A Simple Story with a Sobering Message

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” – Luke 16:18-31 ESV

At first glance, this section of Luke 16 seems to come out of left field. It appears to lack any context. There has been no change of venue or scene, and yet, suddenly and unexpectedly, Jesus starts talking about divorce, adultery, remarriage, and the law. But the key to understanding this apparent shift in topic is found in verse 15, where Jesus pointedly addresses His adversaries, the Pharisees, brusquely pointing out the nature of their problem:

You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15 NET

Jesus had just disclosed that it is impossible to serve God and money at the same time. Whoever tries will “will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13 NLT). And the Pharisees, whom Luke reports “dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). They found Jesus’ parable about the dishonest manager to be ridiculous and His comments concerning unrighteous wealth and true riches to be laughable. Obviously, his poor and uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth had not been blessed with great wealth as they had. They believed their superior social standing to be a direct reward for their faithful obedience to God’s commands.

But Jesus won’t let them take the high ground. He exposed them for what they really are: Men who love money, covet the praise of men, and pride themselves on being the spiritual elite of Israel. Their apparent allegiance to the law was simply a means to an end. It earned them the awe and reverence of the masses. They were looked upon as the religious rock stars of their day, holy men who lived in perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law. Yet Jesus knew the truth. These pious religious leaders spent far too much time justifying themselves in the eyes of men when they should have been worrying about what God thought about them.

Earlier, Jesus had given His disciples a sobering warning concerning the Pharisees.

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.” – Luke 12:1-2 NLT

Their true natures would eventually be revealed for all to see. Their cleverly disguised hatred for Jesus would come to light when they forcefully arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. There they would level false accusations against Him, demanding that Jesus be put to death for posing a threat against the Roman government. It was all be based on lies, but they would eventually convince Pilate to crucify Jesus. But Jesus, knowing exactly what the Pharisees had planned for Him, told His disciples, “don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear” (Luke 12:4-5 NLT). And that same warning applied to the Pharisees. That’s why they needed to show far greater concern about God’s assessment of their lives, rather than trying to impress their peers and the peasants.

Back to Luke 16. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of what is taking place right in front of their eyes. The kingdom of God that the law and the prophets predicted has appeared in their midst. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel has come to earth, and His arrival has inaugurated a new age.

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it.” – Luke 16:16 NET

In a sense, John the Baptist was the last of the old-school prophets. He came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2 ESV

But John, like all the prophets before him, added a message of judgment.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:10 ESV

John called the people to be baptized, and he clarified that it was intended to illustrate their willingness to turn from their sinful ways. He even told the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). John believed that Jesus, in His role as the long-awaited Messiah, would be bringing judgment.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12 ESV

But Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He had told His disciples that His incarnation had been intended to make salvation available to those who already stood condemned before God.

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” – John 12:46-48 ESV

Jesus was offering sinful men and women a means of finding favor with God that was not based on human effort. The law of God had never been intended to provide salvation. According to the apostle Paul, the law was “given…to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). In his letter to the Romans, Paul expands on this thought by adding, “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” (Romans 8:3 NLT). 

All of this helps us better understand what Jesus is saying in the closing verses of Luke 16. He is attempting to explain the significance of His incarnation. He is the king of Israel whom the prophets and the law foretold, and He has brought His kingdom or, better yet, His kingly right to rule. He is the Son of God and the anointed Savior of the world. And everything He is doing and will do is in fulfillment of the law and prophets. That is why He declared, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:18 ESV). Nothing and no one was going to stand in His way – not even the Pharisees. Jesus was faithfully fulfilling the will of His Heavenly Father. And, even after His resurrection, He would tell His disciples:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Luke 24:44 ESV

Yet, while Jesus was busy fulfilling the law, the Pharisees were doing it great harm. They were adding to it and creating loopholes for it. They were constantly coming up with ways to make its observance easier by designing clever workarounds. Even its clear teaching regarding divorce and remarriage had been diluted through their efforts. Adultery had become commonplace and the Pharisees had played a major role in justifying its ubiquitous existence among the Jews. This led Jesus to reiterate God’s unwavering outlook regarding divorce.

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. – Luke 16:18 ESV

Then Jesus followed this up with a rather interesting story. One of the first things we need to understand is that this story is descriptive and not intended to be prescriptive. In other words, Jesus is not teaching a doctrinal truth about heaven and hell, this life or the afterlife. He is simply telling a story designed to expose the erroneous beliefs of the Pharisees. They are represented in the story by the rich man who enjoyed great wealth in this life. But he proved to be uncaring and uncompassionate to the needy in his midst. In fact, every day he callously overlooked the sorry state of a poor man named Lazarus. In the story, both men die, and that’s where it gets interesting. Contrary to the common view among the Jews of Jesus’ day, the poor man ends up in heaven, while the rich man finds himself suffering in Hades. This would have been a shock to everyone that heard the story, and that was Jesus’ intent.

The rich man, stunned at this unexpected turn of events, begged God to show him mercy. And notice that he asks that God send Lazarus to do for him what he had refused to do for Lazarus all those years. Now that he was suffering, he wanted Lazarus to relieve his anguish. But God gave the rich man some very bad news.

“Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.” – Luke 16:25 NLT

As stated earlier, this parable is not meant to be a treatise on heaven and hell. Jesus was not suggesting that there are lines of communication between Hades and heaven. Jesus does not tell us how the rich man knew that Lazarus was in heaven because that is not the point of his story. The point of the story is found in its closing verses, where Jesus brings back up the law and the prophets.

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’” – Luke 16:27-29 ESV

The law contained all they needed to know about the treatment of the needy and oppressed. And the prophets had more than clarified what God would do to all those who chose to disobey His laws. The rich man’s brothers stood condemned because they refused to obey.

But, unswayed by the words of Abraham, the rich man continued to beg, stating, “if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God” (Luke 16:30 NLT). And this is where Jesus drives home the real point of his story.

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

Subtly, but oh so clearly, Jesus reveals the underlying problem of the Pharisees. They were so arrogantly confident in their standing before God, that they refused to heed the warnings of Scripture. Jesus, the Son of God, stood before them and they refused to acknowledge Him. And even when He died and rose again, they would still reject His claims to be the Messiah.

