To the Least of These.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

Matthew’s entire gospel has been centered around the kingdom of heaven and Jesus’ right to rule as the heir of David. And Jesus has spent a great deal of time trying to correct His disciples’ errant views of that kingdom. When the Messiah finally showed up, they fully expected Him to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and restore Israel to its former place of power and prominence. But Jesus had been out to change their perceptions regarding the kingdom. First of all, rather than sit on throne in David’s former palace wearing a golden crown on his head, He was going to hang on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns. His first coming was going to require His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to redeem, not reign. He had come to conquer sin and death, not Israel’s earthly enemies. He had come to restore men to a right relationship with God, not return Israel to its pre-exilic condition.

As His two parables inferred, Jesus was going to go away. He would die, be raised back to life, and then return to His Father’s side. But He would return one day. First, He would come for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

This event will usher in the period known as the Tribulation. With the removal of the church at the Rapture, the Holy Spirit, who indwells each and every believer, will be removed. The apostle Paul refers to this reality in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed… – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Jesus made it clear that only one thing kept the “man of lawlessness” from showing up. The Holy Spirit who indwells His church. When the church is removed at the Rapture, the restraining influence of God’s Spirit, in the form of God’s people, will allow the Antichrist to rise to power. The period of the Tribulation which will follow the Rapture of the church will be a time of unprecedented suffering, marked by unrestrained sin and unsurpassed rebellion against God. Jesus described this seven-year period in stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And at the end of the seven years of Tribulation, when Jesus returns to earth the second time, He will come as a conquering king. John describes His arrival in Revelation.

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

And He will judge al those who live on the earth at that time. The book of Revelation makes it clear that many will come to faith during the period of the Tribulation. In spite of the absence of the church, God will continue to show grace and mercy to the world, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to faith. Many of them will suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. All of them will be persecuted and have to endure the plagues, famines, wars, and cosmic upheavals God brings on the earth during those days.

But when Jesus finally conquers those in rebellion against Him, including Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet, He will judge all those on the earth. And that is what this passage is all about. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31 ESV). Notice the conditional nature of this statement. Jesus stated that His reign would begin with His second coming. It will be then that He sits on His glorious throne, not now. And one of His first acts as King will be to judge the nations.

He will gather all the nations, including Jews and Gentiles, and separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. And “he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:33 ESV). Then, Jesus will reveal how He made the determination between these two groups of individuals. He will make known the criteria for His judgment. To the group on His right, the sheep, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34 ESV). And He will tell them why they are going to inherit the kingdom. The word “for” could be translated “because,” and Jesus will explain that their judgment is based on their expressions of love for Him. He was hungry and they fed Him. He was thirsty and they provided Him with water. They had welcomed as a stranger. They had provided Him with clothes and visited Him while He was in prison.

But these people will wonder how they accomplished any of these things since Jesus was not even among them during the days of the Tribulation. And Jesus will explain that their treatment of others was an expression of their love for Him. So, Jesus was not teaching a form of salvation by works, but works that are a tangible proof of salvation. It is exactly what James discussed in his letter.

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 218 NLT

During the incredibly difficult days of the Tribulation, these people will show incredible faith by loving the unlovely, meeting the needs of the helpless and hopeless, protecting the innocent, and caring for “the least of these.” All at great risk to their lives. Their love for Christ will show up in their love for others. And Jesus makes it clear that their selfless, sacrificial actions were an expression of their faith and love for Him.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40 ESV

But what about the rest? How does Jesus address all those on His left? He flatly states: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 ESV). Then He tells them why.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” – Matthew 25:42-43 ESV

They showed no love to anyone. They sacrificed nothing on behalf of others. They ignored the needs of all those around them. And in doing so, they revealed their lack of love for Christ. Their actions gave proof of their sinful state. Their failure to love was evidence of their lack of faith in Christ. And Jesus makes the fate of both groups perfectly clear

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

As James wrote, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV). That truth applies today and it will apply during the Tribulation. Faith in Christ brings life change. It is tangible and transferable. Our love for Him should show up in our love for others. His sacrifice for us should instill in us a desire to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of others. And our lives of love will be the greatest evidience of our saving faith.

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.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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An Invitation-Only Event.

1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” –  Matthew 22:1-14 ESV

wedding feast

In this, the final of the three parables Jesus told on this occasion, He told the story of a king who prepared a wedding for his son. On the day of the wedding, the king sent his servants to escort all the invited guests to the festivities. But all those who had received the king’s gracious invitation refused to come. So, he sent additional servants, equipped with details concerning the feast king had prepared for them.

“Look! The feast I have prepared for you is ready. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” – Matthew 22:4 NLT

They were told that the king had them in mind when he prepared the feast. He had spared no expense in planning a magnificent feast just for them. But each of those who had received the king’s personal invitation to this very special occasion chose to ignore his kind offer. Instead, they found other, seemingly more important things to do with their time. They showed no interest in the king, his son or the feast that had been prepared on their behalf.

Amazingly, some of the invited guests showed their disdain for the king by verbally and physically abusing his servants, and even putting them to death. Obviously, they had never heard the age-old maxim, “Don’t kill the messenger.” Their violent treatment of the innocent servants of the king revealed their attitude toward him as their sovereign. They showed him no respect and refused to extend to him the honor associated with his title. They displayed no fear of retribution on the part of the king. Their actions revealed a total disregard for the king’s position and power.

