Innocent Blood Spilled

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:8-16 ESV

As a child of Adam and Eve, Cain had inherited the mandate given to them by God. Like his mother and father, he was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). The Hebrew word for dominion is רָדָה (rāḏâ), and it conveys the idea of rule or reign. God had created mankind with the expectation that they would rule over and care for the world He had created for them. That capacity to serve as His designated caretakers was to reflect their close association with Him. They bore His image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26 ESV

But once sin entered the world, man’s ability to reflect the glory of God became dimmed and diminished. At the core of man’s problem was the desire to rule according to his own standards. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve had fulfilled her longing to be like God, knowing good from evil. She sought autonomy, the freedom to run her own life on her own terms. But she soon found out that she couldn’t even “rule over” her base desires. “She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6 NLT). 

Now, her first-born son, Cain, finds himself struggling with his own incapacity to control his inner desires. After having his offering rejected by God, Cain became filled with rage and consumed by bitter jealousy against his brother, Abel. And God warned him, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 ESV).

God described sin as a deadly predator, waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. And Peter would later describe Satan in similar terms.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. – 1 Peter 5:8-9 NLT

It’s interesting to note that God told Cain he must “rule over” sin. The Hebrew word is  מָשַׁל (māšal), and it means “to rule, have dominion, reign.” Like the rest of creation, this deadly “beast” crouching at Cain’s door should have been under his dominion. Cain had been given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26 ESV).

But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Cain had no ability to control the raging beast that crouched outside the door of his heart. Rather than be the subduer, he would become subdued and find his life consumed by the “desires” תְּשׁוּקָה (tᵊšûqâ) of sin. What happens next is the first recorded occurrence of premeditated murder.

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 NLT

The oldest extant manuscripts of the book of Genesis (Smr, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac) record this brief but extremely insightful statement from Cain to his brother Abel. He had a plan in mind. Sin had already consumed his heart and was had taken full control of his faculties. At that moment, he had become a slave to sin. Any hope he had of experiencing autonomy and the free expression of his will was gone. It was Jesus who told the self-righteous Pharisees, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV).

And the apostle Paul echoed the words of Jesus when he warned the believers in Rome, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:16 NLT). Then Peter provides another sobering statement regarding sin: “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19 ESV). The proof of these words is lived out in the life of Cain.

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. – Genesis 4:8 ESV

The text provides no indication as to how much time had passed since Cain’s offering had been rejected by God and his decision to commit this heinous crime. But enough time had passed for him to calm down and regain control of his overheated emotions. Yet, instead, Cain had grown increasingly more incensed over the rejection of his offering and what appeared to be his brother’s favored status with God. So, he took matters into his own hands and made a determination to eliminate the competition. In taking his brother’s life, Cain exhibited his desire to “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). He had designated himself the sole arbiter of right and wrong. Cain had become the judge, jury, and executioner. And it’s interesting to note that, at his birth, Cain’s mother had declared, I have created a man just as the Lord did!” (Genesis 4:1 NET). She had taken credit for giving her son life. Now, that very same son had given himself the prerogative to take life. Cain spilled the innocent blood of his brother.

And, once again, God steps into the scene, posing a simple, yet illuminating question.

“Where is Abel your brother?” – Genesis 4:9 ESV

God was not looking for information. He was seeking a confession. He wanted Cain to take responsibility for his egregious actions. But instead, Cain feigns ignorance and displays a fair amount of insolence.

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:10 ESV

Cain’s response to God is filled with irreverence and pride. He displays no fear of or respect for the Almighty. In fact, he actually questions God’s divine capacity to care for His own creation. By stating, “am I my brother’s keeper,” Cain was suggesting that the guardianship of Abel was God’s responsibility, not his. In a way, Cain was blaming God for Abel’s death. He was accusing the Almighty of failing to keep track of His own creation.

But, unwilling to play Cain’s little game of rhetoric, God posited a second question: “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:10 ESV). Once again, God is not asking for insight or information. He knew exactly what had happened and why. This question was meant to cause Cain to consider the ramifications of his actions. In Cain’s mind, with the killing of his brother, he had accomplished his objective. But now, God was letting this overconfident, self-obsessed man know that his actions would have long-lasting and devastating consequences.

“Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:10-11 NLT

As the sins of man increase, so does the intensity of God’s curse. This indictment from God against Cain and his descendants is an extension of the curse God had leveled against Adam.

“…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread…” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Because of Adam’s sin, God had cursed the ground. But now, God was cursing Cain and banishing him from the ground. This man, who had been “a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV) and had “brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 ESV), would now find the ground unproductive and unfruitful. The one who had placed all his faith in his capacity to provide for himself would now be ejected from the very land that had met his needs. He was cast out.

Just as Adam and Eve had been banished from the garden because of their disobedience, Cain was exiled from his family because of the murder of his brother. He was cast adrift and doomed to “be a homeless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 NET). In murdering his brother, Cain had destroyed his relationship with his mother and father. He had forfeited his right to benefit from the bounty of God’s creation. This imagery of being cast from the land is found throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, God provided Moses with a series of sober warnings concerning the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that He was giving to the people of Israel as their inheritance.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out…” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

Cain had defiled the land by spilling his brother’s blood. Now, he was having to pay for it. And, in a statement of regret, but not repentance, Cain declared his punishment to be more than he could handle.

“My punishment is greater than I can bear. – Genesis 4:13 ESV

Cain feared retribution. He distinctively knew that there might be payback for his crime against Abel. But God assured Cain that his punishment would be far more difficult than death at the hands of an avenger. God was going to spare Cain and allow him to live with his guilt and condemnation for the rest of his life. In a rather strange turn of events, God pledges to become Cain’s “keeper.” In His infinite grace and mercy, God would spare the murderer and prolong his life. He would protect the guilty one who had chosen to take the life of the innocent one. And all of this points to the coming of a future Son of God whose innocent blood would be spilled so that condemned sinners might find life.

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25-26 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.