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

Timeless Tips On Social Etiquette

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:7-14 ESV

Jesus is attending a dinner party hosted by a ruler of the Pharisees. The dinner just happened to be scheduled for the Sabbath and it just happened that a man who suffered from dropsy was also on the invitation list. That the host of the party invited a ceremonially unclean man into his home on the Sabbath seems a bit odd, and gives the appearance that the whole affair was a setup. The dinner invite was simply another attempt by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus. They were hoping Jesus would violate the Sabbath laws by healing the man, and He did not disappoint. But before performing the miracle, Jesus asked the host and his fellow Pharisees to give their legal opinion on the matter.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” – Luke 14:3 ESV

When they refused to answer His question, Jesus revealed His own opinion on the matter by graciously delivering the man from his dreaded disease. Then, after sending the man away, Jesus turned His attention to the other guests who had also received invitations to the dinner. Luke makes it clear that the room was filled with “lawyers and Pharisees” (Luke 14:3 ESV), who had been invited for the sole purpose of serving as “expert” witnesses when Jesus inevitably broke the laws concerning performing work on the Sabbath. Jesus had knowingly given these men the evidence for which they had been looking. But as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), Jesus viewed His actions as perfectly acceptable and commendable to God. He was operating according to His Father’s will, and simply emulating His Father’s heart.

“…the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 NLT

“…my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” – John 5:30 NLT

Jesus was walking in step with His Heavenly Father. But the same could not be said for the religious leaders who reclined around the table that day. The meal they were sharing with Jesus was about the only point of commonality between them and the Lord of the Sabbath. He was holy, righteous, and in complete alignment with God, while they were marked by hypocrisy, legalism, and stood in direct opposition to the very One whom God had sent.

On an earlier occasion in His ministry, Jesus had been the guest at another meal, this time in the home of Matthew, a notorious tax collector. “But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with such scum?’” (Luke 5:30 NLT). To which Jesus had responded, “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 and need to repent” (Luke 5:31-32 NLT).

Jesus had chosen to share a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors because they were just the kind of people He had come to save. In fact, Jesus had just called Matthew to be one of His disciples. The only difference between Matthew and the Pharisees who considered him to be scum was the fact that Matthew recognized his sinful state and his desperate need for a Savior. The Pharisees had an overinflated sense of their own spiritual superiority. They looked down on people like Matthew and found Jesus’ decision to associate with him to be evidence of either a lack of discernment or proof of His own sinfulness.

But Jesus was always a step ahead of His enemies. He knew that His healing of the man with dropsy had given them the proof for which they had been looking. But rather than panic and room from the room, Jesus told them a parable. He took advantage of the opportunity to teach His disciples a much-needed lesson in social etiquette. But this was meant to be more than a primer on proper behavior. It was designed to expose the hearts of His accusers. Jesus wanted His disciples to stop admiring the Pharisees and see them for who they really were: egotistical and self-centered social climbers who loved the praises of men more than they cared about pleasing God.

Jesus used the setting of a wedding feast to convey an important lesson regarding pride and humility. Knowing the predisposition of His audience, Jesus warned against seeking the seat of honor at a wedding feast. Doing so, uninvited, could result in embarrassment. Someone who would arrogantly and presumptuously occupy the seat of honor might find themselves publicly humiliated when the host of the feast forced them to give up their seat to a more worthy guest. According to Jesus, humility would be a far better strategy.

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.” – Luke 14:10 NLT

And Jesus explains why this strategy made more sense.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11 NLT

Like all parables, this simple story had a much more profound lesson contained within it. Jesus was dealing with far more than socially acceptable behavior at a wedding. He was exposing the stubborn refusal of the Pharisees to acknowledge their sin and their need for a Savior. Their pride and arrogance had resulted in an attitude of spiritual superiority. They considered themselves to be the religious elite of Israel, fully deserving of God’s favor and guaranteed a place in His future kingdom. But, according to Jesus, the only fate they could count would be far different than what they expected.

“I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 NLT

Everyone in the room that day had been jockeying for position. They all wanted to be seen as the most important person in the room. But Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that, in the kingdom, humility was the key to exaltation. And this was a lesson He had been trying to convey to them ever since He delivered His sermon on the mount.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.” – Matthew 5:3-5 NLT

On that occasion, Jesus had gone on to warn His audience, “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). The kind of righteousness God was looking for was not performance-based and regulated by strict adherence to some set of moral standards. It began in the heart. And it was based on a humble acknowledgment of one’s sin and the need for a righteousness that was impossible to self-produce.

The actions of the Pharisees were nothing more than attempts at behavior modification. But all their efforts to appear righteous were no more effective than someone who whitewashed a tomb. Despite the outer display of purity, the inside would still be full of death and decay. No attempt at self-manufactured righteousness was going to be enough to earn entrance into God’s Kingdom.

Next, Jesus turned His attention to His host, the ruler of the Pharisees who had put together this sham dinner party. And Jesus gave him a bit of friendly advice designed to expose the true intentions of his heart.

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. – Luke 14:12 NLT

This man was a social climber who was always thinking about his status in society. He did nothing out of humility or selflessness. Even his dinner invitations were carefully calculated to enhance his standing within the community. Everything he did was based on its ROI (return on investment). His modus operandi was purely selfish and motivated by greed, not goodness. But Jesus was wired differently. He viewed life as an opportunity to give Himself away. That’s why He said of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). And Jesus told this man that a life of humility, service, and sacrifice would be far more rewarding in the long run.

“Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” – Luke 14:13-14 NLT

Once again, this simple message was one the disciples had heard Jesus deliver during His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 NLT

But as will become readily apparent, Jesus’ message would go over the heads of His audience. They would fail to hear what He had to say. The Pharisees and scribes were so motivated by pride and arrogance, that the words of this humble Rabbi from Nazareth would escape them.