But they were in for a big surprise. Upon hearing of their murder of his servants, the king ordered his army to destroy these people and burn their town. He accused them of being murderers and treated them accordingly. And the king made it clear that their actions had exposed their inherent unworthiness to be guests at the wedding feast of his son.

“The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” – Matthew 22:8 ESV

Their actions had disqualified them. But it wasn’t the fact that they had murdered the king’s servants. It was that they had refused his gracious and repeated invitation to be guests at his son’s wedding feast. They had placed no value in the king’s decision to include them as his guests to this invitation-only event.

By now, Jesus’ intent behind this parable should be clear. He was telling His disciples about the coming kingdom of God. The king is the parable represents God the Father. The king’s son is Jesus. The wedding feast is the marriage supper of the lamb, a future event described in Revelation 19.

Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19″7-9 ESV

And the original guests invited to the wedding feast represent the nation of Israel. God had extended His invitation to the Jewish people, sending His Son to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven. But as John records in his gospel, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Not only that, God had sent His prophets, years in advance of Jesus’ incarnation, and they had clearly told of the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people had been “invited” by the servants of God to be guests at His Son’s coming wedding feast. But the Jewish people had rejected the words prophets, even putting some of them to death. Jesus will later declare His sorrow over Israel’s rejection of Him.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matthew 23:37 ESV

In the parable, Jesus described the king’s decision to extend his invitation to others. He sent his servants to invite anyone they saw – good, bad or indifferent – to fill the banquet hall for his son’s wedding. Evidently, the king even supplied wedding clothes to these people, because they would not have had any. Having not been part of the original group invited to the wedding feast, they would not have had time to prepare for the ocassion. But, in spite of the king’s gracious provision of garments fit for a wedding, one man had the audacity to show up improperly dressed, having failed to put on what he had been given. He was promptly bound and thrown out.

So what’s the point? God had invited the nation of Israel into His kingdom. Over the centuries He had sent His messengers, the prophets, to the Jewish people, with His call to repentance, but they had refused God’s messengers, rejecting and even killing them. So Jesus told His listeners that God was going to deal harshly with that generation and with those of His own day. As a result, the invitation would be extended to any and all, a clear reference to the Gentiles. God would open up the invitation to those outside the Jewish community, even providing the proper “attire” for the wedding. Through His upcoming death on the cross, Jesus would clothe those who believed in Him with His own righteousness. He would replace their rags of sin with the white garments of righteousness, making them acceptable before God the Father. But if anyone tries to enter God’s Kingdom clothed in their own righteousness, they will be rejected.

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

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

An Equal-Opportunity Savior.

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. – Matthew 15:32-39 ESV

According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the region of Tyre and Sidon, where He had healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, and went to the region of Decapolis. The name of this area literaly meant “Ten Cities,” because it was based on an alliance form by ten cities located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. During Jesus’ day, these cities were predominantly Gentile and heavily influenced by the Greek culture. And it is most likely the Gentile character of the population that explains the disciples’ surprising behavior in this story.

For three days, the crowds had gathered around Jesus, many waiting their turn to receive healing from the hands of Jesus. Others were simply curious spectators who were drawn to the miracles of Jesus. Jesus, knowing that the people had grown hungry after three days in the desolate surroundings, expressed His concern to His disciples.

“I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.” – Matthew 15:32 NLT

At first glance, the response of the disciples seems to indicate a remarkable lapse in memory.

And the disciples said to him, Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” – Matthew 15:33 ESV

This is very similar to what Philip had said when Jesus had commanded the disciples to feed the 5,000.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” – John 6:5 ESV

it’s seems highly unlikely that the disciples would have forgotten the earlier miracle. After all, they had each walked away from that experience carrying a basket full of leftover bread and fish. But this circumstance was different. They were in a Gentile region on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In essence, they were in enemy territory and out of their comfort zone. The disciples were probably questioning the very fact that Jesus was performing miracles among non-Jews. And the thought of Him replicating what He had done for the Jewish crowds on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was impossible for them to consider. After all, they had heard Jesus tell the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 ESV). These people were non-Jews and, in the minds of the disciples, undeserving of Jesus’ compassion, let alone His miraculous feeding of them.

Recognizing His disciples reticence, but desiring to teach them yet another valuable lesson, Jesus asked them to report what they had in the way of food. Their meager supply included seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. This would have been their dinner. And the disciples could see what was coming. They had been through this drill before. But in this case, becaues of the location and the ethnic makeup of the crowd, they were not overly excited about the prospect of Jesus duplicating His earlier miracle. But Jesus took the loaves and fishes, broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute among the people. To appreciate the full import of this scene, it is essential to recognize the extreme hatred that the Jews held toward Gentiles. Just coming into contact with a Gentile could make a Jew ceremonially unclean. And here was Jesus commanding His disciples to distribute their food to a crowd full of impure and unholy Gentiles.

But that was the whole point of the miracle. These were Gentiles and yet, Jesus was doing for them exactly what He had done for the Jews. And Matthew records that the people ate and were satisfied. Their need was met by the Messiah. Their racial background and religious affiliations did not matter. Jesus’ compassion was non-discriminatory. Not only had He been willing to heal their infirmities, He had chosen to satisfy their hunger. And it’s interesting to note that Matthew records no response on the part of the people. They didn’t thank Jesus. They didn’t marvel at what they had just witnessed. They simply ate and then Jesus sent them away.

