned. But they had yet to see the resurrected Jesus. The same was not true of the women. As they had made their way from the tomb, with the words of the angel echoing in their ears, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). And Matthew adds that “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:9-10 ESV).

The good news was about to get better. Soon, John would not be the only one of the 11 who believed. The rest of his confused and disheartened brothers would soon find themselves face to face with their risen Lord and Savior.

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