Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feed My Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Mary would echo her feelings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Child, arise.” – Luke 8:54 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prophet Pity Party

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:4-14 ESV

While everything had gone extremely well for Elijah on Mount Carmel, he soon found himself disappointed in how things turned out. His challenge of Baal and his false prophets had proven to be successful and, from the immediate reaction of the people, it had appeared that revival had come to the land. And this spiritual renewal of the people seemed to be symbolized by the torrential rain that had brought an end to the three-and-a-half-years of drought. It all appeared as if the nation was headed in the right direction. And as a prophet of God, Elijah longed to see the repentance and restoration of the people of God.

But upon his triumphant return to Jezreel, he was met with intense opposition from the very woman who had begun all this trouble in Israel. Queen Jezebel had become incensed when she heard what had Elijah had done to the 450 prophets of her god. So, she sent Elijah a life-threatening message.

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” – 1 Kings 19:2 ESV

She swore an oath to her gods that she would avenge the deaths of the prophets of Baal by killing Elijah within 24 hours. If she failed to do so, her gods could take her life as payment. Despite the abject failure of her god to defeat Yahweh on Mount Carmel, she was still very much a believer. She exhibited no remorse or repentance but instead, warned Elijah that while he had won the battle on Mount Carmel, the war was far from over. She was willing to fight to the death – either his or her own.  And Elijah did not take this news well.

…he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. – 1 Kings 19:3 ESV

The man who had run from Mount Carmel to Jezreel after his victory over the prophets of Baal was now running for his life. But this time, he was powered by fear, not faith. And Elijah didn’t stop running until he had reached Beersheba, the last town of any size in the southernmost region of Judah. Then, leaving his servant behind in the city, Elijah traveled another day’s journey into the wilderness, where he finally stopped to rest.

In a state of deep depression and disillusionment, Elijah asked God to take his life. Since Ahab and Jezebel remained fully committed to their false gods, Elijah had concluded that his prophetic mission had been an abysmal failure. There would be no revival in Israel as long as those two wielded all the power and influence over the people. They were calling the shots and determining the nation’s religious affiliation.

Elijah had run out of faith and energy. He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. And in his despondent state, he cried out to God, saying, “I have had enough, Lord.…Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4 NLT). Exhausted, he fell asleep. But he was soon awakened by an angel who commanded him to eat. There beside him was a loaf of bread and a jar of water. Rather than taking Elijah’s life, God had provided his faith-famished prophet with sustenance, miraculously delivered by the hand of an angel. Elijah may have decided that he was done, but God was not done with Elijah. The prophet ate and fell back asleep. 

But his rest was disturbed yet again by another visit from the angel, who had brought more food and a message.

“Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:7 NLT

Elijah had not reached his final destination. He had run, but not far enough. And when he had abruptly fled Jezreel, he had done so because he thought his life was over. Either Jezebel was going to take his life or God would. But God had other plans. He sent Elijah on a 40-day journey further south, all the way to Mount Sinai. And the food God provided miraculously sustained Elijah for this long and arduous journey.

…the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. – 1 Kings 19:8 ESV

This trip should have taken no more than 15-20 days by foot, but Elijah found himself wandering in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. This number is significant because it corresponds to the 40 years that the disobedient Israelites had spent wandering in the wilderness because they had failed to obey God and enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). Having heard the report of the spies that the land was full of giants and well-fortified cities, the people of Israel had refused to trust God and made plans to return to Egypt.

“If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

Now, centuries later, Elijah, the prophet of God, had chosen death in the wilderness rather than face the “giants” in his day. He had determined that Jezebel was too big for God. But God had brought Elijah to the very place where He had revealed Himself to the people of Israel. It had been at Mount Sinai that God had given His law to Moses. And it had been on Mount Sinai that God had displayed His glory and demonstrated His unparalleled power.