This is in direct contrast to the reaction of the Jewish crowd in Jesus’ earlier miracle. When they had seen what Jesus had done, they exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). And John went on to explain that they desired to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. They weren’t grateful. They were simply greedy and wanting to see Jesus put His miraculous powers to work on a permanent basis on their behalf. But Jesus had simply walked away.

The Gentiles had no Messianic hopes and expectations. They weren’t looking for a Savior or anticipating the arrival of the Son of David. And yet, much to the chagrin of the disciples, Jesus treated these Gentiles the same way He had done the Jews. He showed them compassion and He fed them.

All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). In these two miracles, Jesus had met the physical needs of the two crowds, filling their stomachs with food – and they had been satisfied. But in both cases, they had demonstrated no hunger or thirst for righteousness. Jews and Gentiles alike had come to Jesus in order to have their physical needs met, but they expressed no desire for or need of righteousness.

So much of what Jesus was doing was in order to teach His disciples. He was attempting to open their eyes to the reality of His real mission. Their eyes were focused on the here-and-now. They were still believing and hoping that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom and restore the Jewish people to power and prominence. But Jesus was trying to reveal that His was a spiritual kingdom and it would be all-inclusive, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, the rich and poor, men and women, so-called saints and the sorriest of sinners.

After the feeding of the 5,000, the crowds showed up the next day and Jesus exposed the motivation behind their seeking of Him.

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:26-27 ESV

Then, Jesus went on to explain:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” – John 6:47-48 ESV

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:53-54 ESV

Jesus was revealing new truth to His disciples. He was attempting to get their focus off the temporal and on to the eternal. Their perspective was limited. They had a myopic view of life that centered on themselves as Jews. They were looking for a reestablished Jewish kingdom, made up of God-fearing Jews and ruled by their Messiah. But Jesus came to do far more than improve their lot in life. He came to offer eternal life. And not only to Jews, but to all mankind. But it was going to take time for the disciples to recognize the eternal nature of His kingdom and the ethnic diversity of its citizens.

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

Great Is Your Faith.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. – Matthew 15:21-31 ESV

At the beginning of this chapter, Matthew presented an encounter between Jesus and a group of Jewish religious leaders who had traveled all the way from the capital city of Jerusalem to Galilee. The purpose for their journey had been to try to expose Jesus and His disciples as rebels and law breakers. They wanted to discredit Jesus and His ministry by accusing Him of teaching His disciples to disobey the tradition of the elders – the man-made rules and regulations passed own by the rabbis and religious scholars of Israel.

But their attempted assault on Jesus ended with Him accusing them of putting their own oral laws ahead of the written commandments of God. They were more concerned with outward appearances than they were with the inner condition of their hearts, and Jesus labeled them as nothing more than hypocrites or play actors. They were simply going through the motions, giving God lip service, but refusing to honor Him with their hearts. And their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah was the greatest proof of the condition of their hearts. Their verbal condemnation of Jesus and His disciples revealed the defiled nature of their hearts.

Now, Matthew reveals that Jesus left the predominantly Jewish region of Galilee and headed to Tyre and Sidon, on the coast of the Mediterranean. These two cities, while located within the land originally promised by God to the Israelites, were primarily occupied by Gentiles. This departure by Jesus from the land of the Jews to the land of the Gentiles is filled with symbolism and will provide Jesus with a unique opportunity to teach His disciples a powerful lesson about the kingdom of heaven.

As soon as they arrived in the district of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus and His disciples found themselves confronted by a Canaanite woman. This description is important, because it reveals her to be a descendant of the very people group who had occupied the land when Moses and the people of Israel had arrived from Egypt. The Canaanites were not only non-Jews, but pagans and the long-standing enemies of Israel. As Jews, the disciples would have had a strong hatred for this woman because of her ethnic background, and their animosity for her shows up quickly in the story.

Her purpose for confronting Jesus stands in direct contrast to that of the Pharisees and scribes. They were out to condemn Jesus, but she was looking for His help. She made her need known from the outset.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 ESV

It should not escape our notice that this woman referred to Jesus by His Messianic title: Son of David. Her she was, a Canaanite, acknowledging Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David. This woman had heard the rumors concerning Jesus and, even as a Gentile, had come to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And, most likely, she had heard about the miracles of healing Jesus had performed and sought to bring her own pressing need to Him, appealing to His mercy and compassion.

Her daughter was suffering from demon possession and she desperately desired that Jesus would use His miraculous powers to release her. But Jesus responded with silence. He said nothing. It seems that He was simply giving His disciples an opportunity to reveal their true opinions about this woman, and they did not disappoint. Annoyed by her incessant cries for mercy, they begged Jesus to send her away. And Jesus seems to have shared their view, telling the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 ESV). His somewhat caustic response must have made the disciples smile. As far as they were concerned, she was getting exactly what she deserved: Nothing. After all, she was a Gentile and, not only that, a despised Canaanite. In their minds she was no less than a dog in value and worth.

