The Battle is the Lord’s

1 In the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, these kings made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (that is, Kadesh) and defeated all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who were dwelling in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. 11 So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12 They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.

13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people. Genesis 14:1-16 ESV

Abram and Lot have separated, with Lot taking up residence near the city of Sodom, while Abram continued his nomadic lifestyle, setting up a temporary camp by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron. But Abram’s separation from Lot would not last long. His nephew’s presence in the land would come back to haunt him.

This new season of Abram’s more independent life was going to be rocked by unexpected events that were outside of his control. What chapter 14 reveals is that Abram was far from alone in the land of Canaan. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been little mention of other nations, but the story recorded in this chapter will reveal that Abram has company and lots of it.

The chapter opens with news of a coalition of four kings whose nations lie outside the boundaries of Canaan. It’s difficult to determine with any certainty the exact locations of these ancient realms, but it seems that they each were located within the fertile crescent, an area known as the land of Shinar. It is important to recall that Shinar was the location of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It was there that God decided to confuse the language of the people who attempted to build a tower that would reach to the sky. As a result of the confusion caused by the proliferation of new languages, the region became known as “Babel,” a word that literally means “confusion.” This region would later bear the name of “Babylon” and play a vital role in the history of the Hebrew people.

These kings all hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that stretched from the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.  One of these kings, Chedorlaomer, had earlier invaded southern Canaan and forced its occupants to become his vassals. The people living in Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Zoar), had found themselves subjugated to a foreign power for 13 long years. But at one point their kings had decided to throw off the yoke of this foreign oppressor. And their decision had forced King Chedorlaomer to form a coalition with three of his fellow kings from Mesopotamia and invade Canaan yet again.  

This entire scene is meant to display the interconnected nature of all that has gone on before. Every event that has happened up to this point is linked together in God’s plan. There are reasons for everything. And there are repercussions for every decision made by men and consequences for every act of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. The ill-fated decision of the people to disobey God and construct a tower to glorify their own greatness had produced a myriad of nations that were dispersed across the earth. And the confusion created by their disparate languages would eventually turn into conflict.

In chapter 13, Moses recorded God’s reiteration of His promise to Abram.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. – Genesis 13:14-15 ESV

And yet, here we have nine different kings vying for the right to control the land that God had given to Abram and his descendants. Ever since the gates to Eden had been slammed shut, mankind had been busy trying to grab up the remaining territory. Rather than steward that which belonged to God, they had been attempting to claim it as their own. Instead of acknowledging God as King, they had chosen to set up their own petty kingdoms here on earth. And here in this story, nine of these would-be gods were facing off in a battle of will and weapons, all in an effort to control what really belonged to God.

This coalition of four Mesopotamian kings slowly made their way south, defeating various clans, tribes, and nations along the way. They were successfully demonstrating their superior strength and telegraphing to the five kings of southern Canaan that their prospects for victory were dim. But refusing to consider surrender, the five kings joined forces and faced their enemy in the Valley of Siddim. Things did not go well. The tar pits that covered the valley floor proved to be their undoing. Many of the soldiers became mired in the sticky muck and were captured. As a result, the five kings were unable to put up a fight and their forces were easily defeated. And Moses provides a summary of this demoralizing debacle.

So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. – Genesis 14:11-12 ESV

What makes this rather brief recap of the battle stand out is its focus on Sodom and Gomorrah, and its mention of Lot, the nephew of Abram. If you recall, chapter 13 chronicled Lot’s decision to choose the well-watered lands near Zoar as the place to pasture his flocks. But he actually “settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). This nephew of Abram made a determined choice to seek refuge among “the men of Sodom,” who “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV).

Somewhere along the way, Lot had given up his tent and sought shelter within the walls of Sodom. Moses makes it clear that he “was dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). And that decision would prove to be far from wise. When the four Mesopotamian kings looted Sodom, Lot was taken captive along with all his possessions. He was enslaved.

But news of his capture eventually reached the ears of his uncle. Abram was about to discover that his separation from Lot had been anything but permanent. And his decision to give Lot his choice of the land as his own had probably been a mistake. Now, Abram had a decision to make. Would he intervene and rescue Lot from his predicament or allow him to suffer the consequences? Moses records that Abram spent no time deliberating over his decision.

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. – Genesis 14:14 ESV

One can debate the wisdom of Abram’s decision, but there is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty woven throughout this entire event. The actions of the five kings, while autonomous and self-determined, are actually the byproducts of God’s providential will. Nothing happens outside His control or in opposition to His predetermined plan. These events came as no surprise to God. They were simply part of the sovereign strategy He was orchestrating so that His will might be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What He had preordained was coming to fruition, just as He had planned.

