Imitate God

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV

Imitate God. At this point in his letter, Paul issues a lofty and seemingly impossible call to action. And yet, that’s been the theme he has been expressing from the very beginning.  what Paul has been suggesting throughout his letter. In the opening lines of chapter one, Paul reminded his readers that God had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” so that they might “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, that they might by holy as He is holy. He prayed that their hearts would be enlightened, so that they might “know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV). Paul wanted them to understand that God had a future in store for them that included their glorification. The day was coming when they would be sin-free and fully righteous. And he assured them of the security of that future by declaring, “God, being rich in mercymade us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 5-6 ESV). 

There had been a time when they had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). They were sons and daughters of God and, as such, they were to emulate and imitate their Heavenly Father. That is why Paul so strongly stressed their new relationship with God.

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19 ESV

As members of the body of Christ, they were being “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). It was through the mystery of the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). And Paul’s prayer was that they would understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT) and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

Paul had commanded the Ephesians: “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT). According to Paul, God had identified the Ephesian believers as His own by placing His Spirit within them (Ephesians 4:30). So, they were to conduct their lives in such a way that they accurately reflected their status as God’s children.  And the greatest expression of their new divine nature was a life marked by Christ-like love.

 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT

Jesus had imitated His Father. In fact, Paul described Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). And yet, thought Jesus was fully God, He “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). In doing so, Jesus displayed His godly character. He obeyed the will of His Father by displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of His Father.

He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Jesus always did exactly what His Father commanded Him to do. He gained strength from doing His Father’s will. That’s why He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He told the Pharisees, “I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT). He declared that He had come down from heaven to do the will of the One who had sent him (John 6:38). In His humanity, Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to imitate God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 ESV

God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). And Jesus laid down His life willingly, not under coercion.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

He was the visible, tangible expression of God’s love. He imitated God by loving as God loved. And Paul calls the Ephesians to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). In a sense, Paul is stating that Christ-likeness equals godliness. To be like the Son is to be like the Father. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, because they are one.

But Paul wants his readers to know what imitating God looks like in everyday life, and he does so by listing those characteristics that display ungodliness.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. – Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT

People who display these kinds of qualities don’t look like God. Immorality, impurity, and greed are signs of godlessness, not godliness. They mark the lives of the unrepentant and unredeemed. They are diametrically opposed to a life of selfless, sacrificial love. Immorality involves lust – the desire to satisfy and fulfill selfish passions at the expense of others. Impurity has to do with moral and physical uncleanness. It describes the lives of the unsaved Gentiles.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

And greed or covetousness is an insatiable desire for that which has been forbidden by God. In the end, it is a worship of self, which is why, in verse 5, Paul ties covetousness closely to idolatry. To covet another man’s wife is to believe that you deserve what belongs to another. Your passions and preferences take priority over the needs and desires of others. But Paul boldly and unapologetically states that “everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). Those whose lives are marked by selfishness and self-indulgence were never really redeemed by God. They fail to display the divine nature that Jesus died to make possible. And their unrepentant behavior provides proof that they are unredeemed and still living as enemies of God. And this was not the first time Paul issued this warning against the unrighteous. He wrote the very same thing in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

And he repeated the same warning to the church in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Paul is not threatening Christians with the loss of their salvation. He is simply emphasizing the expectation of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will produce tangible evidence of a salvation in the form of increasing sanctification or Christ-likeness. The true believer will experience a supernatural transformation of life that shows up actions and attitudes. Their lives will model the character of Christ and, in doing so, will imitate their Heavenly Father.

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.

 

Live Like Who You Are

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Paul has made perfectly clear his expectation of the Ephesian believers. They were to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). He was demanding that they display the kind of maturity that accompanies faith in Christ. Through the efforts of faithful apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, they had been equipped to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11). And they were to busy about “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV), so that  each of them might increase in maturity and no longer respond like gullible and easily manipulated children.

And this led Paul to call the Ephesians to put their pasts behind them. They were no longer to live according to their former standards or reflect their old way of life.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. – Ephesians 4:17 NLT

Here, Paul is referring to those who outside the family of God. His use of the term, “Gentiles” is meant to include all those who have failed to place their faith in Christ. Many within the congregation to which Paul was writing were actually Gentiles or non-Jews. But his point was that even those who were considered Gentiles before coming to faith in Christ, were now members of God’s family. They had been adopted as His sons and daughters and were His beloved children. And, as such, they were expected to live out their new identity as rightful heirs of the kingdom of God.

Paul was declaring that their new relationship with God should reflect a new allegiance that manifested itself in a new form of behavior. And the apostle Peter promoted this radical change in lifestyle as well.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Notice the words that Paul uses to describe their former state as non-believers: Futile, darkened, alienated, ignorant, hardhearted, callous, sensual, greedy, and impure. Not exactly a flattering list of characteristics. But Paul isn’t emphasizing visible manifestations of outward behavior. He is stressing a way of life that begins in the heart and  flows out in tangible expressions of life change.

There is a link between verse 1 and verse 17 of chapter four. In both verses, Paul uses the Greek word peripateō, which can mean “to walk” or “to live one’s life.” In verse one, Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Then, in verse 17, he states, “you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

Essentially, Paul was telling the Ephesians that it was impossible to do both at the same time. You can’t simultaneously lead a life worthy of your calling and live hopelessly confused like the Gentiles do. It had to be one way or the other, and it was time for the Ephesians to make up their mind which way would characterize their lives. There was a real temptation for those Gentiles within the church in Ephesus to fall back into their old way of living. They were constantly surrounded by friends and family members outside the body of Christ whose behavior reflected their former lifestyle. And it was very tempting to look back on their pre-conversion life and view it through rose-colored glasses. But Paul wants them to see their past as what it was: Dark and far from hopeful. He reminds them that their lost neighbors are hopeless and helpless, trapped in an endless cycle of sin with no way of escape.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

But the Ephesians knew better. Their eyes had been opened to the truth and their hardened hearts had been softened by the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… – Titus 3:5-6 NLT

They had been transformed from sinners into saints, from enemies of God into His beloved sons and daughters. And they were no longer trapped in darkness and blinded to reality of their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior.