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

Unchanged and Unrepentant

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. – Luke 13:10-17 ESV

In this chapter, Luke has organized a series of the events surrounding Jesus’ life that each supports the overarching theme of repentance and judgment that Jesus had begun to discuss with the crowd. Luke opened chapter 13 with the foreboding words of Jesus:

“…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” – Luke 13:3 NLT

What Jesus was trying to tell His audience was that death was the inevitable outcome for all people. But not just physical death. As the apostle Paul would later express it: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But Paul had not come up with this idea on his own. It was not the product of Paul’s overactive theological imagination, but rather, it was the succinct summary of the biblical narrative concerning mankind and sin. Paul was borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures, reaching all the way back to the book of Genesis where God commanded Adam and Eve:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

Disobedience would bring death. But God was describing far more than physical death. Because when the first couple decided to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, they did not experience an immediate loss of life. They continued to live but soon found themselves separated from God, cast out of the garden and from His presence. On the day they ate of the tree, their fellowship with God ended. Sin created an impenetrable barrier between them and the One who had made them. Rather than enjoying intimate communication with God in the garden, they were cast out and cursed to experience life with the constant presence of pain, suffering, disease, and, ultimately, physical death.

Paul also drew from the wisdom of Solomon:

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but he who pursues evil will die. – Proverbs 11:19 ESV

There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death. – Proverbs 12:28 ESV

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus alluded to the fruitlessness of Israel. They had not taken the path of righteousness. But instead, had pursued the path that leads to death. As a result, God, the owner of the vineyard had declared, “I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down” (Luke 13:7 ESV). But in the story, Jesus portrayed Himself as the faithful gardener who begs the owner for more time to cultivate and care for the fruitless tree. If at the end of the following season, the tree remained barren, the owner could cut it down.

Jesus was calling all to repent but knew that many would not. There were those who followed Him who would never accept Him as their Messiah. He didn’t fit the bill. He failed to measure up to their preconceived ideas concerning the anointed one of God. Jesus had not shown up on a white horse leading a victorious army in His wake. Yes, He had performed amazing miracles that demonstrated great power with authority, but He had shown no signs that He was capable of defeating the Romans. And, at the end of the day, that is what most people wanted to see Him do. They had been looking for a sign from heaven much like the prophet Zechariah had described.

Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Zechariah 14:3-5 NLT

But Jesus didn’t show up the way they were expecting. That’s why Paul wrote:

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

And one of the primary groups of people that demanded a sign from heaven was the Pharisees. Mark records how they came to Jesus “and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Mark 8:11 NLT). They were looking for a sign that would demonstrate His Messianic power and authority. These men didn’t realize it, but they were the barren fig tree to which Jesus referred in His parable. They were to poster boys of fruitlessness, having long ago replaced loving obedience to God with legalistic adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Jesus had confronted them for their misguided obsession with rules. 

“…why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?” – Matthew 15:3 NLT

And He was far from done.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

These hypocritical rule-keepers and sign-seekers were always lurking in the crowds that followed Jesus. And as Luke reveals in chapter 13, as Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were not far behind. As Jesus was teaching, “he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11 NLT). This woman suffered from a debilitating disease that both physical and spiritual in nature. Somehow, the demon that possessed her had done physical damage to her body. For 18 long years, she had suffered from a severe disfigurement that was most likely accompanied by severe pain. On top of that, she had to deal with the ever-present reality of the demonic spirit that lived within her.

According to Jewish thought, this woman’s suffering was most likely a result of sin. She must have committed a truly egregious sin to deserve such a horrific punishment from God. Her very presence in the synagogue that day would have offended most of those in the room. In their minds, she was obviously unrepentant and unclean. But Luke records that Jesus saw the woman and called out to her. And what He said would have left the crowd shocked and confused.

“Woman, you are freed from your disability.” – Luke 13:12 ESV

There was no small talk. Jesus didn’t ask for her name or her back story. He simply declared her freedom from her pain and suffering. Then, He reached out and touched her.

he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. – Luke 13:13 ESV

At the touch of His hand, the woman’s 18-year disability was replaced with full health. She was able to stand up straight, completely free from the demon who had long possessed her. She was whole physically and spiritually. And Luke reports that she glorified God. There was no doubt in her mind that she had seen a sign from heaven and she was more than willing to give God the glory He was due. She may not have immediately understood who Jesus was, but she fully recognized that the Almighty had worked through Him.

But while this grateful woman glorified God, the ruler of the synagogue voiced his shock and indignation. Luke makes it clear that this man’s anger was directed at Jesus, but his words were directed at the crowd within the synagogue. And what he says seems to reveal that there were others in the room who had come to be healed by Jesus.

“There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” – Luke13:14 NLT

Don’t miss what this man said. He knew he couldn’t refute that a miracle had taken place. But rather than glorify God, he not-so-subtly chastised Jesus for violating the laws concerning the Sabbath. By healing the woman, Jesus has broken their man-made rules concerning the performance of work on the Sabbath. This synagogue leader, like the Pharisees who sat in the room looking on, was steeped in the traditions of Judaism which had taken God’s prohibition against work on the Sabbath and turned it into a lengthy list of legalist, nit-picking rules that made the Sabbath anything but a day of rest.

And Jesus answered the man but directed His ire at the rest of the religious leaders who had been sitting silently in the shadows watching all that had happened.

“You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? – Luke 13:15 NLT

Jesus knew the Pharisees were gloating over what they believed to be His obvious breach of religious protocol. They viewed Him as a law-breaker and someone completely out of touch with the traditions of the elders. But Jesus saw them as those who “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT). They were hypocrites because they stacked the deck, creating convenient loopholes for themselves while holding the common people to unattainable standards that left them weary and burdened by guilt.

These men were spiritually barren, completely devoid of the fruit of righteousness. They were completely incapable of rejoicing in this woman’s healing. They were blind to the obvious presence of God in their midst. And rather than glory in the goodness of God, they gloated over their superior spirituality. But Jesus exposed them for what they truly were: Barren trees lacking in fruit. And He confronts them for the lack of mercy, grace, and love.

“This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” – Luke 13:16 NLT

They would rather have seen her remain bound by a demon and crippled by disease than have their precious rules broken. They loved their laws more than they loved God. And if it had been left up to them, their obsession with legalism would have ultimately left this woman bound by Satan.

But more than three years earlier, Jesus had appeared in another synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. And He had read from the scroll of Isaiah.

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

And when He had finished, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This woman had been a recipient of the Lord’s favor. She had been set free. But the Pharisees remained enslaved to their laws, blinded by their pride and arrogance, and impoverished by their false sense of spiritual superiority. And while they were shame by Jesus’ words, they remained unchanged and unrepentant.