But the woman, persistent and undeterred by Jesus’ words, knelt at His feet and cried out, “Lord, help me.” She was determined. But, once again, Jesus responded in a way that must have brought great pleasure to the disciples., telling the woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He seemed to be confirming their own views of this woman, relegating her worth to that of a dog. But what was Jesus doing here? Why was His response to this woman so harsh?

It is important that we recognize the key players in this little scene. We have Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and His 12 Jewish disciples. They were each proud members of the house of Israel, the chosen people of God. They were descendants of Abraham and recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. But this woman was a non-Jew, a Gentile from a pagan people group who, for generations, had been a thorn in the side of the people of Israel. God had made it perfectly clear to Moses how the people of Israel were to have handled the Canaanites and other pagan people groups occupying the land of promise.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-6 NLT

But the Jews had failed to obey God. They never fully removed the Canaanites from the land, as this woman’s presence makes perfectly clear. And Jesus stressed that He had come to the house of Israel. He was the Hebrew Messiah, a descendant of Abraham and David. But, as we have seen, His own were methodically rejecting His claim to be their Messiah. The Jewish religious leadership saw Him as a renegade, not their Redeemer. The majority of the Jewish people, while enamored by His miracles, were not willing to recognize Him as their Messiah.

Yet, here was a Canaanite woman acknowleding Jesus as Lord and Messiah. And seemingly non-plused by Jesus’ responses to her, the woman simply said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 ESV). She didn’t take offense at Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny her own unworthiness. In fact, she was well aware that as a non-Jew, she had no right to come to the Jewish Messiah and beg for mercy. But her tremendous need drove her to do so. Her desperation overcame any feelings of unworthiness and undeservedness.

And notice what Jesus said in response: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28 ESV). This should bring to mind the words spoken by Jesus to Peter when he had stepped out of the boat and walked on the water, but began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter’s faith was little, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was great. Peter had doubted, but the woman had believed. And her faith was rewarded. Her daughter was healed.

Matthew follows this story with Jesus’ return to Galilee. As soon as Jesus and His disciples made it back into Jewish territory, they found themselves surrounded by crowds of people desiring to see Jesus perform miracles.

And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them – Matthew 15:30 ESV

But notice how Matthew describes the reaction of the people to what they witnessed. He simply says, “the crowd wondered.” They were filled with awe and admiration. And Matthew goes on to say that “they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31 ESV). But they did not acknowledge Jesus as lord. They did not refer to Him as the Son of David. There was no recognition of Him as their Messiah. And there is no indication of anyone expressing faith in Jesus. He provided them with healing, but they refused to worship Him as their lord and Savior.

Jesus was slowly revealing to His disciples that, in the kingdom of heaven, faith was far more important than heritage. Belief in Jesus as the Messiah was going to carry far more weight than membership in the Jewish race. Remember what John the Baptist had said to the Pharisees who had come to him seeking to be baptized.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:7-9 ESV

The kingdom of heaven was going to be an all-inclusive kingdom, containing people from all walks of life and from every tribe, nation and tongue. And Jesus was slowly revealing this important news to His disciples, preparing them for what was to come.

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

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

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

Impressive, Yet Offensive.

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. By all accounts, Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He would have been known and well-received. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness.

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. – Luke 4:16-17 ESV

And Jesus had read the following passage to those in the audience that day:

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.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And Jesus had followed up His reading of this familiar Messianic passage by stating, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This was an unapologetic claim by Jesus to be the Messiah. And Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). But they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew that, despite their marvel at what He had to say, they would never accept who He claimed to be. In fact, Jesus compared Himself to the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who were also rejected by the people of Israel. During the famine that God had decreed on the nation of Israel, there were many widows in the land, but Elijah had ministered to only one, and she happened to be a Gentile from Zarephath. And while “there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27 ESV). Jesus points out that, because of the stubbornness of the people of Israel and their refusal to listen to the words of God’s prophets, the mercy of God was shown to Gentiles.

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 4:28-30 ESV

The Jews didn’t like what Jesus had to say. Their marvel turned to violent hatred and they actually attempted to kill Jesus.

So, here was Jesus speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth yet again. And the people are still wrestling with their perception of who they believe Jesus to be with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. – Matthew 13:55-57 ESV

Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance to His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown to be just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their preconceived notions. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about was unlike the kingdom on earth they expected the Messiah to bring when He came. And so, they rejected Him.

At one point, they had been impressed with Jesus, but ended up being offended by Him. And it all hinged on their unbelief. They could not accept His claims to be the Messiah. But they also refused to tolerate His claims that they were in need of a Savior. Jesus had come to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they could see their true condition. He had come to preach a message of good news to the spiritually impoverished. He had come to tell those held captive by sin how to be set free. But the Jews did not like hearing that they were poor, blind, enslaved or in need. They were offended by Jesus’ accusations that they were sinners in need of a Savior.

“The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.” – John 77 NLT

So, rather than being redeemed by Him, they simply because offended with Him.

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

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

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

The Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

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

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

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

Unrepentant and Unforgiven.

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24ESV

This whole section of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to point out the Jewish nation’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. The primary focus of Jesus’ early ministry had been the region of Galilee. His sermon on the mount had taken place on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The miracles chronicled by Matthew up to this point have all taken place in the surrounding area. Even Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations, was located in Galilee. But in spite of all the miracles He had performed and the message He had proclaimed, the people had refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They were more than content to watch Him heal and cast out demons. They enjoyed the perceived benefits of His power, but had no intention of recognizing Him as the Son of God and the Savior of Israel. So, Jesus denounced the cities located in Galilee in which He had performed most of His miracles.