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

Banned for Life

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:20-24 ESV

Up until this point in the story, the woman, whom God had fashioned from and given to the man, remained nameless. The man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), had given her the more generic name of “woman.” The Hebrew word, אִשָּׁה (‘iššâ), carries the sense that she was the “opposite of man.” Genesis 5 reveals that immediately after creating the man and woman, God had referred to them as Adam (‘āḏām).

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (‘āḏām) when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

God called them “humanity” or “mankind.” He had always intended for there to be more of them. They were simply the first two who would multiply and fill the land with more of their kind – more “humanity” made in the likeness of God.

But, in the immediate aftermath of the fall, Adam decided to provide his mate with a name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, her new name was חַוָּה (ḥaûâ), which means “life” or “living.” Although God had placed a curse upon the woman, there was still hope. While she was doomed to experience pain during childbirth, she would still be able to fulfill God’s kingdom mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). And, in naming his wife, Eve, Adam displayed his belief that God was not done with them yet. They had violated the one prohibition God had given them, and yet, He was still going to graciously allow them to keep His command to fill the earth. Their decision to eat the forbidden fruit had not destroyed their ability to be fruitful and, for that, Adam was grateful.

Moses provides his readers with a brief note of explanation concerning Eve’s new name.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living – Genesis 3:20 ESV

In Hebrew, there is a clever wordplay going on in this verse. The name “Eve” (ḥaûâ) is pronounced khavvah in Hebrew. It sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew word for “living” (ḥay), which is pronounced khah’-ee. In a sense, Moses is stating that Eve’s God-given destiny would be that of “life-giver.” Though flawed and brokern, she would be the vessel through whom God would bring the “offspring” who would bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15 ESV).

The apostle Paul provides a compelling description of those who have placed their faith in Christ, and it could easily apply to Eve in her fallen–but-not-forgotten state.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV

Eve was a damaged clay jar and, yet, God was going to use her to bring about the ultimate solution to the problem she had helped to create. Adam and Eve had rebelled against a gracious and holy God. They had violated His command and directly disregarded His good and perfect will for them. But God had known from the very beginning that this would be their fate. He had already made provisions for their failure of faith. The fall of man should never be viewed as a wrench thrown by Satan into the well-tuned engine of creation. The Scriptures teach that this entire scenario had been pre-ordained by God “from before the foundation” of the world. He had made plans for it.

In the high-priestly prayer that Jesus offered up to His Father on the night He would be betrayed, He alluded to God’s pre-determined plan.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24 ESV

Jesus had always enjoyed an eternal relationship with the Father. It had not begun on the night He was born in Bethlehem. He had been sent to earth by His Father to accomplish a very important mission, and the details of that mission had been developed long before God created the universe. The apostle Peter reminded his fellow believers of the unique and unbelievable nature of this pre-creation plan of God.

…you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you… – 1 Peter 1:18-20 ESV

It had always been God’s plan to send His Son as the sinless sacrificial lamb to pay the debt incurred by mankind (‘āḏām) at the fall. And the apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his letter to the believers living in Ephesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will – Ephesians 1:3-5 ESV

Over and over we read that God had planned all this “before the foundation of the world.” In other words, long before He created the universe or had formed man out of the dust of the ground, God had a well-developed and infallible plan prepared for dealing with the inevitable fall of mankind.

“To put it very simply, the Cross of Christ was not an ambulance sent to a wreck. Christ was the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world because God knew all the time that Vernon McGee would need a Savior, and He loved him enough to provide that Savior.” – J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible: Genesis through Revelation

We know that the sin of Adam and Eve had serious consequences.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Paul goes on to note that “everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses” (Romans 5:14 NLT). God had cursed the first man and woman with death.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 4:19 ESV

In Romans 6:23, Paul records that “the wages of sin is death.” And he pulls no punches in assigning the ultimate blame for this problem.

For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. – Romans 5:15 NLT

Adam’s sin led to condemnation – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone – Romans 5:18 NLT

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Paul is relentless. He heaps all the responsibility on Adam. And yet, we know from the Genesis account that “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). And, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges Eve’s primary role in bringing sin and death into the world.

For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. – 1 Timothy 2:13-14 NLT

They were both guilty. All mankind (‘āḏām) stood before God as condemned and deserving of death. But Paul went on to write, “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15 NLT). This is most likely a reference to the fact that childbirth can be a death-like experience, bringing intense pain and suffering, but resulting in new life. Adam, all by himself, would have only death to look forward to. But because God had given him Eve, there would always be the hope of new life and the continuation of the human species.

God was not done with Adam and Eve. In fact, Moses reveals that God replaced their hand-made garments of leaves with “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21 ESV). There is a foreboding sense to this verse. The Hebrew word for “skins” refers to the hide of an animal. What this somewhat innocuous-sounding verse conveys is that a sacrifice had been made. Blood had been spilled. An innocent animal had been slain in order to cover the shame and sin of two guilty humans. This entire event foreshadows a divine reality that would be canonized in God’s Law.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

And it would also be modeled in the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NLT).

But while properly clothed with the sacrificial garments provided by God, Adam and Eve still stood in a state of fallenness. The author of Hebrews reminds us “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). Adam and Eve still stood condemned before God. The animal God had sacrificed to make their garments had not cleansed them from their guilt or alleviated their sense of shame. Those things would remain with them till death and be passed on to their progeny. Again, the author of Hebrews describes the inadequate nature of animal sacrifices to fix mankind’s problem.

If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. – Hebrews 10:2 NLT

The next phase of God’s judgment of Adam and Eve came in the form of their expulsion from the garden.

the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. – Genesis 3:23 ESV

And Moses provides the reason for their ban from the very place God had created for them.