And when God had safely sequestered Elijah in the recesses of a cave, He asked His doubting prophet a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 ESV). He was wanting Elijah to explain the motivation behind his most recent actions, and the prophet responded with a pitiful portrait of his Don-Quixote-like quest to defeat the enemies of God. He deemed himself the last-man-standing, the sole survivor of an ill-fated battle against the forces of evil.

“I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

Elijah was throwing himself a pity party and he had invited God to attend. But God was not interested in celebrating Elijah’s accomplishments or validating his woe-is-me mentality. Instead, God instructed His despondent prophet to step out of the cave and into the shadow of Mount Sinai. And as Elijah stood there, God revealed Himself. At first, He came in the form of a fierce windstorm so powerful that it blew boulders off the face of the mountain. Then He appeared in the form of a massive earthquake that shook the ground under Elijah’s feet. Finally, God disclosed Himself to Elijah in the form of fire. And all of these manifestations of God’s glory and power were exactly what the people of Israel had seen when God had appeared to them centuries earlier at the very same spot.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.… All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. – Exodus 19:16, 18 NLT

But in Elijah’s case, these dramatic revelations of God, while impressive, were not meant to represent the presence of God. The text clearly states that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Yes, they were manifestations of His greatness, but they were not how God was going to speak to His prophet. After the ear-piercing blast of the wind, the earth-shaking rumble of the earthquake, and the roar of the fire, Elijah heard “the sound of a low whisper” ( 1 Kings 19:12 ESV). Evidently, the three previous displays of God’s power had driven Elijah back into the recesses of the cave. But upon hearing the gentle sound of the whisper, he timidly made his way back outside. And there, in the quiet of that moment, he heard God repeat His previous question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13 NLT). 

And, once again, Elijah gave the same well-rehearsed reply. And don’t miss the focus of Elijah’s response. It was all about him. He alone had zealously served Yahweh. While everyone else in Israel had turned their backs on God, Elijah had remained faithful and fully committed. He was the last line of defense against the forces of evil, and now he was as good as dead.

Where was God? Even after the dramatic displays of divine power on Mount Sinai, Elijah had been unable to get his mind off of himself. For some reason, he believed that the future of Israel had been dependent upon him, and he had failed. He had let God down. Despite his victory over the prophets of Baal, Ahab and Jezebel were firmly entrenched and in charge of the affairs of the nation, or so Elijah thought. From his perspective, all was lost. But God had news for Elijah. And He had plans for Ahab and Jezebel. God was about to whisper His sovereign secret for Israel’s future in the ear of his self-consumed prophet. And Elijah was going to discover God’s answer to the question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

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

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

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

When Faith Turns to Fear

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. 

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 1 Kings 18:41-19:3 ESV

Chapter 18 opened up with the words God spoke to Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1 ESV). This statement contains a command as well as a promise from God. After his three-and-a-half-year absence, Elijah was to return to Israel from Sidon and confront King Ahab one more time. But while this command would likely involve great risk to the prophet, his obedience would result in a tremendous blessing on the people. God would end the long drought and restore rain to the land.

It is impossible to know if Elijah was aware of all that would have to happen before the rain returned. There is no indication as to when God divulged the rest of His plan and Elijah’s role in it. But before the physical drought could end, the spiritual drought afflicting the people would have to come to a decisive conclusion that involved a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. But the real battle would be between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Baal, the god of Ahab and Jezebel.

And God had won the day. He displayed His power by sending fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38 ESV). This demonstrative exhibition of God’s omnipotence brought the people to their knees in fear and worship of God. What they had just witnessed left them thoroughly convinced that Yahweh was the one true God, and that newly revived awareness left them crying out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV). And as if to put an exclamation point on the whole scene, Elijah had ordered the capture and execution of all 450 of Baal’s so-called prophets. When they had cried out to their god, he had remained silent. Now the prophet of Yahweh silenced them – for good. They would no longer deceive and mislead the people of Israel with fallacious promises concerning their false god.