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 Time of Salvation

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” – Luke 12:49-59 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem where, according to His own words, “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead” (Luke 9:22 NLT). And as He and His disciples move closer to the capital city and His final fate, He continues to prepare them for what the future holds. The coming days will not turn out quite the way they had anticipated them. They were fully expecting Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.

Yet Jesus has been talking about the future kingdom in ways that made it sound as if it wasn’t coming any time soon. He even told them a parable about a master who went on a journey to celebrate a wedding feast. And the master’s servants were instructed to stay alert and prepared for his inevitable return. He could show up unannounced at any moment, and “The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded” (Luke 12:37 ESV).

And Jesus warned His disciples, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40 ESV). These words must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Here He was standing in their midst and yet He continued to talk about going away and coming back. They were perplexed by Jesus’ rhetoric and having a difficult time reconciling His words with their own expectations.

It would not be long before Jesus announced to them, “Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going” (John 13:33 NLT). And the always impulsive Peter will respond by asking, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36 NLT). The answer provided by Jesus will leave them all more confused than comforted.

“You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” – John 13:36 NLT

The closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry were filled with insightful instructions for His disciples that were intended to prepare them for the inevitable but unexpected conclusion to His life. He had been slowly revealing the details concerning the true nature of His mission and trying to encourage them with words of comfort.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

On this occasion, it was Thomas who spoke up, revealing his frustration and confusion over Jesus’ words.

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” – John 14:5 NLT

Jesus had a way of mixing candor with cryptic-sounding statements that left His listener’s ears ringing. He could express something in easy-to-understand language and then follow it up with a statement that seemed to make no sense whatsoever. And this was just such a case. As His disciples listened with increasing anxiety and confusion, Jesus stated, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:49-51 NLT).

Even as we read these words from this side of the cross, we have a difficult time discerning what Jesus was trying to say. What did He mean when He said He came to set the earth on fire? And why did He claim that He had come to cause division? For the disciples, these words were particularly perplexing. They had no concept of the cross or of the Messiah’s sacrificial death as payment for the sins of mankind. They also had no way of knowing how divisive the message of the Gospel was going to become. The good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was going to become a point of contention that divided the world into two opposing factions: Believers and unbelievers.

Jesus even quotes the Old Testament prophet, Micah, insinuating that He was about to fulfill what Micah had written centuries earlier.

From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.

‘Father will be divided against son
    and son against father;
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’– Luke 12:52-53 NLT

Little did the disciples know that their future would be marked by division. Rather than witnessing the unification of the nation under the righteous rule of the newly crowned Messiah, they were about to see the splintering of society as people were forced to choose sides. Would they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and accept His offer of eternal life and forgiveness of sins, or would they turn their backs on God’s gracious gift of salvation?

The day was coming when all would have to decide for themselves. And Jesus turns His attention to the crowd who stood by listening to His words. He warned them to discern the times. They were adept at predicting the weather by looking at the clouds, but they were unable to recognize the unique nature of the days in which they lived. They were walking alongside the Messiah of Israel and watching Him display the power of God through His many miracles. But they remained blind and oblivious to the signs that pointed to His true identity. And the same could be said of the 12 disciples.

What is so important to understand in all of this is how Jesus was continually pointing His disciples to the final stage of His mission. He has already told them that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 ESV). And rather than wasting their time worrying over temporal things like food and clothing, Jesus had encouraged them to “seek his [the Father’s] kingdom” (Luke 12:31 ESV).

In just a few chapters, Luke will record an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. they will ask Him, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT), and Jesus will respond, The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT). Jesus understood that these men were demanding some kind of miraculous sign that would prove His claim to be the Messiah. And they weren’t expecting Him to heal or cast out a demon. They wanted something more substantial that would prove He had the power to defeat the Romans. But Jesus simply states the Kingdom of God was already in their midst. It was Him. He was all the proof they needed. And while He might not be doing the things they expected the Messiah to do, that did not invalidate His identity in any way.

What the Pharisees failed to understand was the divine timeline concerning the Messiah. There was a preordained sequence of events that must take place. First, Jesus had to die, be buried, then be raised back to life. That would be followed up by His ascension and the Holy Spirit’s coming, which would usher in the church age. At the end of that period of time, Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. Then the seven years of tribulation will begin, which will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment of the world. That is exactly what Jesus alludes to when He says, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49 NLT).

His Second Coming will bring closure to this age. It will usher in the Kingdom of God, when all those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone will be judged and condemned. But all those who have placed their faith in the Son of God will enter the eternal state, a time of everlasting peace, joy, and unbroken fellowship with God the Father and God the Son.

Jesus closes this section of His teaching by encouraging His listeners to make their decision quickly. If they can predict the weather by looking at the clouds, why can’t they look at the evidence standing right in front of them and judge for themselves what is right? Now was the time to decide. They were not to put it off. And the illustration Jesus used was designed to impress upon His audience the need for immediacy. While Jesus was with them, they needed to make up their minds and decide whether they were going to believe. Because if they waited until they stood before God at the Great White Throne judgment, it would be too late. And the apostle Paul picked up this theme of immediacy when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT

Jesus had come as Savior, but there was another day when He would return as the judge of all mankind. And He wanted His disciples to understand that they were living in a day when salvation would be available to any and all who would accept it. His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection would make reconciliation with God possible.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16-18 NLT

But the day will come when the offer of salvation will be revoked. The opportunity to believe will end. So, Jesus encouraged His followers to take advantage of the grace of God made available through faith in the Son of God. The time of salvation was now.

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 Power of God

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 ESV

Just one day after the scene of Jesus’ spectacular transfiguration on the mountaintop, it was back to business as usual for the disciples. Peter, James, and John had been given the unique opportunity of watching the glorified Jesus having an intimate discussion with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Still on an emotional high from their experience, the three disciples must have been disappointed to find the ever-present throng of people who had gathered to see Jesus. They had probably seen the transfiguration as a sign that Jesus was about to establish His messianic kingdom. But now it appeared that nothing had changed.  They were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes (Mark 9:14). But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and another man in the crowd. The rest of the people were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. – Luke 9:38-39 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it. – Luke 9:40 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon-possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you? – Luke 9:41 NLT

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration He had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state, and had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. The three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the Almighty’s hand. But when He had descended from the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus was forced to look upon a similar scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more importantly, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention on the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child (Mark 9:21-22). And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, even the father is unsure whether Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the child up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, even the smallest portion of faith in the full power of God could “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

And Luke concludes that everyone who witnessed this scene was “astonished at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43 NET). Jesus had full faith and confidence in the power given to Him by God the Father, and He had demonstrated that faith by casting out the demon. And even those in the crowd had to recognize that what they had witnessed was the power of God. There was no other explanation. 