…he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

So, in keeping with their new status as God’s children, Paul commands them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception” (Ephesians 4:22 NLT). They were to treat their former way of life like an old filthy garment and discard it. But removal of their old nature was not enough. It needed to be replaced with something better.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

And Paul expands on this spiritual wardrobe change in his letter to the church in Colossae.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Out with the old, in with the new. That’s the gist of Paul is saying. The new lifestyle that God had made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son was to be far from business-as-usual. By redeeming the Ephesians believers, God had spared them from the judgment to come. Their sins had been forgiven and their eternal life had been secured for them by Christ. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was meant to act as a guarantee that God’s future promises would be fulfilled just as He had said. That’s why Paul encourages the Ephesians to “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT). Their ongoing transformation would be the work of the Spirit of God, not just the result of their own human effort.

When Paul speaks of putting off and putting on, he is not suggesting that the individual  believer has control over their own sanctification. He is not laying the heavy weight of spiritual maturity on the shoulders of the saints. But he is suggesting that they have a role to play. They must willingly submit to the Spirit’s leading as He lovingly guides their steps. That is why Paul used that Greek word, peripateō when addressing the believer’s relationship with the Spirit of God.

But I say, walk (peripateō) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.   – Galatians 5:16 ESV

In other words, the believer is to live their life in accordance with the Spirit’s leading. And Paul goes on to explain how every Christian has a daily to choice to either live according to the desires of their old nature or in obedience to the Spirit of God.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other – Galatians 5:17 NLT

By submitting to the Spirit, the believer experiences the ongoing renovation of their thoughts and attitudes. They see things differently. They think about things in a whole new way. Their perspective changes. Their outlook on life takes on a whole new light because they no longer live shrouded in a veil of darkness. They are new creations and they should act like. They have new natures and their lives should reflect that reality. They are sons and daughters of God and their lives should bring glory to their heavenly Father.

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

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

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

 

The Unifying Power of Faith

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.” Ephesians 4:1-8 ESV

Since Paul has asked that God will strengthen the Ephesians “with power through his Spirit” in their inner being (Ephesians 3:16), he now calls on them to exhibit the reality of that power in their daily lives. If Christ dwells in their hearts through faith and they are rooted and grounded in the love of God (Ephesians 3:17), then they should be willing to pursue a lifestyle that reflects their new identity and Spirit-empowered ability to live like Christ.

At this point in his letter, Paul is calling on his readers to become who they already are in Christ. In other words, their beliefs should begin to show up in the form of radically changed behavior. They had been transformed through their faith in Christ. What was true of the Corinthian believers was true for the Ephesians as well.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

And the Ephesians had the same capacity to live set-apart and distinctively different lives just as the believers in Rome did.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

Paul doesn’t hesitate to use his imprisonment as a form of not-so-subtle coercion. He reminds them once again that he is “a prisoner for the Lord” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV) and, as he made clear in chapter three, his imprisonment had been for their benefit (Ephesians 3:1). In a sense, Paul is saying, “You owe me!” But all the payback Paul desired was in the form of their altered behavior. He begged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).

The Greek word translated as “walk” is peripateō, and it means “to make one’s way, progress, to conduct one’s life.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “lead a life worthy of your calling.”

Paul was exhorting his audience to live their lives differently, in keeping with their new relationship with Christ. Because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, they had the capacity to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). The Spirit could help them grow in their knowledge of God and better grasp the significance of the love He had poured out on them. Their growing recognition of and appreciation for God’s great love should produce in them a desire to live in keeping with His will for their lives. And Paul leaves nothing up to their imaginations but clearly delineates what kind of character qualities their lives should reflect: humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity, and peace. Basically, Paul describes the character of Christ.

Paul’s reason for outlining these Christ-like character qualities is that he knows the Ephesians are struggling with the concept of unity. They were a house divided. Their relatively new congregation consisted of both Jews and Gentiles, and there was a natural animosity between these two groups. But Paul wanted them to understand that they had been unified by the shed blood of Christ. And because of having placed their faith in Jesus, the Gentile converts were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). The Jewish believers were not superior or to be considered super-spiritual because of their designation as sons of Abraham. Yes, they had been set apart as God’s chosen people and bore the sign of circumcision, but that did not guarantee them a right standing with God. They were just as guilty of rebellion against God as the Gentiles and could only be restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. It was just as Paul told the believers in Rome.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

Palu stressed to the Ephesians believers that there was “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (Ephesians 4:4 ESV). The Jews didn’t have a special dispensation or enjoy elite status as God’s people. They too had been required to place their faith in Christ and, as a result, had enjoyed the gift of the Holy Spirit. And it was the indwelling presence of the Spirit that was proof or evidence that they had been accepted by God and placed within the body of Christ, the church.

In the book of Acts, Luke records an occasion when Peter was sent by God to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. He was a Gentile who had come to believe in Yahweh, the God of the Jews. Cornelius received a vision from God commanding him to send for a man named Simon Peter. The very next day, Peter received his own vision from God, in which a sheet descended from heaven containing all kinds of unclean animals, all of which the Mosaic Law prohibited the Jews from eating. But in his vision, Peter heard a voice from heaven commanding him to “kill and eat them” (Acts 10:13 NLT). When Peter refused to do so, the voice cried out, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15 NLT). As if for emphasis, this vision appeared to Peter three separate times, leaving him perplexed and conflicted. And as Peter wrestled over the meaning of the visions, the servants of Cornelius knocked at his door.