The Greek word translated as “denounce” carries a lot of emotion behind it. It can also mean “to reproach, to upbraid or revile.” The attitude of Jesus toward these Galilean cities was far from tolerant or indifferent. His words make it clear that He was displeased with their reaction to Him. Matthew states that they had refused to repent. This had been the call of John the Baptist. He had pleaded with the people of Israel to repent because the Kingdom of God was near. Even Jesus had begun His ministry with this same message. But the Jews had refused to repent. The call to repentance was a call to a change of mind, a radical realignment of the way one thought about God, the Kingdom, righteousness, sin and salvation. The people loved that Jesus offered physical healing. But they refused to admit their need for spiritual healing. Yes, there had been isolated cases of belief and faith displayed but, for the most part, the Jews in Galilee had been unbelieving and unrepentant. They maintained their old ways of thinking about everything, holding on to their long-held belief that, as Jews, they were God’s chosen people and safe from judgment. They also believed that their righteousness was self-manufactured through keeping the law and following the God-ordained rites associated with the sacrificial system.

But Jesus pronounced a woe upon the people of Galilee. This was an expression of denunciation that carried with it a warning of doom. Jesus specifically addressed His displeasure with the Galilean cities of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. But His real issue was with the inhabitants of those cities. They had been given the unique privilege of seeing His “mighty works” but had remained unrepentant because they had remained unbelieving. His miracles, while impressive, had not convinced them of His claim to be the Messiah.

So, Jesus contrasted these three cities with three other, more notorious and well-known cities: Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. These more distant cities, located outside of Galilee, were renowned for their pagan influences and unrighteous reputations. Sodom had long been regarded as a mecca of sin and idolatry that had been destroyed by God for ts rampant unrighteousness. While Sodom was long gone, the cities of Tyre and Sidon were alive and well, but had not yet had the privilege of hearing the message of Jesus or witnessing His miracles. And Jesus insinuates that had they, their reaction would have been radically different.

“For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” – Matthew 11:21 ESV

Both of these cities had large Gentile populations, but Jesus insists that they would have responded more favorably and remorsefully than the Jews had. Not only that, Jesus prophetically announces that many from these three cities will escape the coming judgment because they will end up placing their faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Jesus would eventually remove Himself from Galilee and make His way to Tyre and Sidon (see Mark 7:24). He would perform miracles there, including casting out a demon of a young Gentile girl whose mother was a Syrophoenician. When the woman begged Jesus to help her, He had responded, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 ESV). But the woman, non-plused by His response, simply said, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). And., amazed by the woman’s faith, Jesus told the woman, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29 ESV). The woman believed and her daughter was healed. She did not defend her status or become offended that Jesus had referred to her as a dog. She simply expressed her belief that, in spite of her lowly status as a non-Jew, Jesus would extend mercy and grace to her. And He did.

One of the things that Jesus was looking for from those to whom He ministered was a recognition of their need. That is why He tended to minister to those who came to them with their disabilities, pains, brokenness and extreme sense of unworthiness. That is why Jesus had said:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17 NLT

A major aspect of repentance is the acknowledgement of sin and the need of salvation – a salvation outside of oneself. The people who came to Jesus for physical healing did so because they had either exhausted all other avenues or their ailment was beyond the scope of human help. They were forced to turn to Jesus in the hope that He could do something about their problem. But the same would be true for those who suffered from the disease and destruction caused by sin. That is why Jesus would offer what has become known as the Great Invitation, which we will cover tomorrow,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

The city of Capernaum was filled with God-fearing Jews who believed they were the chosen people of God and so, in no need of a Savior. But Jesus asked them rhetorically, “will you be exalted to heaven?” And, just in case they they failed to understand that the question was rhetorical, He clarified the answer for them.

“You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” – Matthew 11:23 ESV

They would end up rejecting His message and His offer of salvation. And the result would be judgment and eternal punishment. Their refusal to accept Him as Messiah would have dire consequences. They would remain unrepentant and sadly, unforgiven.

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

Disorder in the Court.

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” Acts 21:27-36 ESV

Herod's TempleRumors had spread among the predominantly Jewish believers in Jerusalem that Paul, while on his missionary journeys, had been attempting to get Jews to walk away from Judaism. They had heard that he was teaching against the Mosaic law, demanding that parents no longer circumcise their children or keep the customs associated with Judaism. Of course, none of it was true, but rumors have a way of moving from fiction to fact, when told often and eagerly enough. So, Paul had agreed with the suggestion of James, to join four other men who were completing their vows to God. Paul would underwrite the costs of their ceremonial cleansing and join them in their rites of purification, signaling to the Jewish Christians that he was still very much a faithful adherent to Judaism. And it was while Paul and the four other men were in the middle of completing their seven days of purification that a riot ensued. It seems that the Jews had never forgiven Paul for deserting the faith and becoming a follower of the Way. At one time, he had been an up-and-coming Pharisee and fervent opponent of the sect of the rabbi from Nazareth. He had done everything in his power to eradicate the movement and its followers. Then suddenly, without warning, he had switched sides, becoming one of the movement’s most powerful proponents and propagators of the teachings of Jesus. As Paul was completing his purification rites in the Temple courtyard, some Jews from Asia saw him and became upset that he was on their sacred grounds. These men were Jews who had traveled all the way to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. They were devout and completely dedicated to the Hebrew faith. Having come from Asia, they were very familiar with the work of Paul and his efforts among the Gentiles. It may be that these men were from Ephesus, because “they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city” (Acts 21:29 ESV). They obviously recognized Trophimus, and knew him to be a non-Jew. Upon seeing Paul in the temple courtyard, they immediately assumed that he had brought his Gentile friends with him. Now, if Paul had brought them into the Court of the Gentiles, that would have been acceptable, but as part of his purification rite, Paul would have been in the Israelite’s Courtyard. These men viewed Paul as an enemy of Judaism. He had spent two years in Ephesus, preaching the gospel and spreading the good news regarding Jesus, “so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10 ESV).