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

Victory Over Death

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17 ESV

After healing the centurion’s servant in Capernaum, Jesus made His way to the town of Nain on the northern slope of Mount Morah. Nain was located across the Jezreel Valley, just six miles from Nazareth where Jesus was raised. As Jesus and His disciples arrived at the gate of the town they encountered a funeral procession. Many of the townspeople were accompanying the grieving mother as she prepared to bury her only son. Because she was a widow, her son’s death had left her on her own with no one to help provide for her physical and financial needs. Her prospects of surviving as a widow were grim and that’s one of the reasons God warned the people of Israel to protect and provide for widows and orphans.

“You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless. – Exodus 22:22-24 NLT

As the Son of God, Jesus shared His Father’s love and concern for the weak, defenseless, poor, and helpless.

The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
    He cares for the orphans and widows. – Psalm 146:9 NLT

The sight of the grieving mother stirred the heart of Jesus. It seems that He knew exactly what was going on and, moved with compassion, He spoke to the woman.

“Do not weep.” – Luke 7:13 ESV

There is no reason to believe that this grieving woman knew who Jesus was. She was distraught and overcome with sorrow at the death of her son, and a complete stranger suddenly addressed her and told her not to cry. But before she could question this unknown man’s identity or sanity, He stunned the crowd by reaching out and touching the pallet on which the body of the woman’s son was being carried. This unexpected action on the part of Jesus shocked the men who were carrying the pallet, causing them to stop dead in their tracks. What Jesus had just done was totally unacceptable behavior. According to the Mosaic Law, by touching the funeral bier, Jesus had just rendered Himself ceremonially unclean for a period of seven days. He had willingly and publicly violated the law of God. But Luke provides a subtle but significant insight into what was going on. In verse 13, he describes Jesus as “the Lord.” This is the first time in Luke’s gospel that he refers to Jesus with that title but he will use it often from this point forward.

The Greek word Luke used was kyrios, and it refers to a master or someone in authority. It was a title of reverence that was used by the Jews to refer to God Almighty. But Luke was applying it to Jesus. And years later, Peter would pick up that same term when addressing the Jews who had gathered to hear him speak after the miraculous events surrounding the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:36 ESV

Luke is subtly revealing that the one who addressed the woman and touched the funeral bier was none other than the Lord, the God of Israel. Jesus was the God-man, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). As the apostle John put it: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. And when He reached out and touched the dead man’s funeral bier, He was expressing the compassion of God and demonstrating His authority as the Son of God. As the stunned crowd looked on in silence, Jesus spoke.

“Young man, I say to you, arise.” – Luke 7:14 ESV

The location of this event is significant and far from coincidental. Luke provides us with no explanation as to why Jesus decided to leave Capernaum and travel to Nain. But it’s important to recognize that, just south of Nain, on the opposite side of Mount Moreh, was the town of Shunem. Centuries earlier, in that small and insignificant town, a similar death-to-life miracle had taken place. The prophet Elisha had been summoned by another mother whose child had suddenly become ill. But by the time he arrived in Shunem, the boy was dead.

When Elisha arrived at the house, there was the child lying dead on his bed. He went in by himself and closed the door. Then he prayed to the Lord. He got up on the bed and spread his body out over the boy; he put his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes over the boy’s eyes, and the palms of his hands against the boy’s palms. As he bent down across him, the boy’s skin grew warm. Elisha went back and walked around in the house. Then he got up on the bed again and bent down over him. The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called to Gehazi and said, “Get the Shunammite woman.” So he did so and she came to him. He said to her, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet, and bowed down. Then she picked up her son and left. – 2 Kings 4:32-37 NLT

It’s unclear whether anyone in Nain made the connection between Jesus’ healing of the widow’s son and Elisha’s healing of the Shunnamite woman’s son. But it seems clear that Luke understood the significance and similarity of these two miraculous events. Jesus, as the Son of God, displayed far greater power than the prophet of God. As Luke will reveal, Jesus simply spoke and the young man was immediately restored to life.

And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. – Luke 7:15 ESV

Elisha’s miracle was no less amazing, but it was not immediate and required that he call upon “the Lord” (2 Kings 4:33 ESV). Jesus was the Lord. He spoke and the dead man came to life because, according to the apostle John, He is the author of all life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:1-4 ESV

With his raising of the widow’s Son, Jesus demonstrated His power over death and His authority to bestow life on whoever He so chooses. It’s interesting to note that, nearly three years later, when Jesus was preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told the dead man’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT). Then He asked her, “Do you believe this, Martha?” (Luke 11:26 NLT).

With His raising of the widow’s son, Jesus was letting His newly chosen disciples know that He was far more than what they had been expecting. He was the Messiah, but He had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. He had come to deliver humanity from the inescapable and inevitable death sentence placed upon it for their rebellion against a holy God. The apostle Paul would later tell his young disciple, Timothy:

He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! – 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT

And Jesus would later tell His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). He is the source of eternal life and He proved it by miraculously restoring a dead man to life with nothing but a word from His lips. And Luke records that “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16 ESV). They were blown away by what they had witnessed and immediately assumed that Jesus was a prophet of God. They had been privileged to see the power of God exhibited through a man of God. But little did they know that they were actually in the presence of God Himself. When they declared, “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16 ESV), they were saying far more than they realized. They were testifying to the validity of John’s statement regarding Jesus and His incarnation.

…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 the news of this amazing miracle spread like wildfire. Jesus’ reputation grew exponentially and with it, the anger and resentment of the Jewish religious leaders. News of this latest inexplicable episode would reach their ears and their hatred for Jesus would explode. And they would not be satisfied until the one who raised the dead to life was dead Himself.