But there was still one thing missing: The rain that God had promised. Baal had been discredited, his prophets had been eliminated, and the peoples’ reverence for Yahweh had been rejuvenated. But the land remained under the God-ordained drought that had turned Israel into a dust bowl where water and food were scarce and daily survival had become critical. The land that God had once described as “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3 ESV) had become fruitless and lifeless, reflecting the spiritual state of the people who occupied it.

Hundreds of years earlier, long before the people of Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them what would happen if they proved unfaithful.

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 11:13-17 ESV

And years later, when God’s people continued to display their propensity for unfaithfulness, His prophet, Joel, would offer this promise of divine restoration even in the face of their disobedience.

Surely the Lord has done great things!
    Don’t be afraid, O land.
Be glad now and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
    for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
    fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
    Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
    Once more the autumn rains will come,
    as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain,
    and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost…” – Joel 2:20-25 ESV

That day on Mount Carmel, the people had seen the fire of God fall from heaven, completely consuming the altar, sacrifice, and water. But they had not yet seen or felt His blessing. As Joel stated, “the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.” Their land was in desperate need of restoration and rejuvenation, and so were they. After three-and-a-half-years of spiritual drought, their hearts were parched and hardened. They had lost the capacity for fruitfulness and faithfulness and they needed an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy.

Elijah knew what God had in store. So, he informed the shell-shocked king to “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” (1 Kings 18:41 NLT). There was a blessing on the horizon. In spite of Ahab and Jezebel’s wickedness, God was about to pour out His goodness on the land.

The fact that Ahab had food to eat is symbolic of his self-centered approach to leadership. His sins had brought God’s curse upon the nation. But while they suffered severely from the lack of rain, Ahab and Jezebel lived in royal comfort and ease. God would later issue an indictment against the leaders of Israel, warning them of their blatant disregard for the care of His people.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

And as Ahab was busy satisfying his own needs, Elijah interceded on behalf of the people of Israel. He “climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees” (1 Kings 18:42 NLT). At one point during his prayer, he stops and sends his servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea in the east. But the servant sees nothing. This pattern repeats itself five more times with the same disappointing result. But the seventh time, the servant returns with a different report.

“I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.” – 1 Kings 18:44 NLT

Out on the distant horizon, the servant had seen what appeared to be a small glimmer of hope. It was a small and seemingly insignificant cloud. But Elijah knew what it meant. The blessing of God was about to fall and, when it did, it would come in torrents. So, he instructed his servant to warn Ahab to leave immediately or he may not make it back to his winter palace in Jezreel. When Elijah’s servant had looked to the east, he only saw a faint possibility. But through his eyes of faith,  Elijah saw something altogether different. He perceived the imminent arrival of the outpouring of God’s blessing. And before long that small cloud had developed into a massive storm that brought strong winds and torrential rains. And as Ahab tried to outrun the storm in his chariot, “the Lord gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46 NLT).

Because Jezreel was anywhere from 10-20 miles east of Mount Carmel, some commentators attempt to explain this last verse by saying that Ahab’s chariot got caught in the mud and delayed his arrival. Others speculate that Elijah simply took a shortcut over the ridge of Mount Carmel. But everything about this story has been focused on the matchless power of God. And it should not seem out of the question that God might endow his prophet with a supernatural capacity to outrun the chariot of his arch-nemesis. God had defeated Baal. Now, the prophet of God had defeated the benefactor of Baal.

But while Elijah had won the victory at Mount Carmel and the race to Jezreel, he would have little time to celebrate. Upon hearing the unexpected news of all that had transpired on Mount Carmel, Jezebel was outraged and directed all her anger at Elijah.

“May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.” – 1 Kings 19:2 NLT

Despite all that Ahab told her about the day’s events, she remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s power. She even called on Baal and his queen mother, Asherah, to come to her aid so that she might avenge the deaths of the prophets by killing Elijah. She was still putting her hope and trust in her false gods. Even the sudden arrival of long-awaited rain did nothing to diminish her misplaced trust in her lifeless and powerless gods.