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” – Genesis 3:22 ESV

God had given them the freedom to eat of any tree found in the garden, save one. That means they had full access and permission to eat of the tree of life. It seems that the tree of life had been provided as a source of eternal sustenance. As long as they ate it, they would live. But, in contrast, if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. It’s interesting to note that the tree of life appears again in the book of Revelation. John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem, the place God will provide as humanity’s future home – the eternal residence of all those who place their faith in the Lamb of God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2 ESV

The tree of life reappears and, once again, it will be a source of life. But in Adam and Eve’s fallen state, God did not want them to eat of the tree of life and “live forever.” So, He ordered them out of the garden and then stationed angelic sentries to deny them any further access. And thus begins what will become an ongoing theme of man’s perpetual movement away from God and His presence. The rest of the book of Genesis will chronicle mankind’s steady migration from the beauty of the garden and into the world.

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

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

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

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

The Prodigal Son and the Prideful Brother

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” – Luke 15:11-32 ESV

This particular story that Jesus told has come to be known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But if one considers the context in which this parable was originally told, it might be better titled, The Parable of the Disgruntled Brother. This entire section of Luke’s gospel, beginning in chapter 14 and continuing through the closing verses of chapter 15, contains a lengthy discourse by Jesus that exposes the true character of the religious leaders of Israel.

It all began with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. This miracle took place in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, where Jesus had been invited to dine with other members of the ruling class. It had all been a set-up, designed to put Jesus on the spot. In the middle of the dinner, a man suffering from dropsy just happened to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. But it seems likely that he had been sent for by the host of the party, in order to see if Jesus would attempt to heal him and violate the Mosaic law forbidding work on the Sabbath.

Jesus healed the man and then told a series of parables designed to expose the hearts of these religious leaders who claimed to be the overseers of the people of Israel but who showed little compassion for their spiritual or physical needs. In His first parable, Jesus warned the Pharisees and scribes, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 ESV). These were men who took great pride in their social standing and what they believed to be their superior spiritual status. They craved recognition and coveted the praise of men.

Jesus publicly rebuked His host for only inviting those to his dinner party who could return the favor. He had stacked his guest list with the names of those who would be most likely to reciprocate his kindness by extending him an invitation to dine in their homes. Yet, Jesus suggested that he do just the opposite.

“…when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” – Luke 14:13-14 ESV

But the Pharisee would have found this advice to be thoroughly appalling and illogical. What possible benefit could he receive from inviting those whom he considered cursed by God? In his perverse way of thinking, the poor, crippled, lame, and blind were suffering because they were sinners. He considered them unclean and unworthy of his attention. And, not only that, even if he did invite them into his home, they had no way of returning the favor. The Pharisee could not imagine a return on his investment. But Jesus told him:

“…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:14 ESV

But the Pharisee already considered himself to be just. He had earned his right standing with God through meticulous adherence to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus warned the man that his future standing with God might not be as secure as he supposed. He told another parable about a man sending out invitations to a great banquet. But when the day arrived for the banquet to begin, the invited guests all failed to show up. They each gave an excuse for not being able to attend. In anger, the host sent out his servant to “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21 ESV). The servant did as he was told and, before long, the banquet hall was filled with those who couldn’t believe their good fortune to be invited to a feast of this magnitude. And the host declared that his original guests would not be allowed in, even if they showed up.

“…none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 ESV

Despite all His teachings, the Pharisees continued to view His association with tax collectors and sinners as unacceptable behavior for a religious leader. In their minds, Jesus suffered from poor judgment and was invalidating His ministry through His constant contact with the ceremonially unclean. But Jesus continued to expose their calloused hearts through the use of parables. He used the analogies of the lost sheep and the lost coin to illustrate God’s love and compassion for all those whom the Pharisees had written off as worthless. God had sent His Son into the world to save the lost. He had come to minister to the weak, suffering, sick, and dying. But the Pharisees refused to see themselves as helpless and hopeless. They were self-made men who believed their superior spiritual health rendered them immune from God’s judgment. They were healthy, whole, and in no need of a physician.

At one point, early on in His ministry, Jesus visited the house of Matthew, who happened to be a tax collector. The scribes and Pharisees who witnessed Jesus sharing a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors expressed their disgust that He would associate with such sinners. To this Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).

This brings us to the parable of the prodigal son. In this parable, Jesus tells of two brothers who share the same father from whom they hope to one day receive their inheritance. According to the Mosaic Law, the older son was to receive a double portion of the inheritance. The father was to “the rights of his oldest son…by giving him a double portion. He is the first son of his father’s virility, and the rights of the firstborn belong to him” (Deuteronomy 21:17 NLT). But typically, the inheritance was not distributed until the father’s death. But in the parable that Jesus told, the younger son came to his father demanding to receive his inheritance early.

Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. – Luke 15:12 ESV

The father gave in to his younger son’s demands but chose to award both sons with their designated inheritance. He divided up his wealth between them. This is a point that often gets overlooked. The older brother received his double-portion of the inheritance at the very same time. But the younger brother “packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living” (Luke 15:13 NLT). Before long, he was broke and broken, and ready to return to his father’s house, even if it meant he had to do so as a hired servant. He had been greatly humbled by his experience in the big city and recognized how much he missed his father’s love and affection. So, he came up with a plan.

‘I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ – Luke 15:18-19 NLT

This is where the story gets interesting. The young man returned and was shocked to find his father not only waiting for him but eager to welcome him back into the family. He exclaimed, “this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:24 NLT). In celebration of his son’s return, the father threw a great feast. He even supplied his son with a new robe, sandals, and an expensive ring. The son had expected to be treated as little more than a slave, but instead, he was welcomed back with joy and treated like a celebrity.

But the older brother, who had been working in the fields, returned to this scene of unexpected celebration and was infuriated. And it doesn’t take much imagination to guess who the older brother represents in the story. He had stayed at home, faithfully fulfilling his duties, while his ungrateful brother had been off committing unmentionable sins in faraway lands. While the younger brother had been busy squandering his inheritance, the older brother had played the part of the dutiful son, caring for the land his father had bequeathed to him. As part of his inheritance, the older son would have received the double-portion, which would have included the land. It was his to care for. It now belonged to him. But he painted a very different picture. He became angry at his father’s ostentatious treatment of his younger brother and declared his frustration.