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

Mission: Impossible

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 ESV

Because Luke is writing to his Greek friend, Theophilus, he does not include all that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. Matthew, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, recorded all of Jesus’ lessons concerning the Mosaic Law. In his account, Jesus addressed such topics as murder, adultery, divorce, the making of oaths, and retaliation, and He did so by taking what they understood about the law and expanding upon it. In other words, Jesus began with a common point of interest, the law and its list of well-known prohibitions or restrictions. Then He went beyond the letter of the law to explain the intentions of God that lie behind it. God’s command to not murder was really a call to refrain from anger. In His eyes, the two were inseparable and carried the same moral weight. The same was true of adultery and lust. To do one was to do the other. According to Jesus, merely keeping the letter of the law was not enough.

But due to the Greek nature of his audience, Luke chose to focus on the more general aspects of Jesus’ message, leaving out all references to the Mosaic Law. After letting Theophilus know what Jesus had to say about the blessings and woes, Luke picks up Jesus’ comments concerning love for one another. And what Jesus had to say would have sounded strange and impossible, regardless of whether Theophilus was a Greek or a Jew. Jesus boldly declared, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27 ESV). In any culture, that admonition sounds counterintuitive because it goes counter to human nature. Regardless of your religious affiliation, ethnic background, or cultural context, the command to love your enemies would have sounded impossible and illogical. It made no sense.

Yet, Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to add, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). It’s important to remember that as Jesus spoke these words, He had His newly appointed disciples in mind. Yes, there were others in the crowd that day, but Jesus is focusing His attention on the men He has chosen to be His future apostles or messengers. This would have been the first of many lectures they would receive from their new teacher, and it would have left their minds reeling with confusion and filled with questions.

First of all, the twelve would not yet have been aware of the intense hatred to which they would be subjected as disciples of Jesus. From their perspective, they saw Jesus as a popular figure who was attracting huge crowds and gathering a growing number of followers. They believed Him to be the Messiah and had high hopes that He was going to usher in the utopian-like future of Israel. So, all this talk of loving their enemies must have sounded strange to them. Each of them could have probably counted the number of their enemies on one hand. But before long they would learn that their association with Jesus would place them in the eye of the storm of controversy and contention that would engulf His life and ministry.

And Jesus gave them very specific examples of what He meant by loving their enemies.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” – Luke 6:29 NLT

All of this would have sounded unthinkable and highly unappealing to His disciples. For the most part, these were unsophisticated men who would have considered Jesus’ words to be a call to social suicide. No one would survive the rough-and-tumble culture of 1st-Century Palestine if they followed this kind of advice. The kind of meekness and mild-mannered mousiness Jesus was describing would get you abused, if not killed.

But what these men don’t yet understand is that Jesus is describing the character of those who belong to the Kingdom of God. He is presenting them with a picture of their future sanctified, Spirit-filled state. Jesus knew that all of this was impossible in their current condition. They were still operating in the power of their fallen human natures. They had not yet received the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. But Jesus wanted them to know that His followers were expected to live distinctively different lives, and through faith in Him, they would one day receive the power to put into practice all that He is describing.

Jesus was describing a life of true righteousness. With His arrival, things were about to take a dramatically different turn. Up to this point, the disciples and every other Jew living at that time were trying to earn favor with God by keeping the law and observing all the rites and rituals associated with the sacrificial system. Their hope of getting into God’s good graces was based on their ability to live up to the exacting standard of His commands. And now, Jesus seemed to be upping the ante. He was demanding even more from them. But His whole point was that a truly righteous life was impossible to attain without His help.

His call to love was nothing new. The Old Testament law had demanded that they love God and love others. But, according to Jesus, anyone could do that. Loving those who love you earned you no special favor with God.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.” – Luke 6:32 NLT

No, Jesus was describing a kind of love that was indiscriminate and non-reciprocal. In other words, it was a kind of love that expected nothing in return. And this same one-directional mindset applied to acts of kindness as well. Simply doing good to those who did good to you was not going to cut it.

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” – Luke 6:33 NLT

Jesus was letting His disciples know that God expected behavior that was not based on what you get out of it. Giving to get and loving only when loved were not sufficient. Even sinners can do that. But the kind of life Jesus was describing was impossible. It was humanly unachievable and unattainable.

But Jesus promises all those who can somehow pull off what He is describing, “your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 ESV). The selfless and sacrificial kind of love He is describing will end up paying off in the long run. It comes with a remarkable reward: Inclusion in the family of God and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And that would be true for Jesus’ 12 Jewish disciples and Luke’s Greek friend, Theophilus.

Jesus was calling His disciples to mirror the very character of God, “who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35 ESV). God is not a discriminator of persons. He shows no favoritism. As Peter later put it, He “shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT). So, Jesus calls His disciples to emulate the very nature of God.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36 ESV

Even for those of us living on this side of the cross, these words still convey a sense of impossibility. They sound unattainable. Jesus seems to be asking us to do something that is beyond our capacity as fallen human beings. But we fail to remember that we have been equipped with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

But for the disciples of Jesus, sitting on that hillside, His words were impossible. They did not yet have the Spirit of God living within them to energize and empower them. They were enthusiastic and motivated men who believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, but they were not yet ready or equipped to accomplish all that Jesus was calling them to do. But in time, they would be.

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

Not What They Were Expecting

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:38-44 ESV

After casting out the demon(s) from the man in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29), two of His disciples who lived in the town of Capernaum. Upon entering the house, He discovered that the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter) was bedridden, suffering from the effects of a high fever. Luke’s account of this scene differs slightly from that of Matthew and Mark. They both indicate that Jesus healed the woman by taking her by the hand. But Luke states that Jesus “rebuked the fever.” As he has done before, Luke places the emphasis on the words of Jesus. When Jesus had cast out the demon, the crowd had responded, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV). When Jesus had taught in the synagogues, Luke reports that he was “praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15 NLT).

So, while Matthew and Mark place their emphasis on the physical touch of Jesus, Luke focuses on the power and authority of His words. Just as the demons were subject to the command of Jesus, so was the fever. Whatever illness had caused the fever was immediately eliminated from the woman’s body, leaving her completely whole. So much so, that each of the gospel authors indicates that she set about preparing a meal for her son-in-law’s guests.

For Luke, everything about Jesus revolved around His God-given power and authority. He records that Jesus began His ministry by visiting the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth and reading from the book of Isaiah.