These men shared with Peter the message that God had given Cornelius. It was then that Peter understood the meaning of his own perplexing vision.

“You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. – Acts 10:28 NLT

So, Peter accompanied the men back to Caesarea, where he met with Cornelius and his household. Peter told them, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36 NLT).

And Peter recalled how Jesus had gone “around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38 NLT), but was eventually put to death by the Jews. But He rose again on the third day and appeared to His disciples, giving them explicit instructions as to what they were to do in His absence.

“…he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT

And, even as Peter spoke these words to the Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius, something remarkable happened.

…the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.

Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. – Acts 10:44-48 NLT

Peter learned an invaluable lesson that day. God had opened up the door to the formerly unclean and unchosen Gentiles. They too could receive a new relationship with the God of the Israelites through placing their faith in Jesus Christ. And, when they did, they became adopted sons and daughters of God and received all the amazing benefits made possible through the atoning work of Jesus.

Paul wanted the Ephesians, both Jews and Gentiles, to understand that they all shared “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 ESV). They had all been saved by grace, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV).

Every one of the Ephesian believers had formerly been a prisoner of sin, held captive by the power of Satan. But they had been set free by the atoning work of Jesus Christ and now shared one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. When Jesus ascended back up to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all those who placed their faith in Him. And it was the gift of the Spirit that made possible the life of faith to which Paul was calling the Ephesians. They had everything they needed to walk in newness of life and in a manner worthy of their calling.

The Gentile believers in Ephesus were just as saved as the Jewish believers, and fully capable of living like Christ. The apostle Peter would have described them as “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). And he would have assured them that they possessed everything they need to live godly lives, even in an ungodly world.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 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.

 

God’s Mysterious and Magnificent Plan

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:1-13 ESV

Chapter three is a continuation of Paul’s thoughts regarding how Christ created “in himself one new man in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus provided a means by which both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God and to one another.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

It was “for this reason” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV), that Paul was writing his letter to them while under house arrest in Rome. His faithful efforts to fulfill the commission given to him by Christ, to take the gospel to the Gentile world, had resulted in his imprisonment. Paul informs his Gentile readers that his call by Jesus to take imprisonment in Rome was the direct result of his ministry to It was Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles that had resulted in his imprisonment in Rome.

It had all begun with a trip to Jerusalem, where Paul informed James and the other apostles of his work among the Gentiles.

…he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:19-21 NLT

Jewish converts to Christianity had been spreading vicious rumors about Paul, accusing him of belittling the Mosaic Law and banning the practice of circumcision. They presented Paul as a threat to Judaism and later accused him of violating the Mosaic Law by bringing a Gentile into the temple.

They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. – Acts 21:30-31 ESV

The Jews drew up plans to assassinate Paul, but he was removed to the city of Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for two years. Eventually he was summoned to appear before Festus, the Roman-appointed governor. Festus reviewed the charges against Paul and gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. But Paul, who was a Roman citizen, requested a hearing before the emperor.

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” – Acts 25:9-12 ESV

And Paul was eventually transported to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest while awaiting a trial before the emperor. It was from Rome that he wrote his letter to the Ephesians, and he informs them that he was a prisoner “on behalf of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV). Had he not faithfully fulfilled his commission and taken the gospel to the Gentiles, he would never have ended up in chains. The whole affair in Jerusalem would have never taken place.

But his entire mission had been to proclaim the mystery that had been revealed to him by Christ. It had been Jesus Himself who had ordered Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This inclusion of non-Jews into the family of God had been hidden from the prophets. They had never realized that it had always been God’s intention to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue in the household of faith. This “mystery of Christ” … “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations” (Ephesians 3:4, 5 ESV). Even Jesus’ disciples had been blind to the fact that Jesus was destined to be the Messiah of all nations, not just the Jewish people. And Paul clearly articulates the nature of this mystery.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6 ESV

And Paul declares that it had been his duty, as a minister of God, “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). He had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). And he had fulfilled that role faithfully. Even while under house arrest in Rome, he continued to carry out the mandate given to him by Christ.

For Paul, the church was the divine manifestation of God’s glory and grace. It was like a beautiful tapestry, woven from a variety of multicolored threads, all according to a pattern established by God Himself.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 3:10 ESV

“The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique.” – Cornelius R. Stam, Acts Dispensationally Considered

The church is not a man-made institution. It was not the result of human ingenuity or insight. It was the mysterious plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world and was revealed in the atoning death of His Son on the cross. Jesus had come to save the world, not just the Jewish people. He had been born a Jew, a son of Abraham so that He might fulfill the promise made to Abraham. It would be through the seed of Abraham that God would bless all the nations of the earth. And the Gentile believers in Ephesus were proof that God had kept that promise.

And Paul reminds his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ that, together, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12 ESV). The world was no longer divided between Jews and Gentiles. Because of the finished work of Christ, the believers in Ephesus were no longer “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV).

The mystery was no longer hidden. The manifold, multi-variegated wisdom of God was on full display in the church, the body of Christ. And in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he was given of this multi-ethnic, cross-cultural assembly standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

This was how Paul viewed the church, even in his day. And he was honored to be suffering on its behalf. So, he begged the Ephesian believers to view his imprisonment as a blessing, not a curse. They had no reason to be ashamed and he had no cause for regret. It was all part of the mysterious and magnificent plan of God.

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

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

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

 

But Now…

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV

Paul was addressing a congregation that was likely comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity but, because of its location in Ephesus, there was likely a much higher percentage of non-Jews in the fellowship. And at this point in his letter, Paul focuses his attention on those whom he calls “Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11 ESV). He is not using the term “flesh” (sarx) to refer to their sinful natures but as a designation of the physical characteristics that differentiate them from Jews. Not only did Jews and Gentiles have distinctively different physical characteristics, but Gentile men were uncircumcised. Paul even points out that Jews, who bore the sign of circumcision that had been ordained for them by God, derogatorily referred to all Gentiles as “the uncircumcision.”