“All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” – Luke 15:29-30 NLT

In true pharisaical fashion, the older brother denounced the actions of his father. He wrestled with what he believed to be a great injustice and a clear case of inequity. Notice his emphasis on faithful obedience and the years he had spent “slaving” away on this father’s behalf. But, in reality, he had been working his own land. He had been tending his own fields and benefiting from the inheritance he had been given by his father. He viewed himself as the victim in this story. Somehow, he had been aggrieved by his father’s actions. And yet, all along he had been enjoying the gracious gift of his father’s wealth and lands. He had not suffered. He had not gone without. He had not been cheated in any way. But his pride and jealousy prevented him from rejoicing at the return of his brother. Like the Pharisees who could not understand Jesus associating with tax collectors and sinners, the older brother couldn’t comprehend his father’s treatment of his undeserving brother. But the father tried to help him understand the heart behind his actions.

“Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” – Luke 15:31-32 NLT

This seems to be the crux of Jesus’ message throughout these two chapters. The Pharisees, who viewed themselves as the faithful children of God, refused to show mercy to those who were the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). When Jesus saw the crowds of people following Him, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV). But the Pharisees could not bring themselves to care for the shepherdless sheep. Just as the older brother could not understand his father’s over-the-top treatment of his undeserving sibling, the Pharisees could not comprehend Jesus’ care and concern for the undeserving multitudes. But the prodigal son had returned in repentance and humility, fully aware of his sins and ready to beg for his father’s forgiveness. But the older brother revealed his true colors. As long as he remained the center of his father’s attention and the beneficiary of his father’s blessings, he was happy. But his brother’s return and his father’s response were more than he could bear. He may have shared his father’s inheritance, but he did not share his father’s heart.

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

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

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

The City and the Savior

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:31-35 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, where He will fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) through His substitutionary death on the cross. But ever since Jesus came into the world, Satan had been intent on derailing the divine plan for His life. At His birth, Satan had used Herod I, also known as Herod the Great, in a failed attempt to eliminate Jesus as a child. When wise men from the east had informed Herod the Great that a child had been born who was to be the king of the Jews, he had viewed this news as a threat because he considered himself to be the rightful Jewish king. In an effort to eliminate this potential usurper to his throne, Herod the Great had ordered the murders of all infant boys under the age of two who had been born in and around the vicinity of Bethlehem. But Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, had been warned by God in a dream to take his wife and newborn son to Egypt.  Now, three decades later, Jesus is warned by Pharisees that another Herod is out to kill Him. This time, it is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.

But why would the Pharisees, who greatly despised Jesus, go out of their way to warn Him about Herod’s plans to kill Him? And was their message even true? Jesus appears to have taken the warning seriously but He also recognized that the Pharisees had ulterior motives. These self-righteous religious leaders wanted to keep Jesus from making His way to Jerusalem. This Rabbi from Nazareth had stirred up trouble everywhere He went and they had no desire to see Him bring His circus sideshow to their city. So, they decided to sow seeds of doubt in His mind by positioning Herod Antipas as a potential threat to His life.

From the moment Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, Satan had been attempting to thwart His plans. Immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where Satan launched a full-frontal assault, attempting to dissuade Him from carrying out His Father’s plan. But He had failed. Yet Luke’s record of that event tells us that Satan did not give up.

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. – Luke 4:13 NLT

And Satan proved to be a resourceful and unrelenting enemy. He continued to use any and every resource at his disposal in his attempt to derail the mission of Jesus. And one of Satan’s favorite tools happened to be the religious leaders of Israel, including the Pharisees. And Jesus had been well aware that these men were not to be trusted. In fact, on one occasion, He had exposed them as sons of the devil.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

This less-than-flattering characterization by Jesus had so angered the Pharisees that they had tried to stone Jesus to death but He escaped unharmed. Yet, this exchange only fueled the growing hatred of the Pharisees for Jesus. So, their attempt to warn Jesus about Herod was anything but a goodwill gesture. They were simply trying to scare Him off. After all, Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist to death, so it only made sense that He would have it in for Jesus as well.

But Jesus is not intimidated or swayed by their words. In fact, He tells them to deliver a message to Herod on His behalf. His reference to Herod as “a fox” was not meant to be flattering. Unlike the lion, the fox was considered an insignificant and inconsequential predator that was forced to use deceit and cunning to survive. The fox was basically a scavenger and anything but the king of the beasts. So, in referring to Herod as a fox, Jesus was exposing the true nature of this power-hungry, self-possessed pawn of the Romans.

Jesus was not going to be dissuaded from His divine mission. He knew exactly what was going to take place in Jerusalem and was well aware that His death was part of God’s divine plan. Herod, like his infamous late father, was powerless to do anything to Jesus. He would prove to be nothing more than a pawn in the hands of God the Father. So, Jesus told the Pharisees to inform Herod that He would continue to “cast out demons and perform cures” (Luke 13:32 ESV) just as He had been doing. And when the time was right, He would enter Jerusalem and complete the assignment given to Him by His Heavenly Father.

Jesus probably surprised the Pharisees when He admitted that His future included His death in Jerusalem. That was the whole reason He had left Galilee and was making His way to the holy city. He was on a journey that would culminate with His death on the cross, and nothing would keep Him from fulfilling His God-ordained mission. Jesus even admits that it was essential that His death take place in Jerusalem.

“…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” – Luke 13:33 ESV

Jesus was well aware of Jerusalem’s dark history. This capital city of Judah had a long and unflattering track record of treating God’s messengers with contempt and disdain. Throughout its history, the city of David had become a place where God’s prophets experienced rejection, ridicule, and even death at the hands of the chosen people of God. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of repentance and warnings of pending judgment should His people refuse to obey. Now, God had sent His own Son, the last of the prophets, with a message calling the people of Israel to repent and believe.