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

After reading this text, Jesus told the audience, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). In doing so, He was making the bold claim that He had been sent by God and was the Messiah, the anointed one for whom they had long waited. He was filled with the Spirit of God and had the power and authority to proclaim good news to the poor, set free all those who were enslaved and oppressed, and restore sight to the blind. He had come to declare that “the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:19 NLT). 

News of what Jesus had done for Simon’s mother-in-law soon spread throughout the town of Capernaum. By that evening, Jesus found Himself surrounded by people who were sick, lame, and even demon-possessed. What’s interesting to note is that Luke indicates that Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Luke changes his emphasis and focuses on the “hands-on” approach of Jesus. Yet Matthew reports that Jesus “cast out the evil spirits with a simple command” (Matthew 4:16 NLT). Each of these men wrote their respective gospel accounts with a particular audience in mind and with a specific message concerning Jesus that they were trying to convey. Matthew was an eye-witness to these events, while Luke was writing based on interviews he had conducted with those who were there at the time the events took place. The slight variations in their accounts do not reflect contradictions in the Scriptures, but they simply reflect each man’s attempt to communicate his particular message concerning Jesus. 

Each of the gospel authors was trying to illustrate the power and authority of Jesus. Just as the Isaiah passage had predicted, Jesus was preaching, teaching, proclaiming, healing, releasing, and displaying the favor of God to sinful men and women. He was the Messiah. And even the demons were subject to His commands.

And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” – Luke 4:41 ESV

Jesus spoke and they were obligated to obey because they recognized Him for who He was: The Son of God. The demons were not worshiping Jesus but they were acknowledging His identity as the Messiah. They inherently understood that Jesus was more than just a rabbi from the town of Nazareth. When He spoke, they were forced to obey His command. They had no choice but to do as He said because He had the full power and authority of God behind His words.

But Jesus “rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (Luke 4:41 ESV). At first glance, it might seem odd that Jesus prevented the demons from declaring His identity as the Son of God. But Jesus was on a God-ordained mission that had a firm and highly specific timeline attached to it. The testimony of the demons could have led the people to see Jesus as the political/military Messiah they had been looking for. His obvious power over the spiritual realm could have led them to speculate that He could just as easily defeat the physical enemies of Israel, such as the Romans. As we will see later on in Luke’s gospel, the people were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule and oppression, and, on more than one occasion, they would attempt to take Jesus by force and make Him their King. So, Jesus silenced the demons, refusing them to declare His true identity. He had a job to do and it would not be complete until He had faithfully obeyed His Father’s will by sacrificing His life on the cross.

After a busy day in the town of Capernaum, Jesus sought a place of refuge, to rest and, most likely, to seek time alone with His Heavenly Father. But the crowds were persistent and eventually found Him. The needs of the people were great and they begged Jesus to remain with them. You can sense that they knew He was someone special and they wanted to keep Him for themselves. But Jesus responded by informing them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43 ESV).

The people of Capernaum were focused on the physical benefits that Jesus seemed to provide. They had seen Him heal the sick and set free those who were demon-possessed, and they wanted more. But Jesus had a different agenda in mind. He had come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. Whether they believed Him to be the Messiah or not, Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom or rule from a throne in Jerusalem. He had come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19 ESV). God was preparing to show His undeserved favor and mercy on a condemned and death-deserving mankind by offering His Son as the substitutionary atonement for their sin debt. They were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule, but Jesus had come to provide freedom to those who were held captive by sin and death. And as Jesus would later state, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 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

In the Fullness of Time

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66 ESV

When Mary made her trip to visit Elizabeth in Judah, her cousin would have been in the sixth month of her pregnancy (Luke 1:36). Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, then returned home (Luke 1:56). It would appear that Mary returned home to Nazareth before Elizabeth gave birth.

But not long after Mary’s departure, Elizabeth’s due date arrived and she bore a son just as the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah (Luke 1:12). For the entire nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had suffered from temporary muteness because he had failed to believe the message of the angel.

“…behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” – Luke 1:20 ESV

It appears that Zechariah’s ailment included an inability to hear as well. When his neighbors attempt to question him about the child’s name, they are forced to use hand signals, which would indicate that he was deaf as well as dumb. The Greek word Luke used to refer to Zechariah’s muteness is kōphos, and it can also be used to refer to deafness. So, for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah was forced to live in silence, unable to speak or hear anything. And this condition would have made his vocation as a priest virtually impossible to fulfill. He lived in a state of silent isolation, waiting for the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy. And no one could have been more anxious or excited about Elizabeth’s due date than Zechariah. He was looking forward to seeing the fulfillment of all his prayers, but he must have also had high hopes that the birth would bring about the restoration of his speech and hearing.

Throughout this chapter, Luke puts a great deal of emphasis on time. Gabriel told Zechariah that his words would “be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). Luke records that Zechariah left the temple and returned home “when his time of service was ended” (Luke 1:23). Then we are given time markers focused on the stages of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

for five months she kept herself hidden – Luke 1:24 ESV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth – Luke 1:26 ESV

“…behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month…” – Luke 1:36 ESV

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. – Luke 1:56 ESV

Then Luke begins this section with the statement, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son” (Luke 1:57 ESV). Everything was happening according to God’s divine timeline. While Elizabeth’s pregnancy was normal, in that it lasted the usual nine months, it was supernatural and sovereignly ordained. Luke does not want his readers to forget that she was advanced in years and had suffered from barrenness. The birth of this baby was anything but normal, and the timing of all these events was meant to remind the reader that these were extraordinary and divinely sanctioned days in the history of Israel. A formerly barren woman was giving birth to a son. A young virgin girl was three months pregnant and carrying within her the Son of God. And it was all happening according to God’s preordained and perfectly timed plan.

The apostle Paul emphasized the impeccable timing behind God’s plan.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman… – Galalians 4:4 ESV

Time had reached its fulness or completeness. Each element of the plan was happening at just the right time and at the prescribed moment that God had preordained. There was no chance involved. It was all part of the perfect will of God Almighty.

Elizabeth gave birth to a son – just as Gabriel had said she would. And the new parents were surrounded by friends and neighbors who came to celebrate this joyous occasion with them. Even they recognized the hand of God behind Elizabeth’s pregnancy and delivery, and rejoiced that “the Lord had shown great mercy to her” (Luke 1:58 ESV). But they were completely ignorant of God’s plans for this newly born infant. They had no way of knowing that he would “be great before the Lord” and “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15), or that he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16 ESV). To them, he was just another healthy baby boy who would be a welcome addition to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. This faithful priest now had a son and an heir. 