Among the Jews, the rite of circumcision had been faithfully practiced ever since the day God had prescribed it to their forefather Abraham.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For the Jews of Paul’s day, circumcision had become a point of pride because it “marked” them as God’s chosen people. They viewed circumcision as a badge of honor that separated them from the rest of the nations of the world. It was a physical “sign” of their unique status as those who had been set apart by God as His prized possession.

Prior to the coming of Jesus, the focus of God’s favor seemed to have remained upon the Jewish people. They were still considered the apple of His eye and the designated recipients of His covenant blessings. But for generations, they had lived in open rebellion to His will and in violation of His law. Even Jesus said of His fellow Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT). Yet, despite their disobedience, God remained committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. – Genesis 17:7 ESV

But with the coming of Jesus, God began to do a new thing. Jesus was born a Jew and began His public ministry by proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom to His own people. But as the apostle John records, the reception Jesus received from His fellow Jews was less than enthusiastic.

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

From the moment Jesus was born, He had been ordained by His Heavenly Father to be the “offspring” of Abraham who would fulfill God’s promise to bless the nations. Jesus had been sent to the Jews, but His message of repentance and reconciliation had always been intended for all mankind. At one point, He revealed to His Jewish disciples that His coming death would be for the benefit of all men, not just those of the circumcision.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 NLT

And Paul wanted the Gentiles in his audience to grasp the significance of their former status as uncircumcised outsiders. They had not been part of God’s chosen family. Paul reminds them that they had been “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Their pre-salvation condition had been dire and hopeless. As Gentiles, they were separated from Christ, the Messiah of Israel. They were not beneficiaries of the covenant promises. They were considered unclean and unholy outsiders who were unworthy of the blessings that God had promised to the seed of Abraham. 

Yet, with two simple words, Paul reminds them of the marvelous transformation that had taken place in their lives.

But now…

Something incredible had taken place. They were no longer separated, alienated, estranged, hopeless, and godless. The great chasm that had once existed between them and God had been removed. They had “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). Even though uncircumcised, they had been welcomed into the presence of God because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had become the Redeemer and Savior of all men. Not only had Jesus made it possible for sinful humanity to be restored to a right relationship with God, but He had arranged a way for Jews and Gentiles to live as brothers and sisters within the family of God.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. – Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT

For Paul, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus had eliminated the former burden of trying to keep the law as a means of attaining a right standing with God. He had come to understand that the law had never been intended by God to produce righteousness in men. In fact, in his letter to the Romans, Paul asserted that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). 

Paul knew that, like circumcision, the law had become a point of pride among his fellow Jews. They viewed themselves as more righteous because they had been given the Mosaic Law as a guide to living. But what good was the law if it was not obeyed? What good was the rite of circumcision if it didn’t result in a set-apart life? That’s why Paul asserted that ethnicity, physical markers, and outward observance of religious rules were not the signs of righteousness. It was a changed heart.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:25-29 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another.

Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. – Ephesians 2:16 NLT

Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God created “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 NLT). There was no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. There were only those who were saved and those who were lost. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience could rejoice in the fact that they had been brought near to God through faith in Christ. And the Jews in his audience could rest in the fact that they no longer had to try and earn their right standing with God. It had been accomplished for them by Christ. And Paul sums it all up with the good news that “all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:17 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.

 

The Mysterious Ministry of Spiritual Maturity

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:24-29 ESV

As a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there were times when Paul found his ministry to be difficult, but he was pleased to be able to suffer on behalf of His Lord and Savior. He viewed the trials and tribulations that accompanied his mission to be in keeping with the suffering experienced by Christ as He carried out His own earthly mission. Paul was well-acquainted with suffering. In fact, he wrote his letter to the Colossians while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the Emperor. He was able to share with the believers in Corinth a long and far from exhaustive list of painful encounters he had endured as a messenger of the gospel.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.  – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

But Paul wasn’t complaining about his lot in life. No, far from it. He was expressing his right to be treated as a legitimate spokesman for Jesus Christ. Like His Savior, Paul had faced a barrage of persecutions and personal attacks and, on top of all that, he had been forced to carry “the daily burden of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28 NLT). He was a faithful shepherd and caretaker for the flock of Jesus Christ who took his role seriously and faced persecution joyfully.

I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” – Colossians 1:24 ESV

Paul saw his sufferings as an opportunity to experience in some small measure “Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24 ESV). He was eternally grateful for the pain that Jesus endured on his behalf so that he might be freed “from this life that is dominated by sin and death” (Romans 7:24 NLT). And Paul was more than willing to suffer “for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24 ESV). It was the least he could do.

Paul understood that he had been made a minister of the gospel and given the responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. His job, while far from easy, was accompanied by great joy because he was able to witness firsthand the transformative nature of the message of salvation. Paul states that his message to the Gentiles was a mystery to God’s chosen people, the Israelites. The people of Israel had no concept that their long-awaited Messiah would be the Savior of the entire world, not just their own people. Even the disciples of Jesus had found it difficult to watch Him minister to Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, and even Romans. They had no category in their concept of the Messiah that accommodated a ministry to the Gentiles and yet, Jesus had told them, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:14-16 NLT).

This mystery had remained hidden for generations and had not been revealed until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Even on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they began to minister to those who had gathered in Jerusalem for the annual feast. And the crowd was made up of  “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5 ESV). Luke goes on to describe them as “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV).