Now, here were these Jews from Asia, seeing Paul in the courtyard of their sacred temple, and they lost it. They immediately sounded the alarm, calling attention to Paul’s presence and accusing him of desecrating the temple by bringing Gentiles into the restricted areas. Perhaps they thought that the four men who were undergoing purification with Paul were Gentiles. Whatever the case, they shouted, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple—and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles.” (Acts 21:28 NLT). Luke makes it clear that they had wrongly assumed that Paul had brought Trophimus into the sacred area of the temple. According to the Mosaic Law, that would have been a capital offense. The 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that there were notices placed in the court of the Gentiles, written in both Greek and Latin, warning that any Gentiles who ventured into the inner courts would be responsible for their own deaths. Paul, while a Jew by birth, was little more than a Gentile to these men because they were convinced that he had abandoned his Jewish faith for Christianity. In their minds, Paul was a lover of Gentiles, and he deserved to die. The Jews from Asia whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and “Paul was grabbed and dragged out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed behind him” (Acts 21:30 NLT). It seems likely that Paul was removed by force from the Israelite’s Courtyard and dragged into the Court of the Gentiles. The gates between the two were closed and locked, in an effort to prevent any other potential desecration of the holy grounds. 

Things escalated quickly, because Luke indicates that they were trying kill Paul. News spread of the riot taking place on the temple grounds, and the commander of the Roman forces stationed at the Fortress of Antonio, gathered his troops and entered into the crowd in an attempt to restore order. It didn’t take the Roman Tribune long to get there, because the Fortress of Antonio was directly outside the northern portico of the temple. It was only when the crowd saw the Roman troops, that they stopped beating Paul. But the chaos continued, with the irate Jews shouting accusations and spewing hate-filled demands calling for Paul’s death. The commander, placing Paul in chains and having his troops carry him above their heads in an effort to protect him from the mob, ordered that he be taken to the fortress. And as they made their way through the throng crowded into the Court of the Gentiles, Paul could hear the shouts of “Kill him, kill him!”

This scene conjures up images of another, very similar occasion, when Jesus had been dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, having been arrested by the Jewish council and accused of blasphemy. Pilate had examined Jesus and found Him guilty of nothing worthy of death. And Pilate, confused as to what he should do with Jesus, turned to the Jewish crowd and asked them for their opinion in the matter.

12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. – Mark 15:12-15 NLT

Their answer had been perfectly and painfully clear. And, in the case of Paul, the Jews were equally adamant in their demand that he be put to death. Paul was a perceived threat to their way of life. He was disrupting the status quo and, apparently, guilty of causing many of their fellow Jews to abandon their Jewish. He was a troublemaker and a heretic who needed to be exterminated. But, in reality, all Paul was guilty of, was teaching men and women how they might be made right with God. He had been teaching justification by faith, not by the law. He had not been discounting Judaism or diminishing the importance of the Mosaic law, but had simply been clarifying the true intentions of the law. If Paul had taught anything, it was that the law “was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). It had been the apostle John who wrote in his gospel, “For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NLT). Later on, in the same gospel, John records the words of Jesus, spoken to the Jews: “Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me” (John 7:19 NLT).

Jesus had come to fulfill the requirements of the law. He made that fact known when He addressed the crowds during His sermon on the mount.

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

Jesus had been the consummate law-keeper, not law-breaker. He was obedient to His heavenly Father in every way, having kept every single commandment perfectly. And Paul had been spreading the truth regarding Jesus and His association with the law of Moses.

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

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Paul was not against the law of Moses. He was against the idea of anyone being able to keep the law and make themselves righteous in the eyes of God. He had been a law-abiding Pharisee, but knew that all his efforts to keep the law had failed. In spite his best intentions, he had been a law-breaker, not a law-keeper. And Paul provides us with a vivid description of his view of life lived in an attempt to keep the holy and righteous law of God in the flesh.

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! – Romans 7:14-24 NLT

Paul was in chains. He had been beaten and falsely accused. But he knew that he was guilty of nothing more than preaching and teaching the truth about Jesus. He firmly believed what he wrote to the church in Rome, answering his own question, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” with the powerful and life-altering words,  “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25 NLT

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

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

 

Do Not Be Silent.

1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:1-11 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyEventually, Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Athens. But when it was determined that it was time for them to move on again. Paul traveled on to Corinth while Timothy returned to Thessalonica and Silas seems to have gone somewhere else in the region of Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). According to verse five, they would later join Paul in Corinth.

