The Promise Maker

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15-1-6 ESV

Abram has just received a blessing from Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God.

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth. – Genesis 14:19 NLT

Sometime after his encounter with the king-priest Melchizedek, God provided his servant with a confirmation and explanation of that blessing in the form of a vision. The Most High God referred to Himself as Abram’s shield or protector. In the same way that Abram had protected and delivered his nephew Lot during his time of captivity, God would be Abram’s defender and deliverer. And while Abram had turned down the king of Sodom’s offer of all the plunder taken from Sodom, he could be certain that God would reward him with something of far greater value.

One of the questions this passage raises is why God opened up His address to Abram with the words, “Fear not.” What was it that Abram feared? Some believe that, upon receiving an unexpected vision of the Most High God, Abram was filled with fear and awe. This would have been a normal and natural reaction to such an encounter with God. When Moses was given a vision of God in the form of a burning bush, “he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6 ESV).

But based on the context of chapter 14, it makes more sense to see Abram’s fear as horizontal in nature, rather than vertical. Due to his victory over the four Mesopotamian kings, Abram had just made himself some powerful enemies. Not only that, by displaying his military might, he had inadvertently placed a target on his back. Whether he liked it or not, he was the new sheriff in town and everyone would be gunning for him. Abram was essentially a shepherd and not a warrior, and the thought that his enemies might seek retribution on him and his household was keeping him up at night. So, God assured his fearful servant that he had nothing to worry about. Abram could rest in the knowledge that God would protect and provide for him. It is the same message that God would give to Abram’s descendants centuries later.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Abram’s response to God’s words of comfort and encouragement is less than confident.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” – Genesis 15:2 NLT

With this statement, Abram reveals that his greatest fear was that of failure. He knew that God had promised to bless him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the words God had spoken when he was still living in Haran.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Abram had been 75-years-old when God made that promise. And now, years later, he had only grown older and his wife’s fertility problem had not improved. All the way back in Genesis 11:30, Moses had disclosed the sad state of Sarai’s reproductive health: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

All of these factors weighed heavily on Abram’s mind. Based on the circumstances, he could see no way that God’s promise could ever come to fruition. Abram had resigned himself to the fact that one of his household servants would end up as his heir. He informed God about the desperate nature of his situation and even blamed Him for it.

You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:3 NLT

It appears that Abram was growing impatient. During his time in the land of Canaan, he had seen his financial prospects improve. He had grown rich and his herds had grown in number. And here was God promising to shower him with further rewards. But what difference would it make if he had no one to whom he could leave his great wealth?

It’s not difficult to ascertain how Abram had assessed his situation and come up with a possible solution. He had given up on Sarai ever giving birth to a son, and had assumed that they would end up adopting one of their household servants as their son and making him the rightful heir to their estate. There had probably been a time when Abram had believed Lot, his nephew, would be the logical choice. But there had been a fallout between the two of them. So, at this point, Abram had determined that his heir would end up being Eliezer of Damascus.

What is ironic about Abram’s conclusion is that Eliezer’s name means “God is help.” Yet, it would appear that Abram was the one who was attempting to help God. He was offering God a logical solution to the whole fruitlessness problem. Abram was willing to settle for less. He was willing to accept a foreign-born “member” of his house as his heir rather than wait on God to do the impossible. But God had other plans. He was not going to compromise. And Sarai’s barrenness was not going to be a problem. So, God gently but firmly broke the news to Abram.

“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” – Genesis 15:4 NLT

In essence, God said, “Thanks for the tip, but no!” The Creator-God didn’t need Abram’s help or advice. If anything, Eliezer’s presence in Abram’s house was meant to be a constant reminder that “God is help.” Eliezer wasn’t intended to be the solution. No, every time Abram said Eliezer’s name, it should have reminded him that God was the solution. And to stress the miraculous nature of His promise, God took Abram outside and told him to “look up into the sky and count the stars if you can” (Genesis 15:5 NLT). Then, as Abram stood staring up into the night sky, overwhelmed by the sheer number of stars, God boldly proclaimed, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5 NLT).

This was not the first time Abram had heard such an outlandish prediction from God. Earlier, when Abram had separated from Lot, God had assured him that all the land of Canaan would be his and that land would be filled with his descendants.

I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! – Genesis 13:16 NLT

This blessing would not come through Eliezer or any other substitute. God had promised to give Abram a son, and He was well aware of Sarai’s barrenness. In fact, as the sovereign God of the universe, her barrenness had been part of His plan all along. The improbability and impossibility of it all had been baked into the cake. God wanted Abram to understand that everything about this promise would be miraculous and supernatural.

And then Moses adds a somewhat surprising conclusion. Despite all of Abram’s former doubts and fears, he “believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT). Suddenly, Abram’s mental state went from doubt to assurance. He went from trying to help God out to having hope in God’s promise. His confidence in God grew deeper and richer.

It’s interesting to note that Abram had always believed that God would give him an heir. His doubts had been focused on the means by which God would fulfill that promise. He had been hung up on Sarai’s barrenness. That’s why he had come up with what he believed to be an acceptable and logical alternative solution. But now, his belief focused in on the power of God to accomplish the impossible. He went from believing in the promise to believing in the God who made the promise. And there is a huge difference.