The crowd consisted of native Jews as well as converts to Judaism from a wide range of nations and ethnic groups. And when they heard the gospel message presented by Peter, they responded en masse.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 ESV

Many of those individuals who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost would return to their native countries, carrying the gospel message with them. And the apostle Paul would later join their forces and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the Gentile world. On his missionary journeys, he would encounter converts to Christianity who had heard the message of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone from their converted friends and neighbors. As Paul later told the believers in Ephesus, the mystery of Gentiles being grafted into the family tree of Abraham had been revealed and was making an impact on the world.

God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles. As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. – Ephesians 3:2-5 NLT

God had always intended to redeem people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. His Son would be the Messiah of Israel, but as God had promised Abraham, his offspring would prove to be a blessing to the “nations.”

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

Jesus, a son of Abraham, had been the fulfillment of that promise. Paul made that point perfectly clear to the Gentile believers in Galatia.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:9-11 ESV

It was through Christ, a Jew, that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14 ESV). And Paul was proudly declaring that message of hope to the Gentile world and gladly enduring suffering in order to do so. It was his privilege and honor. Jesus had died to make salvation possible, so the least Paul could do was suffer to make it available and accessible. And Paul wanted the Colossian believers to know that their hope was based on the reality of Christ’s presence within them. He had died, been raised to life, and now was seated at the right hand of God the Father. But following His ascension, Jesus had sent the Spirit of God to indwell His followers. In that sense, Jesus would not only be with them, but in them.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 NLT

Paul’s life mission was to proclaim this life-altering mystery of  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). And he did so, “struggling with all his energy,” knowing that “he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29 ESV). And Paul’s ministry and message were comprised of both warnings and teachings. There were dangers to be avoided and lessons to be learned. There were false teachers who could undermine the hope of the gospel and there were constant temptations that could derail and diminish the witness of God’s people. Paul’s goal for the Colossian believers was nothing less than spiritual maturity. He would not settle for mediocrity or partial transformation. Since glorification was the ultimate goal of salvation, Paul remained committed to the ongoing sanctification of all those under his care. His lifelong objective was to one day be able to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). That lofty goal will never be achieved in the believer’s lifetime but we have a firm promise from God that it will take place one day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 NLT

According to Paul, it is inevitable and unavoidable because it is the work of God.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 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.

 

We’re In This Together

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV

Peter spoke to his audience, not so much as individuals, but as a corporate community. In verse two he addressed them as “newborn infants,” using the plural designation rather than the singular. Together, they represented a collection of “born again” people who all shared a common bond as the children of God. And it was together that they were to “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). The walk of faith is not a solo sport, but a community event in which God’s people engage in a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with one another. And Peter emphasizes the communal nature of that relationship by switching to a building metaphor.

Each believer shared a common story. They had come to faith in Jesus “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). It was their individual relationships with Jesus that bonded them together into one family in which they shared God as their Heavenly Father. These people probably came from different economic, social, and even ethnic backgrounds. Yet, they each had come to Jesus “the living cornerstone of God’s temple,” who was “rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor” (1 Peter 2:4 NLT).

Jesus was the foundation of their shared faith story. Their new lives were being built upon and around Him. A cornerstone was a massive piece of cut stone that, when put in place, established the pattern for all the other stone to come. It provided a guide for the builder, determining the right angles necessary for laying perfectly perpendicular rows of stones. Without the cornerstone, the walls could become easily misaligned, leaving the final structure unsightly and even unsafe for use.

But Peter describes his readers as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT). At one time, each of them had been an unfinished, rough-hewn stone. But God had chosen and carefully prepared them to fit into the plan for His holy temple. They were in the process of having their rough edges smoothed away. Their shape was being reformed by the Builder, so that they might become a seamless and integral part of God’s glorious House. Peter’s point seems to be that you can’t build a house with a single stone. Even Jesus Himself was the “cornerstone” and not the house itself. And while it is true that every believer has the Holy Spirit living within them, Paul pointed out that it is the collective body of Christ that forms the temple of God.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT

Back in verse nine of 1 Corinthians, Paul declared to the believers in Corinth: “You are God’s building.” Then in verse 17, he re-emphasizes their collective status as God’s temple.

God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:17 NLT

And Paul used this same building metaphor when writing to the believers in Ephesus.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying.

Together, we are his house…

We are carefully joined together

We are being made part of this dwelling where God lives…

Paul is stressing our unity and shared sense of identity and purpose. The temple was the place where God’s glory dwelt, and as His “spiritual house,” we serve as the dwelling place of His presence and power in this day and age. This spiritual structure, like the Old Testament temple, is meant to be the place where the priests of God mediate on behalf of the people of God. In this holy place, sinners can discover the grace of God and receive cleansing from their sins. The church, the body of Christ, is to be the place where the condemned can find full acquittal for their sins. They are the messengers of God’s gracious act of redemption made possible through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. It is the place where the holy priesthood “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). Peter is not inferring that additional blood sacrifices must be made to atone for sin, but that the church was to be a place marked by selfless and sacrificial service to God. That’s exactly what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome.

I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

This is the same thought that Paul had expressed earlier in the same letter.

…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 NLT

After stressing the communal aspect of their faith and their corporate status as God’s dwelling place, Peter returned to the metaphor of the cornerstone. Quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22, Peter discloses that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus had been the cornerstone whom God had promised, but the Jewish people ended up rejecting Him. They set aside the One who had been destined to be the source of their hope and salvation. They cast Him aside like an ill-formed stone, refusing to recognize Him as “chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6 ESV). And quoting from another Old Testament passage (Isaiah 8:14), Peter makes the sad assessment that the Jews had ended up turning the cornerstone into “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8 ESV). The One who could have offered them salvation became a cause of their stumbling and eventual fall.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV). Because Jesus didn’t appear in the form they were expecting or produce the outcome they were anticipating, they stumbled over Him. And Peter points out the cause of their fall.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. – 1 Peter 2:8 NLT

John the Baptist had appeared on the scene, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 3:2 ESV), and Jesus had picked up on that same message when He began His earthly ministry. But the majority of the Jewish people refused to heed the message and ended up rejecting the King for whom they had long been waiting. And Peter pointed out that they met “the fate that was planned for them.”