But even more surprising than Jezebel’s stubborn resistance to God was Elijah’s sudden display of fear and doubt. This man who had called down fire from heaven and had singlehandedly executed 450 prophets of Baal found himself intimidated by the idle threats of this self-absorbed, idol-worshiping queen. Her vow to avenge her false god should have made Elijah laugh with scorn. Her god had proven himself to be speechless, powerless, and utterly helpless in the face of Yahweh. Yet, the formerly faithful Elijah was suddenly fearful, and this time, rather than running to the problem in the strength of God, he ran away from it. He fled for his life, covering the 25 miles from Jezreel to Beersheba motivated by fear and in the strength of his own flesh. Faced with the threats of Jezebel, Elijah took his eyes off of God and took his fate into his own hands.

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

The Beginning of the End

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.”

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:26-42 ESV

As part of their Passover celebration, Jesus and the disciples closed their time together with a hymn. Then they made their way out of the city and back to the Mount of Olives, located on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley, just east of Jerusalem. There Jesus made yet another shocking announcement to His men: “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27-28 ESV).

Jesus used a verse from the prophet Zechariah to predict the falling away of His disciples. Not only was one of them going to betray Him, but the rest would end up deserting Him. These men had been His closest companions for 3-1/2 years, yet Jesus was letting them know that the events of the next 48 hours would result in their abandonment of Him. Shocked and shamed by this less-than-flattering disclosure from Jesus, Peter spoke up and vehemently denied that it applied to him.

“Even though they all fall away, I will not.” – Mark 14:29 ESV

He refused to accept Jesus’ assessment of his loyalty, and boldly proclaimed his ever-lasting allegiance. But Peter was speaking from the point of ignorance. He had no idea what was about to take place. Even though Jesus had disclosed the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem, the disciples had failed to grasp the full import of His words.

Jesus’ allusion to the scattered sheep ties back to His earlier declaration regarding His identity as the Good Shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

What Peter refused to come to grips with was the pending death of Jesus. He could not bring himself to believe that Jesus was actually going to die in Jerusalem. With a sincere yet false sense of bravado, Peter declared that he would remain by Jesus’ side no matter what happened. But Jesus knew something Peter didn’t know: The future. And Jesus revealed to HIs well-intentioned friend that not only would he prove to be a deserter, but he would also end up being a denier.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

And, once again, the ever-eager and over-confident Peter rejected Jesus’ accusation, vociferously declaring his to-the-death commitment to Jesus.

“If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

And Mark indicates that the other 10 disciples, not wanting Peter to get all the glory, voiced their own determination to stick with Jesus to the bitter end. But they, too, were unaware of all that was about to take place. Even that night, the intensity of the spiritual battle surrounding Jesus was going to intensify dramatically, causing each of them to scatter to the four winds.

With the words of Jesus still echoing in their ears, the disciples followed Jesus from the Mount of Olives back to the Garden of Gethsemane. In essence, they reversed their steps and headed back to the city of Jerusalem, where all the events of the next 48 hours would take place. But in the garden, Jesus took three of His closest disciples and sought out a secluded spot in which to pray. He handpicked Peter, James, and John, the same men who had witnessed His transfiguration on the mountaintop (Mark 9:2-3). On that occasion, they had seen Jesus conversing with Isaiah and Moses. This time, they would be given the privilege of listening in as Jesus spoke with His Heavenly Father. He shared with these three men the agitated state in which He found himself, declaring,  “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch” (Mark 14:34 ESV). Unlike Peter, Jesus didn’t attempt to cover up His apprehensions with bold-sounding rhetoric. He willingly shared exactly what He was feeling at that moment. In this scene, we are given a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. He was the God-man, 100 percent God and 100 percent human. And nowhere else in Scripture do we see His human nature displayed with greater clarity.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, our High Priest, can empathize with our pain and suffering because He endured it all. There is nothing we will face that He did not encounter during His days on this earth.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

As Jesus knelt in the garden that night, He felt the full weight of the burden He was about to bear. He knew all that would happen that in the hours ahead, and He was fully aware of the pain and suffering that would accompany His crucifixion. So, He called out, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

Jesus found Himself in a state of inner turmoil. It was only natural for His human nature to find the physical suffering He was about to endure to be something to avoid. But, as the Son of God, He knew that His full obedience to His Father’s will was necessary. Again, the author of Hebrews describes the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ mission.