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

And Jesus would preach that same message within the walls of the city of Jerusalem. But rather than heed His call, they would cry out for His death. Which led Jesus to soberly reflect on Jerusalem’s long and sordid history of stubbornness towards the gracious message of God.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” – Luke 13:34 ESV

Jerusalem was the city of David, the capital of the once-great Davidic dynasty. And now, Jesus, the Son of David and the rightful heir to the throne, was returning to the capital to offer its citizens one final opportunity to repent and believe. But they would refuse. And Jesus shares His heart for the royal city by declaring, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Luke 13:34 NLT). Jesus had a deep and abiding love for the people of Israel and, in particular, for all those who called Jerusalem home. The Son of David had a deep love for the city of David. But He knew that they would reject His heartfelt invitation to repent and believe. Rather than recognize Him as their long-awaited Messiah, they would cry out for His crucifixion.

The royal city would reject its King, and, as a result, God would forsake the city of David. Jesus makes a prophetic declaration concerning Jerusalem that has two fulfillments.

“I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:35 ESV

Not long after this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, He would enter the city of Jerusalem at the head of a great procession. His triumphal entry would be marked by joy and celebration, with the people shouting His praises.

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

Yet, those very same people would end up changing their minds. In time, their cries of “Hosanna!” would turn to shouts of “crucify Him!” In a matter of hours, they would turn from fans to foes. They would revert from shouting His praises to demanding His death. But Jesus was also predicting another day when the people of Jerusalem would once again shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It will be at His second coming when He returns to the city of Jerusalem as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Herod would not stop Jesus. The Pharisees would not deter Him. And the unrepentant citizens of Jerusalem would disappoint but not dissuade Him. He would be faithful and accomplish His Father’s will. And because Jesus did what He had been sent to do, the day will come when the people of Israel and the citizens of Jerusalem will receive Him as their King. The prophet Ezekiel declares the coming day when God will restore the fortunes of Israel and bring joy to the streets of Jerusalem once more.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am ready to hear Israel’s prayers and to increase their numbers like a flock. They will be as numerous as the sacred flocks that fill Jerusalem’s streets at the time of her festivals. The ruined cities will be crowded with people once more, and everyone will know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 36:37-38 NLT

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

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

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

A Sign of Things To Come

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV

Some in the crowd had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others “to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16 ESV). It is to this second group that Jesus now turns His attention. Both Matthew and Mark include their own descriptions of the same or a similar incident where Jesus addressed the peoples’ demands for a sign. And it would appear that their insistence that Jesus do some significantly spectacular sign to prove His identity was also the brainchild of the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” – Matthew 12:38 ESV

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. – Mark 8:11 ESV

Their demand was very specific. They wanted a sign from heaven. These men had stood back and watched as Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. And, in an attempt to repudiate those miracles, they had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. So, it seems unlikely that they are requesting Jesus to perform another miracle. The Greek word translated as “sign” is sēmeion, and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than healing the blind or casting out demons. After all, there were others who claimed to perform miracles and even the Jews practiced exorcism.

No, it seems that they were asking Jesus to do the truly impossible. If Jesus He was divine, as He so claimed, then He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, such as predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction. But the motivation behind their request was evil to its core. They knew what the law said regarding anyone prophesied falsely in the name of God.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

Simply put, they were in search of an excuse to put Jesus to death. But He saw through their ploy and responded to their request with a stinging indictment.

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. – Luke 11:29 ESV

Jesus knew the intentions behind this request. The hearts of those demanding that He do some kind of miraculous sign were wicked and unbelieving. He knew that no matter what He did, they would refuse to believe. So, not only did Jesus refuse their request for a prophetic pronouncement, but instead, He announced a sign of coming judgment.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” – Luke 11:30 ESV

The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to those in the crowd. They would have made the connection concerning Jonah’s influence over the Gentile city of Nineveh. After refusing to obey God’s command to deliver His message of repentance to the Assyrian capital, Jonah was reprimanded and then rescued by God. Jonah attempted to run from his divine commission but ended up being swallowed by a great fish. This life-threatening incident ended up getting Jonah’s attention, convincing him to follow through on his God-given assignment. And the result was a miraculous revival among the pagan Ninevites. The entire city repented of their sins and worshiped Yahweh.

Jesus infers that Jonah, the reluctant messenger, because a sign to the people of Nineveh. He had spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish but then had been “resurrected” so that he might deliver God’s message of judgment and His call to repentance. Jesus is predicting His own 3-day-long interment in a tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” – Luke 11: 32 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse His offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the future judgment, the repentant people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the unrepentant Jews. Jesus predicts that the Jews will refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by His coming death on the cross.

And then, Jesus adds another claim of superiority to His growing list.

something greater than Jonah is here – Luke  12:32 ESV

Jonah was a prophet of God and the only one who had been sent by God to the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees would have related well to Jonah’s initial reluctance to take God’s message of repentance to non-Jews. The story of Jonah attempting to get out of this undesirable assignment would have resonated with them. Now, here was Jesus was claiming to be superior to Jonah.  But, in reality, Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to have precedence over the stories of Scripture because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah was just a man, and yet he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedient servant, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus was actually fulfilling their request. He was giving them “a sign by which anything future is pre-announced/.” He was predicting His own death, burial, and resurrection. And He was letting them know that all who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus also predicted that when that sign appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe it. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

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

Debt Relief

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 ESV

Almost as if on cue, Jesus gets an opportunity to demonstrate exactly what he meant He described “the people of this generation” as “children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another” (Luke 7:31, 32 ESV). Jesus portrayed the unbelievers who refused to accept Him and John the Baptist like petulant children who always have to have their own way.

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’’ – Luke 7:32 ESV

And it just so happened that one of these childish, self-absorbed, and unbelieving individuals invited Jesus into his home for a meal. He was a Pharisee, a member of one of the leading religious sects of the day, which meant he was a very powerful and influential man in the community.

Luke does not reveal the motivation behind Simon’s invitation, but it would appear from the context that he was not a follower of Jesus. It seems much more likely that he was either curious to find out more about this mysterious Rabbi from Nazareth or he had been commissioned by the Sanhedrin to catch Jesus in a trap. It could be that the entire affair was a set-up, including the sudden appearance of the woman. Simon may have prearranged for her to show up on cue so that he could see how Jesus would react. In a sense, Simon the Pharisee wanted to see if Jesus would “dance to his tune.” Would He respond to this woman in an appropriate manner, recognizing her as a sinner and treating her accordingly, or would He prove HImself to be “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34 ESV)?