Like Philippi, Corinth was a Roman colony and, at the time of Paul’s visit, the largest city in Greece. It was approximately 50 miles southwest of Athens and some 20 times larger in size. It was a busy, cosmopolitan city with a diverse population mix. Paul would discover a vibrant community of Jews there, some who had arrived in town due to a recent decree by the Emperor Claudius, commanding the expulsion of all Jews from the city of Rome. Luke tells us that Paul met one such couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been part of the Jewish contingent forced to flee from Rome. Paul would strike up a relationship with these two, even staying in their home and working alongside them in their tent-making business. It’s interesting to note that Luke does not describe this couple as having been Christ-followers when Paul met them. He simply says that Paul “found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla” (Acts 18:2 ESV). Luke’s description seems to infer that Aquila was a Jew, but that Priscilla was not. Based on her name, she could have been a Roman, and when her husband was forced to leave Rome, she had chosen to leave with him. And nowhere in this account does Luke discuss their conversion story. While we know nothing of how or when they came to faith in Christ, we know they eventually did, because Paul would later describe them as believers.

Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. – Romans 16:3-4 NLT

Corinth had a long-standing reputation for its immorality and decadence. As far back as the fifth century BC, the Greek word, korinthiazesthai, had come into common usage, which literally meant “to Corinthianize” and was used to refer to someone being sexually immoral. Prostitutes, of which there were many, were commonly referred to as “Corinthian girls.” When referring to someone as having committed sexual immorality, the euphemism, “to act like a Corinthian” was often used. At the heart of the city stood the temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This temple was renowned for its 1,000 temple prostitutes and for the sexual practices offered as part of its religious observances. So, it is easy to see why Paul, when later writing to the believers in Corinth, confessed the sense of fear and trepidation he felt when he first arrived in their city.

1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

But, despite any sense of fear he might have felt, Paul had come to Corinth for one reason and one reason only. He followed his normal protocol and “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4 ESV). No doubt, Aquila and Priscilla had provided Paul with introductions into the local Jewish community, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with his fellow Jews. To get some idea just how passionate Paul was about seeing his Jewish brothers and sisters come to faith in Christ, all we have to do is read from his letter to the believers in Rome.

1 With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. – Romans 9:1-3 NLT

Paul would have been willing to give up his own salvation if it meant that other Jews would experience the joy of knowing Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Paul was determined and driven to see that all people heard the good news regarding Jesus. Yes, his official assignment from Jesus had been to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and he was obedient to that call. But it did not stop him from caring deeply for his own people and striving diligently to see that they too heard the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Paul and Silas eventually joined Paul in Corinth, they found him hard at work, “occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5 ESV). But his well-intentioned efforts were met with resistance and ridicule. Luke states that the Jews “opposed and reviled him” (Acts 18:6 ESV). They demeaned the messenger as well as his message. And Luke reveals that Paul eventually realized that any further efforts to persuade them would be futile and a waste of his time, so, “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:6 ESV). Paul seemed to be following the advice given by Jesus to His 12 disciples when He had sent them out on their first assignment without Him.

“If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” – Matthew 10:14 NLT

Paul’s actions were also in line with the counsel God had given to His prophet, Ezekiel, hundreds of years earlier, concerning the people of God.

“Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

And when Paul left the synagogue that day, he didn’t have to go far. Luke says that he literally went next door, to the home of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Evidently, Titius Justus was a Roman and a God-fearer. It could have been that he had been a Jewish proselyte who had been in the synagogue the day Paul decided to walk out, and invited him into his own home. They were joined by another man, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. And Luke records that Crispus placed his faith in Jesus and became a believer that day, along with those in his household. While Paul had been forced to turn his back on the Jews, God was far from done in the city of Corinth. Luke makes it quite clear that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8 ESV). Paul kept up his ministry of sharing the good news and the Holy Spirit did His work of regenerating the hearts of those who heard, so that they might receive the gift of God’s grace made available through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. 

And Luke provides us with some insight into Paul’s state of mind during this period of his ministry in Corinth. It seems obvious that Paul faced opposition, and that he felt more than a little fearful for his safety and well-being. God gave Paul a vision, in which He reassured His servant that everything was going to be all right.

9 “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! 10 For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” – Acts 18:9-10 NLT

This does not appear to be an indication that there were already other believers in the city of which Paul was unaware. God seems to be assuring Paul that He had already chosen others to come to faith in Christ who had not yet had the opportunity. So, Paul was to keep speaking and sharing, that those whom God had chosen could hear and accept. Paul would refer to this choosing by God in his letter to the believers in Rome.

29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

God wanted Paul to know that He had others set aside in Corinth for salvation. All Paul needed to do was be faithful to fulfill his commission. And Paul did just that, remaining in Corinth for another year and a half, proclaiming the gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring to God all those whom the Father had called.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

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

 

A God. A Man. A Day.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:22-34 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyPaul found himself in Athens, all alone, and surrounded by false gods and philosophers who found his message regarding Jesus and the resurrection a bit strange, but equally intriguing. They invited him to address The Council of the Areopagus. The council was made up of aristocrats of noble birth who were members for life. They were a semi-judicial body who, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, maintained “guardianship of the laws.” These men were powerful and influential, and Paul’s appearance before them was due to their view of him as “a preacher of foreign divinities” (Acts 17:18 ESV). The Epicureans and Stoics who had heard Paul sharing in the marketplace were intrigued by what they deemed as “new teaching.”  And Luke makes it clear that Paul was simply “preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18 ESV). What Paul had been teaching was new to them. They had not heard it before. And so, Paul, taking advantage of the opportunity provided to him by God, addressed this distinguished crowd with his characteristic boldness and zeal.