Abram and his 318-man army went to battle against the coalition of kings and their superior forces, and he won. That outcome would have come as no surprise to Moses’ readership. They knew that, for them to exist as a people, Abram had to have won. His victory was assured because God had promised to make of him a great nation. And nothing was going to stand in the way of that promise being fulfilled. Whether the number of enemy kings was four or forty, it didn’t matter. Regardless of the size of the foe, God could give victory.

This story should bring to mind another battle fought by a servant of God against superior forces. Years later, Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, would find himself going up against the Midianites. He was outnumbered and outgunned. But much to Gideon’s surprise, God informed him that he had too many soldiers. In a series of bizarre events, God whittled down Gideon’s force until he only had 300 men left. And with that diminutive army, Gideon defeated the Midianites.

And, in a similar fashion, Abram defeated the five kings of Mesopotamia. His “surprising” victory allowed him to rescue Lot and bring back all the possessions that had been stolen. Lot had been redeemed by Abram. He didn’t deserve it and he hadn’t earned it. Abram simply extended unmerited mercy and grace to his young nephew. And this story provides a foreshadowing of another undeserved rescue that will take place in the lives of Abram’s descendants after another army from the north will invade Canaan and take God’s people captive. God will graciously and dramatically rescue them, returning them to the land and fulfilling the promise He had made to Abram.

This event is simply one of many illustrations of God’s goodness, grace, and sovereignty as displayed in the life of Abram. And there are many more to come.

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

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

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

Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NLT

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

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

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

Stand Firm and Stand Together

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. 1 Peter 5:12-14 ESV

Even when attempting to close out his letter, Peter could not refrain from offering one more exhortation to his readers. You can sense his pastor’s heart as he expresses his care and concern for their spiritual well-being.

Peter mentions Silvanus, an individual he describes as “a faithful brother.” He is likely the same Silvanus who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. – 2 Corinthians 1:19 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Silvanus was a Greek name and its Roman form was Silas. In the book of Acts, Luke mentions Silas 12 different times and describes him as having been an apostolic emissary, carrying an important letter to the Gentile converts to Christianity.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter – Acts 15:22-23 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to what Silvanus’ exact role was in regards to this letter. There are some who believe that Silvanus acted as Peter’s personal secretary or amanuensis. When Peter states, “By Silvanus…I have written briefly to you…,” they interpret it to mean that Peter dictated his thoughts to Silvanus, who then wrote the actual letter that was read to the various church throughout Asia Minor. The apostle Paul was known to use this process with some of his letters. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Tertius, his amanuensis, identified himself.

I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. – Romans 16:22 ESV

So, it would not have been uncommon or unexpected for Peter to use someone like Silvanus to pen the actual message to the churches. This personal greeting from Peter at the end of the letter would have been a reminder to its readers that its content was from him.

There are others who believe that Silvanus was simply the messenger, chosen by Peter to take the letter to the churches located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s reference to Silvanus as “a faithful brother” is meant to identify him as a trustworthy messenger who was carrying an actual letter from the apostle Peter. It was important to Peter that the recipients of the letter also receive Silvanus as more than just an errand boy tasked with hand-delivering Peter’s message. He was a proven and faithful co-worker who had served alongside the apostles and would be an invaluable asset to the churches in Asia Minor.

But regardless of whether Silvanus penned Peter’s letter or simply delivered it, Peter provided his reason for sending it in the first place.

My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. – 1 Peter 5:12 NLT

Their suffering for the sake of Christ was all part of God’s plan for their lives. Peter describes it as “God’s grace” for them – the true grace of God. This is the same grace he had mentioned just a few sentences earlier in his letter.

…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

Yes, they were experiencing suffering, just as Jesus had in His earthly life. But Peter wanted them to know that their present suffering would result in their future glorification, just as it had for Jesus. The author of Hebrews provides much-needed encouragement when it comes to facing the trials and difficulties of this life.

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

By focusing on the faithful suffering of Jesus and recognizing that His pain was our gain, we are better able to endure the difficulties we face in this life. He is seated in the place of honor beside His Heavenly Father. His suffering resulted in glorification. His humiliating and painful execution was followed by His glorious exaltation. And the same will be true of all those who place their hope and faith in Him. They too will one day be glorified, exalted, and enter into the presence of God Almighty. And Peter reminds his readers that, at that time, God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). That very thought led Peter to exclaim, “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV).

There was nothing they would face in this life that could remove them from the protective power of God’s grace. He would watch over them and preserve them, guaranteeing that they would one day receive the future inheritance He had ordained for them. This was the very message Peter used to open up his letter.