What’s fascinating is that Jesus accepted Simon’s invitation, even though He was probably aware of his intentions. And as they reclined together at the table to share a meal, an unidentified woman appeared. Luke does not provide her name, but simply identifies her as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37 ESV). The Greek word Luke used is hamartōlos and it refers to someone “devoted to sin.” While there has been much speculation regarding the woman’s particular sin, Luke doesn’t provide any details. Throughout the passage, she is simply referred to as a sinner, even by Simon. It was not uncommon for the Pharisees and other religious leaders to refer to all people of the lower class as sinners because they failed to live up to their impossible standards. These arrogant and pride-filled men viewed themselves as spiritually superior because they believed themselves to be scrupulous when it came to keeping the law. But in their self-righteous minds, the average Jew was nothing more than a law-breaking sinner who refused to dance to the tune they were playing. And this woman was just such a hopeless and helpless case.

But this “sinner” came in search of the Savior. Whether she had been hired by Simon or had simply heard that Jesus was a guest in Simon’s home, she came prepared with a gift with which to bless Jesus. In a sense, she brought a sin offering with which to anoint the Son of God. Luke describes the scene:

Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. – Luke 7:38 NLT

Jesus would have been laying on his side, His elbow resting on a pillow and his head nearest the table. His feet would have extended away from the table. So, this woman came up behind Him and began to pour the expensive perfume on His feet and clean His feet with her own hair. It is interesting to note that Simon makes no attempt to stop her. This lends credibility to the idea that he had expected her arrival. Simon simply watched the woman, silently ridiculing Jesus for His apparent ignorance of her sinful state.

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” – Luke 7:39 NLT

Simon judged Jesus. He condemned Jesus for failing to recognize this woman as unworthy to be in their presence. But Simon failed to recognize that Jesus knew exactly what he was thinking. Jesus had quietly allowed the woman to do what she did, all the while knowing what was going through Simon’s mind and the woman’s heart. So, when she had finished, Jesus said to Simon, “I have something to say to you” (Luke 7:40 ESV).

Simon diplomatically refers to Jesus as a teacher, but in his mind, Jesus had lost all credibility. Jesus’ decision to allow Himself to be touched by this sinful woman had rendered Him unclean and unworthy of Simon’s respect. In Simon’s mind, Jesus was no more the Messiah than He was a prophet. He was just an itinerant Rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth who was a friend of the dregs of society.

But Jesus responded to Simon by telling him a story.

“A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” – Luke 7:41-42 NLT

Jesus returned the favor and set Simon up. He told him a simple story about two people who had sizeable debts forgiven. Neither individual was capable of clearing up their debt on their own. They were hopelessly and helplessly obligated to their lender and facing possible indentured servitude in order to fulfill their financial indebtedness. But to their surprise and joy, each had their entire debt forgiven. And Jesus asks the Pharisee which one of these individuals would have had the greater reason for gratitude and love.

Simon knows the right answer but seems a bit reluctant to share it. He seems to know he is being set up. But he responds, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt” (Luke 7:43 NLT). Simon could sense what Jesus was doing but there was nothing he could do about it. The answer was obvious and so was Jesus’ point. Simon was smart enough to know that the two characters in the story represented him and the woman. Simon fully understood that Jesus was inferring that he too was a sinner. And Jesus affirmed the correctness of Simon’s answer.

“You have judged rightly.” – Luke 7:43 ESV

In quoting Jesus’ response, Luke uses the Greek word krinō. This word has a variety of meanings. It can mean “pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong ” or “to pass judgment on the deeds and words of others.” It seems that Jesus is confirming two different things about Simon. He had been correct in his judgment of the woman as a sinner and he had given the correct answer to Jesus’ question. And in answering the question correctly, Simon had judged himself to be a sinner as well. In fact, he had unknowingly confessed his indebtedness to God and his inability to repay what he owed. He stood in need of forgiveness just like the sinful woman he so despised.

And Jesus confronted Simon for his insensitivity and judgmentalism by comparing his actions with those of the penitent and grateful woman.

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” – Luke 7:44-47 NLT

By her actions, the woman had shown her awareness of the overwhelming nature of her sin debt. She sacrificed her dignity and her livelihood in order to express her sorrow for her sin and her hope for forgiveness. She never said a word to Jesus but her actions clearly indicated how much she longed to be cleansed from her sin. But Simon had done nothing. He hadn’t even shown Jesus the common courtesies that any host would show a guest in their home. He had invited Jesus into his home but then failed to treat Him with the respect and honor He deserved as the Son of God. Simon didn’t feel as if he owed Jesus anything because he didn’t think he was a sinner in need of a Savior.

And Jesus reveals the ignorance of Simon’s self-righteous perspective.

“…a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” – Luke 7:47 NLT

In essence, Simon showed Jesus no love at all because he saw himself as owing nothing to God and in no need of forgiveness. But in a shocking display of His divine authority, Jesus turned to the woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48 NLT). And at this point, Luke reveals that there were others reclining at the table with Simon and Jesus. We have no idea who there were, but it is likely that they were peers of Simon. Their response to Jesus’ statement reveals their surprise and incredulity at His words.

“Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?” – Luke 7:50 NLT

They are appalled at Jesus’ audacity. He was claiming the right to forgive sins, something only God could do. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, adds fuel to the fire burning in their hearts by telling the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50 NLT). Jesus was clearly insinuating that it was the woman’s faith, not her sacrifice that had led to her salvation. It was not the expensive perfume or her selfless act of washing His feet that had led to her forgiveness and salvation, but her belief that He had the right and authority to forgive her insurmountable sin debt.

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

Which Is Easier?