But Peter had good news for the believers to whom he wrote his letter.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Peter borrows from Old Testament imagery that was most often associated with the people of Israel. Because they had rejected the cornerstone, the message concerning the good news of the Kingdom was taken to the Gentiles. And when they accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, they became the chosen people of God, His royal priests, a holy nation, and His chosen possession. And Peter stressed the amazing nature of this transformation in their status. They had once been living in darkness, but God had graciously called them out and exposed them to the wonderful light of life – His Son.

And Peter goes out of his way to remind them of the staggering implications of their spiritual rags-to-riches story. And, once again, he uses an Old Testament passage, most often associated with the people of Israel to make his point.

Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.  – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT

The apostle Paul provides another reminder of this remarkable and undeserved transformation that has taken place in the life of every believer.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

And as Peter will point out, that transformation should produce a complete renovation of our character and conduct.

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.

 

Living With the End in Mind

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

It is believed that Peter wrote this letter sometime around 64 A.D., and most likely while residing in Rome. This fisherman from the little village of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of the Sea Galilee, had come a long way. Three decades had passed since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. During that time, Peter had spent his life faithfully carrying out the commission Jesus had given to him and his fellow disciples. Immediately after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter had proven to be a powerful witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching boldly to the Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. – Acts 2:22-24 NLT

His message proved to be convicting and convincing, leading to the conversion and baptism of more than 3,000 individuals. Through the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, this man who had denied even knowing Jesus had been transformed into a bold and unapologetic messenger of the Kingdom of God. He would become one of the leading figures in the New Testament church, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Yet, as he wrote this letter, Peter was nearing the end of his life and, according to the words of Jesus, his own martyrdom.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” – John 21:18-196 NLT

According to the oral traditions of the early church fathers, Peter was put to death during the reign of Emperor Nero, and his manner of death was crucifixion. But it is believed that he chose to be crucified upside down, deeming himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord and Savior. To his death, Peter remained a faithful follower of Jesus, dedicating his life to the proclaiming of the gospel but also to the ongoing edification of all those who came to faith in Christ. It was to that purpose he wrote this letter to the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

These people were living in difficult circumstances. They were most likely Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and were now suffering the unexpected consequences of their decision. Much to their surprise, the “good news” of Jesus Christ had produced some fairly bad outcomes. They were experiencing significant trials and persecution that had begun to produce doubt and despair. They were confused to find that their salvation had been accompanied by suffering. But Peter would remind them that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9 NLT).

So, as he opens up his letter, Peter attempts to refocus their attention on the core message of the gospel.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation – 1 Peter 1:3 NLT

Their problem was that they had taken their eye off of the prize. They had become obsessed with their current circumstances and had lost sight of the future hope that Jesus died to make possible. Jesus had died, not to give them their best life now, but to guarantee the hope of eternal life to come. His death and resurrection had made possible “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). That was to be their “great expectation.”

Peter’s letter is eschatological in nature. In other words, it focuses on the end times – the age to come. His readers were living in Asia Minor, but he wanted them to remember that they were “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11), whose real home was somewhere else. They were having a difficult time understanding all that was going on around them and happening to them. The predominant culture in which they lived was pagan and antithetical to their faith. Many of them were suffering oppression and ostracism. Because of their decision to follow Christ, they had become social pariahs, facing the rejection of both family and friends.

But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had a now, not yet aspect to it. Yes, when they had placed their faith in Christ, they had been immediately saved from their enslavement to sin and been provided full pardon and acceptance by God. But there was a future aspect to their salvation as well. And Peter reminded them that “God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:5 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus was the key to their salvation, but it would be His return that would fulfill its final phase. In the meantime, God was protecting them through His divine power. He would preserve them till the end. 

The trials they were suffering could do nothing to change the outcome of their salvation. Their current circumstances were a lousy barometer of God’s faithfulness and power. As the author of Hebrews wrote:

For God has said,

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

That’s exactly the message Peter was trying to convey. In fact, he provided his readers with some rather strange-sounding advice:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” –1 Peter 1:6 NLT

Peter’s counsel sounds eerily similar to the title of the 1986 song by the band Timbuk 3: “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” But to people who were undergoing intense personal persecution, his words must have come across as insensitive and unhelpful. They were having a difficult time seeing anything remotely bright about their future. The day-to-day affairs of life were weighing them down, and the constant pressures of living in a fallen world were taking their toll.

Sound familiar? It should. Because that is the all-too-familiar lot of every follower of Christ. Even now, we find ourselves wrestling with a steady diet of trials and tribulations that can leave us disheartened and disenchanted with the “good news.” A global pandemic, ongoing world strife, a steady decline in moral standards, and a growing anti-Christian sentiment have left many followers of Christ disillusioned and questioning the veracity of their faith. But Peter’s words are meant for us as well. He wants us to understand that “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). He encourages us to endure because the outcome of our faith will far outweigh any loss we may suffer in this life.

…when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT

The problem is that we live our lives as if this world is the end game. We mistakenly assume that Jesus died so that we might experience heaven on earth. We take His promise of abundant life (John 10:10) and turn it into a guarantee of a joy-filled, trouble-free existence right here, right now. And when He doesn’t deliver on our expectations, we begin to waiver in our faith and waffle in our commitment to His calling. But Peter would have us remember that our faith is meant to be focused on the end that God has in mind – “on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).

And like the believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia in the 1st-Century, we have not seen Jesus. Yet Peter states, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). We claim to believe in a man we’ve never seen. Yet we struggle believing in the future He promised to provide. And Peter reminds us that our trust in Him and our hope in the truthfulness of His promise will not go unrewarded.