In the great “Hall of Faith” found in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the author states, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abram was learning that his faith in God was the key to the promise of God. That does not mean that faith is what determines our reward, but that faith or belief in God is the means by which we appropriate the promises of God. We have to believe, trust in, and place our confidence in the God behind the promise.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain how Abram displayed faith in God. And he describes how Abram’s faith developed and deepened over time until it influenced even his wife, Sarai.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:8-12 ESV

Moses declares that God counted or credited Abram’s faith as righteousness. Abram was justified or made right with God because he chose to believe and trust, not only in the promises of God but in the God behind the promises. Abram had transferred his hope in the promise to the divine promise maker. And the author of Hebrews goes on to point out that faith in the God of the promise is what sets His people apart. Whether a child of God ever sees the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, they will continue to trust in the word and reliability of the promise maker.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. – Hebrews 11:39 NLT

Abram would eventually see a son born to his barren wife. But he would never own any land in Canaan. He would never live to see the day when his descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky, would occupy that land. But he would continue to believe that His God was good and could be trusted to do what He promised, whether Abram lived to see it or not. That is the essence of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

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

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

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

Well Worth the Wait

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers were raising doubts about one of the most important doctrines the apostles taught concerning Jesus:  His Second Coming. They did so by questioning the reason for its delay.

Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” – 2 Peter 3:4 ESV

Peter and his fellow apostles had been teaching about the coming Day of the Lord ever since Jesus had ascended back into heaven. Before His departure, Jesus had repeatedly told them He would be going away but He also assured them would be returning one day. But it still had not happened yet, and its delay had caused the false teachers to question the validity of the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. And because the members of the congregations to whom Peter wrote found themselves suffering for their faith, their hopes for Christ’s return had already begun to fade. This made them vulnerable to any teaching that cast doubts about some future day when Jesus would return and make all things right.

To make matters worse, the false teachers had begun to propagate the idea that there was no future judgment. This led them to mock and scorn the teachings of the apostles. With no fear of coming judgment, they followed their own sinful desires (2 Peter 3:3). They promised freedom but were slaves of corruption themselves (2 Peter 2:19). They seduced others to abandon godly living. Without the fear of God’s judgment, they promoted a lifestyle based on sinful passions of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). They operated on the philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

But Peter had some bad news for these people. They were deluded by their misinterpretation of God’s future plans. Peter fully admitted that the return of Christ had not yet occurred, but that did not mean it should be ruled out altogether. Peter saw the delay as a sign of God’s patience and grace.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

To those who were having to endure unexpected suffering for their faith, the delay in Christ’s coming seemed unfair and unnecessary. If His return was supposed to make all things right and restore righteousness to the world, why was He waiting? From their perspective, there was no better time than the present for Jesus to return and set up His Kingdom. But Peter reminds his readers to “not overlook this one fact … that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV).

Time isn’t an issue with God. Because He is eternal, He exists outside of time and is free from its constraints. From man’s temporal perspective, it appears as if God is taking His sweet time when it comes to the return of His Son and the final redemption of His creation. But God is in no rush. And Peter tells us why.

…he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

It is not God’s desire to destroy people. He does not love condemning the disobedient and rebellious to hell. But as a holy, just, and righteous Judge, He is obligated to do so. It is His moral responsibility to deal with the sinfulness of men. To not do so would be in violation of His godly character. He would love to see all men repent, but He knows that will not happen. As a matter of fact, without God’s sovereign intervention, no one would repent. Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). In that same chapter, Jesus stated, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65 NIV). And He also claimed, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV).

Because all men are dead in their trespasses and sins, each is condemned to die and to spend an eternity separated from God. That is the righteous punishment reserved for them by God. But God has made it possible for some to be saved. His desire would be that all be saved, but that will not happen because not all will accept His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. But God is graciously delaying His judgment on all mankind until all who are going to be saved have been restored to a right relationship with Him. And according to Paul, God knows the exact number of those who will be saved. He assured the believers in Rome:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. – Romans 11:25 NLT

There is a divinely appointed number of those who will be saved. And when all those who have been called by God have been restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, then His Son will return. Jesus Himself said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV). So we should view God’s delay as a sign of His grace, not as a reason to deny to His coming judgment.

Peter assured his readers that God’s judgment was coming. There was no reason to allow its delay to lead to its denial. It would come according to God’s divine timeline and when it came, it would catch everyone unaware, like a thief in the night. Even Jesus had admitted to His disciples that He was not privy to God’s schedule for His own return.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

That’s why Jesus told them, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). And Peter gave his readers similar advice:

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 ESV

Jesus is coming back. Judgment is coming. God will finish what He has started. So, as we wait for the promised fulfillment of His plan, we are to live holy and godly lives. Our hope is based on God completing His redemptive plan for mankind and the universe. God is going to make all things new, but before that can happen, He will destroy the former things so that He can make a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

Jesus spoke of this divine destruction and recreation of the heavens and the earth. He told His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 ESV). He knew that His Heavenly Father had long-term plans to renew and restore all that He had made, including the heavens and the earth. And Peter reminds his readers, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). He wanted them to understand that their hope was not to be based on this world. They were to focus their attention on the new world to come. Jesus was not coming back to fix all their personal problems or mitigate their present trials and suffering. God had a far greater future in store for them.

Peter wanted them to understand that God’s final judgment would have to take place before His plan for the glorification of His creation could happen. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before His glorification could take place. As followers of Christ, they were having to endure suffering in their present life, but they could rest in the hope of their future glorification. And they could live with the end in mind. And the apostle Paul provides all believers of all times with these encouraging words:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

This earth and all it contains will one day be destroyed. But, as followers of Christ, we know how the story ends. After the Second Coming of Christ, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. And then He will have the grand opening of His masterpiece, the new city of Jerusalem, which He has been preparing from before the foundations of the world. And in that remarkable city, God will make His permanent dwelling place with man, just as the apostle John described it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

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

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

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

The Best Is Yet To Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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