…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.” – Hebrews 10:5 NLT

He had come to suffer and die, but that did not mean He had to enjoy the prospect of all that was about to happen. And, as Jesus prayed, He poured out His heart to His Father, displaying a deep sense of grief and foreboding. Luke records that God sent an angel to minister to Him in His agony.

…there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. – Luke 22:43-44 ESV

But as Jesus wrestled with the thought of His pending suffering and death, the three disciples slept soundly. And Jesus, finding them asleep, confronted the self-appointed ring-leader of the group.

“Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:37-38 ESV

The one who had bragged that he would not fall away or deny Jesus couldn’t even manage to keep his eyes open while his Master agonized just a few feet away. On three separate occasions, Jesus returned to find His three proteges sound asleep. They meant well, but, as Jesus indicated, their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. They didn’t have the inner strength to counter their fleshly desires. Weariness made watchfulness impossible. And in a matter of moments, fear would overshadow any sense of faithfulness they had to Jesus.

His time of prayer having ended, Jesus woke His sleeping companions and announced that the end was about to begin.

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Mark 14:41-42 ESV

And the weary disciples, still wiping the sleep from their eyes, woke to find themselves amid a living nightmare. The darkness of the night was now pierced by the flames of torches and the shouts of men. Their peaceful slumber was replaced by a chaotic scene filled with armed guards carrying swords and spears. And there, in the midst of the crowd, stood their friend and companion, Judas.

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

Hardened Hearts

45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:45-52 ESV

Three of the four gospels include this story and all three indicate that it happened immediately after the miracle of the bread and the fish. The context is essential to understanding what takes place and helps provide much-needed insight into Mark’s rather condemning conclusion: “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.” (Mark 6:52 NLT).

Mark’s harsh-sounding critique seems to paint the disciples in an unflattering light but, when taken in context, it provides the reader with a fair and honest assessment of their ongoing spiritual transformation. They were works in process. Their comprehension of Jesus’ true identity was in a constant state of flux and it was complicated by their own personal agendas and expectations. Their concepts of the Messiah had been formed by their Hebrew roots and highly influenced by the religious indoctrination they had received as young boys at the local synagogue in their hometowns. Their unique experiences with Jesus were informative and instructive but were also confusing and contradictory to their preconceived notions about the coming Messiah.

Jesus was not operating according to their expectations. His miracles, while powerful and impressive, didn’t seem to be ushering in the Kingdom the disciples, as Jews, had long anticipated. His words, while spoken with authority and filled with interesting stories and fascinating parables, didn’t always make sense. He spoke cryptically and about subjects that seemed out of keeping with someone who had come to be King of Israel.

So, this particular story must be viewed within the immediate context of the surrounding events. Mark indicates that as soon as the disciples had finished gathering the 12 baskets of leftover loaves and fish, Jesus instructed them to head by boat to the village of Bethsaida. Jesus then dismissed the crowd and headed to a secluded spot for some alone time with God the Father. Mark provides no details concerning this divine conversation between Father and Son, but it is safe to assume that it mirrored the other prayers of Jesus recorded in the gospels. These moments of isolation and intimate communion with His Heavenly Father were important to Jesus. It was during these occasions that Jesus shared His heart and received instructions. Perhaps Jesus prayed for the disciples, sharing with God the Father His frustration with their inability to grasp the meaning of His messages and miracles. Jesus knew these men had been given to Him by God, but He also knew that they were having difficulty understanding who He truly was and the real purpose behind His incarnation.