The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:9 NLT

Peter was not negating or dismissing the reality of our suffering. He was simply refocusing our attention on the joy to come. Our time on this earth is temporary but our future is eternal. That is why the believer must live with the end in mind. Our inheritance is secure. Our destiny is assured. And, as difficult as things may get in this life, we can rest on the words of the apostle John.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 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.

 

Unexpected and Undeserving Guests

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” – Luke 14:15-24 ESV

At least one of the guests who heard Jesus’ parable about the wedding feast seemed to understand that He was actually talking about the kingdom of God. Perhaps he was only trying to show off his own spiritual savviness in front of the other learned and well-respected guests. He wanted everyone to know that he understood the meaning behind the parable. But did he?

His comment, while intended to make him sound erudite and informed, was actually missing the whole point of Jesus’ lesson. His rather innocuous statement probably had everyone in the room shaking their head in agreement, except Jesus.

“What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” – Luke 14:15 NLT

His words have an air of pompousness about them. In a sense, he is subtly including himself in the list of those who will be fortunate enough to be a guest at the table of God. He fully expects to be invited to dine with God Almighty in His Kingdom. After all, he had been on the guest list to attend the dinner party put on by the ruler of the Pharisees, so it only made sense that he would be one of the fortunate few to break bread with God.

It seems obvious that this man was not one of “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13 NLT) that Jesus had mentioned. He was most likely a well-respected member of the community, even perhaps a fellow Pharisee. This man was not from the lower rungs of the societal pecking order. Yet, Jesus had said that someone who truly loved God and others would invite the lowly and the despised to be guests at their dinner.

But this unidentified man seemed to believe that God had reserved seats at His banquet for those who had earned their way into His good graces. Like the Pharisees and scribes reclining around the table beside him, this man was convinced that he was one of those who had been blessed by God. He was self-assured and confident that there was a place reserved for him at God’s table. But Jesus used another parable to expose the flaws in the man’s logic.

“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’” – Luke 14:16 NLT

The man in the story is meant to represent God, while the servant is intended to play the part of Jesus, the faithful servant. Formal invitations have been sent out in advance to a select list of guests, inviting them to join the host for a wonderful feast. It seems from the context of the story, that no date had been given for the feast. So, when all the preparations were complete and the day of feasting finally arrived, the man sent out his servant to gather all the invited guests.

“But they all began making excuses.” – Luke 14:18 NLT

Jesus does not provide any kind of timeline for His story, so it’s impossible to know how much time had passed between the sending of the invitations and the announcement by the servant. Yet it appears that the invited guests had all but forgotten about the banquet. They had made other plans. And those excuses for not attending the feast ran the gamut.

“One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” – Luke 14:18-20 NLT

All three guests mention changes in their life circumstances. While the man had been busy preparing his elaborate feast, these people had gone on with their lives. One had purchased a tract of land. Another had acquired a team of oxen with which to plow his fields. And finally, another had “bought” himself a wife. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, a groom was expected to provide compensation to the bride’s father.

In biblical times, mohar (מֹהַר), whereby the groom bought his wife from her father (Gen. 24:53; Ex. 22:15–16; Hos. 3:2), was the accepted practice. It was then customary that the groom give the bride gifts, and that she bring certain property to her husband’s home upon marriage: slaves, cattle, real estate, etc. (cf. Gen. 24:59–61; 29; Judg. 1:14ff.; I Kings 9:16).

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

So, in all three cases, these men had made some kind of financial investment that prevented them from honoring the invitation they had received. In a sense, they allowed their recent procurements to take precedence over the feast.

It was the faithful servant who was tasked with informing the invited guests that the long-awaited day of the feast had arrived. He went from home to home informing them of the exciting news, but his words were met with nothing but excuses. No one accepted his invitation to the feast. And this part of the story must have left Jesus’ audience dumbfounded. They would have been appalled by the audacity of anyone who refused an invitation to what was obviously a significant event put on by an extremely wealthy and influential person. But what they failed to realize was that Jesus was talking about them. They were the invited guests in the story. They had received an invitation from God to join Him at the great feast in the kingdom.

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His treasured possession. He had set them apart as His own and had blessed them with His law, the sacrificial system, and the covenant promises. The apostle Paul, a Jew and a former Pharisee, clearly articulated the unique status enjoyed by the Jews, God’s chosen people.

They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 9:4-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe how the Israelites had turned down God’s invitation to rest in His power and provision.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. – Romans 9:31-32 NLT

Rather than trusting in Him, they had put all their hope in their ability to “purchase” their good standing with Him through good deeds. In a sense, they were turning down God’s invitation to the future banquet and filling their lives with the temporal pleasures of this world. Paul went on to explain:

For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:3-4 NLT

And, in His story, Jesus reveals that the host was furious with the unacceptable behavior of His ungrateful guests. So, the son was sent out again, this time to scour the streets of the city, in search of “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21 NLT). He was to extend an invitation to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), offering them an opportunity to dine with his father at the great feast.

The son did as he was told, but when he had completed the task he informed his father, “There is still room for more” (Luke 14:22 NLT). So, the father instructed him to go out and search for others, until every seat in the banquet hall was filled. And the father warned that all those who had turned down the original invitation would find themselves on the outside looking in.

“For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 NLT

And Jesus had made a similar statement after observing the faith of a Roman centurion. He declared, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Matthew 8:10 NLT), and then He added:

“I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:11-12 NLT

The Pharisees and scribes reclining at the table with Jesus had made it clear that they were not fans of His. They refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They categorically denied any claim He had to be the Son of God. They were the guests who had received an invitation to the banquet, but who refused to listen to the words of the faithful servant. Instead, they came up with excuses. They decided to go on with the everyday affairs of life, dismissing the gracious invitation of the Host and ignoring the pleas of His Son. And, as a result, rather than being blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God, they would find themselves as permanent outcasts from His presence.