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” Luke 5:17-26 ESV

With this story, Luke introduces a cast of characters who will play an essential part in the drama of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For the first time in his narrative, Luke reveals the presence of the religious leaders of Israel who have taken a keen interest in this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. Word of His exploits and growing popularity have reached all the way to Jerusalem, where the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel was headquartered. The Sanhedrin was essentially the Supreme Court of Israel, made up of 70 men and overseen by the high priest. The council was comprised of men from the two main religious/political parties of Israel: The Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of these men were also known as scribes or lawyers, whose job was to study, teach, and provide counsel on matters concerning the Mosaic Law.

Luke indicates that Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from villages throughout Galilee and Judea to get a first-hand look at Jesus. When he mentions that some came from Jerusalem, these were likely members of the Sanhedrin, sent on behalf of the high priest to gather intel on this miracle-working rabbi whose reputation was spreading like wildfire throughout the nation of Israel. Obviously, news of Jesus’ miracles had reached the ears of the high priest, but it was likely Jesus’ comments in the synagogue in Nazareth that had gotten his attention. Jesus had declared Himself to be the fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Isaiah 61:1-2. In doing so, Jesus was clearly claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. This would not have been the first time that someone had made that claim, but the fact that Jesus was performing miracles and garnering a massive following had the high priest concerned. The last thing he wanted was any trouble with the Roman authorities. He and his fellow members of the council served at the discretion of the Roman government and they were expected to help maintain law and order. The last thing he needed was some unknown rabbi claiming to be the Messiah of Israel and leading the people in an insurrection against the Roman authorities. If the Roman governor received news that there was someone claiming to be the King of the Jews and stirring up dissension among the people, he would not hesitate to use Rome’s military might to restore order. And if that happened, the high priest knew he and his compatriots would be held accountable for their failure to control their own people. So, he had a vested interest in what was happening in Galilee.

According to Mark, this scene took place in the town of Capernaum and at the home where Jesus had taken up residence. A large crowd of people, including the Pharisees and scribes, had gathered to hear Jesus teach. It was standing room only. And Luke adds that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal” (Luke 5:17 ESV). This statement clearly indicates that Jesus’ miracle-working power came from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He was still fully divine and had not lost any of the power inherent in His position as the Son of God, but during His time on earth, He had chosen to live in full submission to the Spirit’s power and presence. In doing so, He modeled the Spirit-filled life that His followers would experience after His death and resurrection.

Luke’s mention of the Spirit’s power to heal was meant to set up what happens next. A group of men arrived, carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet. They attempted to gain access to the house but were unable to enter because of the crowd. So, they used the outside stairs that led to the roof, where they cut a hole and lowered the man down into the room where Jesus was speaking. Their efforts could not have gone unnoticed. Debris from the ceiling fell into the room and the paralyzed man was slowly lowered by ropes until he lay before Jesus and His dumbfounded guests. Each of the gospel authors comments that Jesus “saw their faith” (Luke 5:20 ESV). He was struck by the extreme effort taken by these men so that their friend could come into His presence. They obviously believed that Jesus could and would heal him, so they had gone to great links to see that their friend was restored.

It was the sight of their faith that led Jesus to say, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20 ESV). This statement by Jesus should not be taken as proof that the man’s condition was somehow the result of sin. That was a common belief in those days. Illness of any kind was most often associated with a curse from God. Even poverty was considered a punishment from God due to some egregious sin that had been committed. The apostle John records an exchange between Jesus and His disciples concerning a man who had been blind since birth. They asked Jesus, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT). Even they believed that suffering was the result of sin.

But Jesus had something far more important in mind when He forgave the paralytic’s sins. He was deliberately focusing His attention on the presence of the Pharisees and scribes. He knew that they would have seen this poor man as nothing more than a guilty sinner who had only gotten what he deserved. Like the disciples, they would have speculated that this man had committed some sin worthy of his paralysis. So, Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal something about Himself that they were going to find not only surprising but repugnant.

The man came for healing, but Jesus offers him something far more significant: Forgiveness of his sins. Whether this man realized it or not, his greatest problem was not his inability to walk but his incapacity to stand before God free from condemnation for his sinful state. Just like everyone else in the room, including the scribes and Pharisees, this man was guilty of sin and worthy of death.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:23 ESV

the wages of sin is death – Romans 6:23 ESV

Jesus was pointing to the universal problem facing mankind: Unforgiven sin that creates an impenetrable barrier between man and a holy God. The man’s problem was not his paralysis but his unrighteousness. And the religious leaders of Israel stood equally guilty and condemned. But in their self-righteousness, they were appalled by Jesus’ words. Who was this upstart rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth and what right did He have to absolve anyone of their sins. That was the sole prerogative of God alone.

“Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Luke 5:21 ESV

And that was exactly Jesus’ point. He knew His words would light a flame in the hearts of these religious leaders and He also knew what they were thinking as they debated among themselves. Jesus had always planned to heal the paralytic, but He used the opportunity to reveal something far more important about His identity than His ability to cure diseases.

“Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Luke 5:22-24 ESV

Jesus wanted them to understand that His miracles were meant to be evidence of His identity. He was the Son of God and had proven it repeatedly by His displays of supernatural, Spirit-enabled power. And Jesus points out that anyone could say, “Your sins are forgiven you” because there would be nothing to prove the veracity of their words. Forgiveness of sins can’t be seen. But in order to prove that He had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus ordered the man to “rise, pick up your bed and go home.” He back up His authority to forgive sins by exhibiting His power to heal.

At the words of Jesus, the man experienced immediate and complete healing. His paralyzed body was suddenly rejuvenated and restored to wholeness. And he proved it by jumping up, gathering his mat, and walking home by his own power – glorifying God as he went. As expected, the crowd was blown away by what they witnessed. They were dumbfounded by the entire affair and could only respond by glorifying God. But it will soon become clear that the religious leaders were less enthusiastic about what they had seen that day. Mark records that they considered Jesus to be guilty of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. In their minds, His claim to be able to forgive sins was nothing less than a declaration of His equality with Yahweh. And they were right. That was exactly what Jesus was claiming, and He had backed it up by performing a miracle that left a paralyzed man fully healed and completely forgiven.