When Jesus had completed His time in prayer, He made His way back to the shoreline, where He spotted the disciples “making headway painfully, for the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48 ESV). John indicates that “they had rowed about three or four miles” (John 6:29 ESV). 

Don’t minimize the circumstances surrounding this scene. It is somewhere around 3:00 a.m. The sky is pitch black, the wind is howling furiously, and the white-capped waves are pounding against the sides of the small fishing boat. The disciples, four of whom were professional fishermen, were struggling to keep the boat afloat and headed to their final destination. And Jesus witnessed all of this from the safety of the shoreline.

But then He did something extraordinary and unexpected. He stepped out into the sea and began to walk on the top of the water. And Mark adds a very important detail to his narrative.

Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them – Mark 6:48 NLT

Jesus walked toward the disciples but was fully intending to walk right past them and on to Bethsaida. He wanted them to see Him and take hope and confidence in Him. If He could walk on the waves in the midst of the storm, they had no reason to fear. Just the sight of Jesus, walking calmly and confidently on the tops of the waves, should have instilled a sense of peace in the hearts of the disciples. But instead, they reacted in fear.

but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him. – Mark 6:49-50 NLT

They had not been looking for Jesus. And when He suddenly appeared. they didn’t recognize Him because they were not expecting Him to show up in that inhospitable context. It’s interesting to note that the disciples had shown no fear until Jesus appeared unexpectedly. There’s no indication that the disciples had feared the storm. They were simply struggling against the wind and waves, attempting to make their way to Bethsaida as Jesus had instructed them. But their demeanor quickly shifted from focused determination to abject fear when they spotted this strange figure walking toward them in the midst of the darkness and violence of the storm.

Sensing their terror, Jesus quickly identified Himself to the frightened men.

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” – Mark 6:50 ESV

They had not recognized Him because they had not expected Him. No one in the boat had been calling out to Him. In the midst of their difficulty, they had forgotten all about Jesus. They had become so consumed with the task at hand that they had neglected to think about the very one who had sent them on this storm-tossed and ill-fated excursion. Seeing Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm should have been enough to remind them of the power and authority of the one they served. They had just witnessed Him feed more than 10,000 men, women, and children; using nothing more than five small loaves and two fish. They had just recently returned from their own missionary journey where they had cast out demons and performed other miracles of healing. But in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of a storm-tossed sea, any thoughts of miracles or the Messiah were nowhere to be found.

And in a characteristic act of mercy and grace, Jesus altered His plans and joined the disciples in midst of their struggle. Rather than walk by, He entered into. And as soon as His foot touched the deck of the boat, “the wind ceased” (Mark 6:51 ESV). His presence brought peace. And the disciples “were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:51 ESV). They were blown away. The Greek word Mark used is existēmi and it literally means they were beside themselves. And one has to ask why this particular miracle made such an impact on them. Had they not seen Jesus do other incredible, mind-blowing miracles? What was it about this one that left them beside themselves in wonder?

And Mark provides the answer:  “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51 ESV). They had not connected the dots. It is likely that the bow of the boat contained the 12 baskets full of leftovers they had gathered. But they were not yet able to understand the significance of the miracle that Jesus had performed. By transforming five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed an army, Jesus had clearly demonstrated His divine power and authority over the creation. He had done the impossible. And yet, the disciples did not understand. Oh, they fully grasped the reality of the miracle because they had seen it happen. But they were blind to the message it was intended to send: Jesus was God.

And Mark notes that their hearts were calloused and hardened. In their fallen human state, they were incapable of discerning the message contained within the miracles of Jesus. They were unable to connect all the dots and complete the picture that was being revealed right before their eyes. But step by step, miracle by miracle, Jesus would continue to disclose Himself to these men. He would patiently and persistently display His power and authority so that, eventually, their beliefs about Him would line up with God’s will and not their own.

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