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

Rejected By His Own

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:14-30 ESV

Unlike the first Adam who, along with his wife, fell prey to the temptations of Satan and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, Jesus resisted the tantalizing offers of the enemy. In doing so, Jesus proved that He was far more than just another man on a mission from God. He was the God-man, the incarnate Son of God. He was the Davidic heir who, as King of the Jews, had come to do battle with Satan and end his monopolistic rule over the earth. Jesus, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, successfully repulsed Satan’s repeated attempts to distract Him from His mission. Satan was fully aware that Jesus was the Son of God, and he used that knowledge in crafting his plan of attack. The enemy attempted to get Jesus to compromise His God-ordained orders through self-gratification, self-exaltation, and self-glorification. But Jesus refused. He stood firm in His commitment to the Father’s will and walked away victorious over the enemy. But the battle was far from over.

Still empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, Jesus made His way from the wilderness of Judea to the region of Galilee. Luke reports that, as Jesus passed through the towns and villages in the region, He taught in their synagogues. But Luke provides few details about what Jesus said or did on those occasions. In his gospel account, Matthew sheds a bit more light on Jesus’ actions and the impact He had on the people living in Galilee.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

News began to spread and the crowds began to grow. Jesus was developing a reputation and a following. And there’s little doubt that a big part of His attraction was the miracles He performed. But there was also a growing interest in His message. As Matthew records, Jesus was continually proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus had begun His ministry by echoing the words of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

When John the Baptist had declared that very same message, he had been in the region of Judea near the Jordan River, and Matthew records that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5 ESV). But now, Jesus had moved further north, where the people had not yet heard the news of the coming kingdom. Yet, as He began to proclaim the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, the people of Galilee knew exactly what He was talking about. They too had longed for its coming for generations. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had been praying for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, and now the news of His arrival began to spread. Reports of Jesus’ amazing miracles made their way from village to village. And the people began to question whether this stranger named Jesus might be the Messiah the prophets had talked about.

Eventually, Jesus made His way back to Nazareth, the town in which He was raised. News of His return would have been accompanied by the rumors of all that had happened in the surrounding towns and villages. For the people of Nazareth, all of this would have been a shock. They knew Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph. In all the years they had known Jesus, they had been given no reason to believe that He was someone special, let alone the potential Messiah of Israel.

Yet, upon His return, Jesus did what He had done in every town He had visited: He spoke in their synagogue. It’s likely that the local synagogue ruler invited Jesus to speak because he had heard the rumors about Him addressing the synagogues in other towns in the region. It was not uncommon for traveling rabbis or teachers to speak in the local synagogue. But when Jesus stood up to speak, He chose to read from the scroll of Isaiah, and He chose a particular passage: Isaiah 62:1-12.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

This was a well-known Messianic passage, and the crowd in the synagogue would have been quite familiar with it. They would have noticed that Jesus had left out an important part of the passage: “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). As Jews, their concept of the Messiah was one of deliverance and vengeance. When the Anointed One of God showed up, He would set the people of Israel free from their oppression by delivering a fateful blow to the Gentiles who ruled over them. They were expecting a King who would defeat the pagan enemies of Israel and re-establish the primacy and superiority of Israel on earth.

But Jesus stopped where He did for a reason and, rolling up the scroll, He took His seat in the synagogue. And Luke reports that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:20 ESV). They were waiting for some explanation. What was He going to say? Why had He read that particular passage? And Jesus didn’t leave them waiting long. He calmly stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). You can almost hear the audible gasp that came from the people as they heard Him utter those words. He was claiming to be the Messiah. This would have been a bold and shocking claim for anyone to make, especially someone they had known all their lives. But Luke reports that “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). Yet Matthew paints a slightly less favorable response.

When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Matthew 13:54-57 NLT

Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He knew He would have a difficult time convincing His own hometown of His identity as the Messiah. He responded to them by saying, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:23-24 NLT).

In a way, Jesus was using Nazareth as a symbol for the entire nation of Israel. As the apostle John wrote, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Here He was in His own hometown, and they refused to accept Him as who He was: Their Messiah and Savior. Which led Jesus to make a profound and somewhat surprising statement that left His audience offended. 

“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:25-27 NLT

Don’t miss what Jesus is saying here. First of all, He compares Himself to the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. His audience would have been highly familiar with these two men. But Jesus focused on two specific incidents involving these prophets of Israel and their interactions with two Gentiles: One a Sidonian widow and the other, a Syrian leper. Jesus infers that God seemingly overlooked the needs of Jews in order to minister to these two non-Jews. This unthinkable idea left His Jewish audience appalled and angry.

When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff – Luke 4:28-29 NLT

Keep in mind, these were His neighbors, the very people with whom He had spent His entire life. But as soon as Jesus placed a preference on Gentiles, they turned on Him like a pack of ravenous dogs.

What the people of Nazareth failed to understand was that their Messiah would be a Savior for all the people of the earth, including the Gentiles, whom they despised. And this bit of unexpected news didn’t fit their concept of the Messiah. They were expecting a Jewish Messiah who would wreak havoc on the pagan nations of the world, much as David did to the Philistines. They were hoping and longing for a Messiah who would deliver a devastating blow to their Roman occupiers and revive the Jewish state. There was no place in their concept of the Kingdom for Gentiles. And their anger with Jesus was so intense that they tried to kill Him. But Luke simply states that Jesus “passed right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30 NLT).

This would be the first of many attempts on Jesus’ life. But what sets this one apart is that it came from those who knew Him best. His own friends and neighbors tried to take His life. But it was just a foreshadowing of what was to come as, eventually, the entire nation of Israel would turn against Him.

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

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

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