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

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

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

Hope for the Hopeless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Paul adds the good news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Love of Darkness

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
    his sin is kept in store.
13 The pangs of childbirth come for him,
    but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
    at the opening of the womb.

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
    I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
    O Sheol, where is your sting?
    Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

15 Though he may flourish among his brothers,
    the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come,
    rising from the wilderness,
and his fountain shall dry up;
    his spring shall be parched;
it shall strip his treasury
    of every precious thing.
16 Samaria shall bear her guilt,
    because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword;
    their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
    and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:12-16 ESV

The problem was not that Israel had sinned. God had fully expected them to do so and had made ample preparations for that inevitable prospect. The entire sacrificial system was based on the knowledge that God’s people would sin and was intended to provide them with a means of receiving atonement, forgiveness, and a restored relationship with Him. But the Israelites had become guilty of unrepentant sin. They had chosen to worship other gods, in direct violation of God’s commands. And they repeatedly refused to repent of their sin of spiritual adultery. Despite the warnings of God’s prophets, the Israelites continued to forsake Yahweh and offer their sacrifices, affections, and allegiance to false gods. This left them living in a state of unrepentant sin for which their many sacrifices provided no atonement or forgiveness.

God wanted to redeem, forgive, and restore them, but their unwillingness to repent made that impossible. He had promised to forgive their sins – if they would only repent.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

But God compares His stubborn people to an infant that refuses to go through childbirth. The mother goes through intense labor pains, attempting to bring her new baby into the world, but the child “resists being born” (Hosea 13:13 NLT). This fictitious scene is meant to expose the absurdity of Israel’s actions. Like a baby that chooses to remain in the comfortable and familiar environs of the womb, the Israelites had chosen to continue in their lifestyle of sin and apostasy.

The moment of birth has arrived,
    but they stay in the womb! – Hosea 13:13 NLT

God had great things in store for them – if they would only repent. He wanted to bless them with abundant life and all the benefits that would come with living in obedience to His just and holy commands. But they refused to repent. And because they refused to repent, the number of their unforgiven sins had increased exponentially, leaving them with a growing debt that could only be paid through death and destruction.

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
    but he who pursues evil will die.
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those of blameless ways are his delight. – Proverbs 11:19-20 ESV

For the wages of sin is death… – Romans 6:23 ESV

But despite God’s desire that His people repent and return to Him, He is determined to punish them for their wickedness. He cannot turn a blind eye to their sin and simply act as if they have done nothing wrong. And while He is a loving, gracious, and compassionate God, He is also just and holy, and obligated to punish the iniquities of men. So, He asks a series of rhetorical questions:

“Should I ransom them from the grave?
    Should I redeem them from death?” – Hosea 13:14 NLT

And then God answers those questions with a clear declaration of Israel’s coming destruction.

“O death, bring on your terrors!
    O grave, bring on your plagues!
    For I will not take pity on them. – Hosea 13:14 NLT

This time, they would receive no rescue from God. He would not intervene on their behalf and prevent the inevitable consequences for their sins. They would pay, and they would pay dearly. But they could have escaped the consequences of death and the grave if they would have only repented and returned to God in humble contrition. Had they only been willing to confess their sins, He would have been faithful and just to forgive them. The apostle John points out the reality of that divine response to man’s humble act of repentance.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

It is interesting to note that, centuries later, Jesus Christ would appear on the scene in Israel, preaching the same message of repentance. Matthew records how Jesus began His earthly ministry by fulfilling the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

“…the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:16-17 ESV

Despite Israel’s continued transgressions and ongoing refusal to repent, God would send His own Son to earth preaching a message of repentance to all those who were willing to listen and obey. But like all the other prophets before Him, Jesus would find His Israelite audience to be resistant to His message. They would be attracted by His miracles and curious about His identity, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He could forgive their sins. In his gospel account, the apostle John reveals that the Jews refused to receive Jesus and His message of repentance.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

And John goes on to reveal that Jesus was sent by God in order to offer sinful mankind a way of receiving forgiveness rather than condemnation. Jesus was the gracious gift sent by God the Father that could provide all those living under the condemnation of death with a means of atonement, forgiveness, and redemption.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:17-19 ESV

Even in Jesus’ day, things had not changed. The people of Israel still loved the darkness rather than the light. Like an infant clinging to the familiar darkness of the womb and refusing to be born into the light of day, the Israelites were stubbornly holding on to their lifestyle of sin and refusing to step into the light of God’s forgiveness.

God would punish the northern kingdom of Israel for its refusal to repent. He would send the Assyrian army to destroy the capital city of Samaria and take tens of thousands of its citizens into captivity.

The people of Samaria
    must bear the consequences of their guilt
    because they rebelled against their God.
They will be killed by an invading army,
    their little ones dashed to death against the ground,
    their pregnant women ripped open by swords.” – Hosea 13:16 NLT

These words sound so harsh and barbaric to our modern sensibilities. They paint a portrait of God that we find unattractive and antithetical to our understanding of Him as a loving, gracious, and compassionate God. But we sometimes fail to understand that He is a holy and just God who cannot tolerate sin. His righteousness requires that He deal justly and decisively with all sin. But the truly amazing thing is that God had a plan in place that would deal with the deadly impact of sin and provide sinful mankind with a gracious and totally undeserved plan of escape. And it would be made possible through the gift of His Son. The apostle Paul reminds us of the wonderful secret regarding God’s plan of redemption.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NLT

The Israelites would be punished for their sin. They would face the inevitable consequences of death and the grave. But God was not done. He would preserve a remnant of His people, and through that remnant, He would send His Son. Jesus, the Son of God, would be born into the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham, and as a descendant of David. He would be sent by God to be the Savior of the world, offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind and as a means of receiving a restored relationship with a holy and just God. As the apostle Paul so aptly put it:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

While Israel clung to the womb of sin and darkness, Jesus, the light of God’s glory, was born into the darkness of a sinful world in order to provide the gracious gift of God’s redemption and restoration.

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