And because this baby would likely be the only child born to this aging couple, the friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth fully expected them to name the boy after his father. But eight days after giving birth to her son, Elizabeth surprised her friends by informing them that his name would be John. She and Zechariah chose to reveal this news on the day scheduled for their son’s circumcision. This God-ordained rite was meant as a sign that their newborn son was dedicated or set apart to God. It was a sign of the covenant that God had made between Himself and the offspring of Abraham.

“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations…” – Genesis 17:9-12 ESV

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that their son had been graciously given to them by God and that he had a divine mission to accomplish. They were merely stewards, charged with the task of keeping God’s vessel pure and prepared for his future role: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:170 ESV). Gabriel had warned them to keep their son away from wine and strong drink. He would be filled with the Spirit of God and set apart as an instrument to accomplish God’s divine plan. And this godly couple was determined to follow the words of the angel of God. When Zechariah was questioned about their strange choice of name, he used a writing tablet to affirm his wife’s answer, scrawling the words: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63 ESV).

At that exact moment in time, God restored Zechariah’s ability to speak and hear. By obeying the word of the angel and naming his son, John, Zechariah proved his faith and was healed of his infirmity. And the first thing he did was bless God. We are not told what Zechariah said, but it seems likely that he reiterated some of what Gabriel had said regarding John’s future role. Luke indicates that “fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65 ESV).

In blessing God, Zechariah must have divulged some of what the angel Gabriel had said. This news obviously made an impact on those who were in the range of Zechariah’s voice. And the fact had not escaped them that Zechariah’s voice had been miraculously and instantaneously restored. There was something supernatural going on in their midst. But they had no way of knowing that God had just invaded time and space, sending his servant, John, so that he might one day begin his ministry of announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repentance. Three decades would pass before the baby born to Zechariah and Elizabeth launched his divinely ordained ministry. In the meantime, another baby would be born to a young virgin girl named Mary. Months, years, and decades would pass. But God was at work. He was methodically and painstakingly preparing the way for the long-awaited Messiah. And in the fullness of time, His plan of redemption would begin.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Savior

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56 ESV

After hearing Elizabeth’s Spirit-inspired pronouncement of blessing, Mary could no longer contain her emotions. She broke into song, composing what has come to be known as the “Magnificat.” That title is derived from the Latin translation of the first line of her song: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The word magnifies is magnificat in Latin, and can also be translated as “glorifies” or “exalts.”

In this rather short song or psalm of praise to God, Mary attempts to articulate her extreme gratefulness to God for having chosen her for the unfathomable and unprecedented task of bearing the coming Messiah. She was blown away by the magnitude of this weighty responsibility and recognized that she had done nothing to deserve it. The God of the universe had graciously chosen to extend to her the honor of giving birth to His own Son. And her heart was filled with praise and gratitude.

But notice the words Mary uses to describe Yahweh. First, she refers to Him as Lord (kyrios), which can also be translated as “master.” It was a title that conveyed an awareness of sovereignty or power and expressed an attitude of respect and reverence. Mary viewed God as her Lord and Master, and herself as His humble servant.

But she also described Yahweh as “God my Savior.” He was theos, the transcendent God of the universe, but also her personal sōtēr or Savior. In essence, Mary is stating that Yahweh is the “God of my salvation.” This was a common Old Testament designation for God and one with which Mary would have been quite familiar.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV

She goes on to describe Yahweh as “mighty” (dynatos) and “holy” (hagios). She believed her God to be all-powerful and completely capable of doing what He had promised to do – even orchestrating her pregnancy through the power of the Holy Spirit. And while this miraculous turn of events might raise eyebrows and cause some to question her moral integrity, she knew that her God was holy and pure in all His ways. Not only that, He was a God of “mercy” (eleos), one who shows kindness or goodwill towards the miserable and the afflicted. He was the God of the downtrodden and the lowly, who had a track record of coming to the aid of the disenfranchised while scattering “those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51 NLT).

Mary inherently knew that God was working in ways that were contrary to the normal ways of men. Rather than choosing the wealthy, wise, influential, and powerful, God had turned His attention to the humble, lowly, and inconsequential. And the apostle Paul would later articulate the rather controversial and contradictory ways of God when he wrote to the believers in Corinth.

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1Corinthians 1:24-29 NLT

From a purely human perspective, none of this made sense, but to Mary, it was a clear indication that Yahweh was at work. He was doing what He always did, overturning the status quo and championing the cause of the less fortunate.

“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1:52-53 NLT

Mary seemed to understand that her story was that of the Israelite people. There had been a time when they were an obscure and unimportant nation, small in number, and devoid of power. Yet God had shown them mercy and grace. And it was Moses who reminded them that their status as God’s chosen people had been undeserved and unearned.

“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.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you… – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Mary may have been young, but she was wise beyond her years. She fully grasped the significance of what was going on and expressed an understanding of the bigger picture at play.

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” – Luke 1:54-55 NLT

By showing mercy to Mary, God was extending mercy to His chosen people. He had promised to send them the Messiah and now He was about to fulfill that promise. Mary was blown away by the fact that she had been chosen as the conduit through which the “seed” of God’s promise would come. When God had made His covenant promise to Abraham, assuring him that his future offspring would become a blessing to the nations, He had been referring to the coming Messiah. And the apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, would make His unlikely entry into the world through the womb of a young virgin girl. He would humble Himself by taking on human flesh, leaving His rightful place at His Father’s side, and subjecting Himself to the restrictive and far-from-regal confines of a human body.

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 ESV

And it would all begin with His divinely orchestrated and perfectly timed birth.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

There was much about her future son’s life that Mary did not understand. It’s unlikely that she had any concept of the suffering and death that would mark His life. She knew He would be the Messiah, and she hoped that He would bring salvation to His people. Her hopeful expectation was that He would be the next King of Israel, and she would be right. But there was much that had to happen before that day came. He would have to suffer and die. His crucifixion would have to come before His glorification. And His ascension and return to His Father’s side would have to precede the consummation of His Kingdom and His coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords. But while there was much Mary did not understand, she knew that her God was sovereign over all and fully faithful. So, she gladly sang His praises.

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