The first thing Paul did was complement his audience on the obvious nature of their religious passion. There were idols to gods everywhere. The city was literally chock-full of statues and altars to deities of all kinds. In fact, they even had an altar dedicated to an unknown god, a point that Paul would exploit for his own purposes. In reality, the abundance of idols in the city had greatly disturbed Paul when he first walked through its streets. Luke records that Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16 ESV). The Greek word Luke used is paroxynō, which means “to irritate, provoke, rouse to anger.” Paul had been upset by what he saw. But he would turn that initial revulsion and resentment into a desire to speak truth to those who were living under the false assurances and faulty hopes they had placed in their pantheon of fictitious gods.

Paul capitalized on their altar to the “unknown god”, promising to introduce them to the deity of whom they knew nothing whatsoever, but whom they worshiped nonetheless. For Paul, this was an outright tragedy. These people were worshiping a god they didn’t know, offering sacrifices in an attempt to somehow appease and placate it. How did they know what the god required? They didn’t. How would they know if the god had been satisfied with their efforts? They could only guess. But Paul wanted them to know that this “unknown god” could actually be known and, not only that, they could know if he was satisfied with them. Paul began by explaining that the God to whom he was referring was the creator of the universe and all that it contains. And this God was not relegated to living in temples made by men or trapped in the form of an idol shaped by the hands of men. This God was independent of and completely non-reliant upon men. As a matter of fact, men owed everything to this one God, including their very breath and life. It was to this God that all mankind owed its existence. He had made them in His own image and placed them on the earth so that they might seek and know Him.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul would articulate the undeniable reality of God’s revelation to men as evidences in His creation. But he would also reveal that man failed to recognize God and honor Him for who He was.

20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.  – Romans 1:20 NLT

And Paul would go on to explain that men, unable or unwilling to see the one true God, began to take their innate understanding and awareness of His presence and create their own gods on whom to bestow their worship, honor and praise.

21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

The streets of Athen were filled with statues and altars to the gods they had created – substitute gods – created by men to stand in the place of God Almighty. Paul even used quotes from two well-known ancient Greek poets, Epimenides and Aratus, to support his contention that the God of whom he was speaking was the creator of all things.

“In him we live and move and have our being…”

“For we are indeed his offspring…” – Acts 17:28 ESV

There was only one God who created all things. There was only one God who was the legitimate Father of all mankind. The rest were charlatans and fakes. If God had formed man, Paul reasoned, how could man then turn around and fashion Him out of gold, silver or stone? This was illogical. Men didn’t make God, it was the other way around. And while God had chosen long ago to overlook the ignorance of men, Paul warned that those days were over. He had revealed Himself, not just through creation, but in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ. God had taken on human flesh and come to dwell with men. The apostle John put it this way in his gospel:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
 – John 1:14 NLT

And Paul made it clear that the time had come for all men to repent, to change their minds regarding false gods and their offers of fake hope, futile attempts at achieving human righteousness, and wrong notions regarding future judgment. Paul pulled no punches when he stated that God, “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31 ESV). These men had been intrigued by Paul’s discussions regarding Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. And that was the very man to whom Paul was referring. He had not been simply a man, but the very Son of God and the Savior of the world. Not only that, He would be the judge of the world. And the proof of Jesus’ divine nature and God-appointed role as both Savior and Judge had been His resurrection. God had validated Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and the payment for mankind’s sin debt, by raising Him back to life. Not only had the myriad of gods living the streets of Athen never lived, they had never died and been raised back to life. They were and always had been lifeless and impotent.

But Jesus was and is different. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote:

And now in these final days, he [God] has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews !;1-2 NLT

Jesus was and is the creator God.

God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
 – John 1:3 NLT

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[e]
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:15-16 NLT

Jesus was God in human flesh. He had been sent by God to pay for the sins of man and, when His work was completed, He had been raised back to life and returned to His rightful place at His Father side, where He now rules and reigns.

But it was at the mention of the resurrection of Jesus that some in Paul’s audience experienced a disconnect. Most Greeks in Paul’s day would have rejected the possibility of resurrection. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in an afterlife, but that the body and soul were two separate things that would no longer be joined together after death. Restoring a dead body to life was not only unfeasible to them, it was unattractive. In the Greek mindset, separation of the soul from the body was a good thing.

But Paul’s efforts did not go unrewarded. In Isaiah 55:11, God declares, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” Paul had spoken the truth regarding God, His Son and the offer of salvation. Luke records that, while some mocked and others deferred judgment, some believed, and he gives them names: Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. There were others as well who remain unnamed, but the bottom line was that Paul declared the truth about a God, a man, and a day. God was that unknown God to whom they had erected an altar. Jesus was the man appointed by God to judge the world in righteousness. And that day of judgment was coming. Paul’s audience, at one time ignorant of these truths, was now without excuse.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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