It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

Even if their suffering for the sake of Christ was to result in death, they could rest easy knowing that their death would usher them into God’s presence. But should they live and their suffering were to continue, they would see it come to an end with the Lord’s return. Their salvation was guaranteed. Their future was secure. The apostle Paul gave a powerful exhortation to the believers in Corinth, challenging them to never give up.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

He was encouraging them to live with the end in mind, and that was Peter’s point as well. He challenged his readers to “stand firm” in the grace of God. Their Heavenly Father could be trusted. His promises were true and He always kept His word.

As Peter wraps up his letter, he makes a rather interesting reference to “She who is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13 ESV). It is believed that Peter is using the name of the ancient and infamous city of Babylon to refer to Rome. At one time, Babylon had been the 800-pound gorilla in that part of the world, having dominated and defeated the other nations, including Israel. They had terrorized the world, establishing a far-reaching empire that spread their idolatry and immorality as far as the eye could see. And Peter sarcastically refers to Rome as nothing more than the latest version of ancient Babylon. Like Babylon, their 15-minutes of fame would come to an end. But in the meantime, Peter was writing his letter from Rome and sending greetings from the believers who lived right under the nose of the Roman emperor.

Peter refers to these believers as “likewise chosen” by God. This was the way he had addressed the recipients of his letter.

God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. – 1 Peter 1:1 NLT

They were not alone. There were other believers going through the same difficulties.

Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. – 1 Peter 5:9 NLT

These people did not live in the Internet age. They did not have access to social media and instant information. There was no way they could communicate with other believers and know what was going on in other cities or countries. News traveled slowly. And it would be easy for the various churches to assume that their particular difficulties were unique to them. But Peter assured them that their struggles were common to all.

After sending greetings from the church in Rome and from Mark, his ministry companion, Peter encourages the believers in these far-flung churches to “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14 ESV). It would seem odd that Peter was suggesting that the believers in the church located on Pontus should hug and kiss one another. Yes, brotherly love and affection are essential for every local body of believers. But it makes more sense to view Peter as calling on each of these believers, regardless of their location, to express love for their brothers and sisters all across the world. In a sense, Peter was encouraging them to send a “kiss of love” to one another, understanding that distance could not separate them from the other members of their God-ordained family. The Greek word for “greet” is aspazomai and it means “to embrace” or “to receive joyfully.” Peter wanted the churches in Asia Minor to see their family as far larger and more significant than just their local congregation. The body of Christ was growing and spreading and, while they could not physically see their brothers and sisters in Christ, they could “greet” them with expressions of love and mutual concern. And they could all share in the peace that was theirs through Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

 

The Heights of Humility

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV

The church needs godly leadership. So, Peter called on the elders of the local congregations in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to step up and do their God-appointed duty well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

But Peter knew it was almost impossible to lead those who refused to follow. That’s why he turned his attention to the members of those local congregations and urged them to live lives of humble submission and obedience, graciously and willingly submitting themselves to their elders and to one another. And he began by addressing the young men who, in every generation, sometimes find submission to authority to be a difficult and distasteful proposition. Naturally headstrong and strongly independent, young men inherently desire to come out from under the authority of their elders. They want to sow their oats, captain their own ship, and operate as the masters of their own fates. But Peter challenged them to “accept the authority of the elders” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT).

Peter knew that the health of the church was dependent upon the willingness of its members to lovingly submit to one another. There was no place for competition within the body of Christ. While the church requires a God-ordained hierarchy of leadership, there is no excuse for attitudes of superiority or favoritism. Paul addressed the unique nature of the body of Christ in his first letter to believers living  in the city of Corinth.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

He went on to use the human body as an apt illustration of the spiritual body of Christ – the church.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? – 1 Corinthians 12:14-17 NLT

Each part of the body is necessary and serves its own unique purpose. It is only as they function in harmony that they all enjoy the mutual benefits inherent in their relationship. And the same is true of the church. That is why Paul insisted, “our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:18 NLT). Yes, there are those who are designated as elder and teachers, but that does not mean they have greater value or worth. It is as each member of the body of Christ learns to utilize its unique attributes for the benefit of the whole, that the church grows and thrives. And Paul insisted that it was all of God’s divine plan.

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NLT

Having addressed the younger generation within the church, Peter expanded the circumference of his message by including every “part” of the body.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5 NLT

According to Peter, every member of a local congregation had the responsibility to adorn themselves with an attitude of humility. No one was to view themselves as irreplaceable or indispensable. An elder, while holding a leadership position within the body of Christ, was expected to be a servant of all. Every individual within a local fellowship was to maintain a humble evaluation of themselves. The apostle Paul put it a bit more bluntly.

I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:3-5 NLT

Peter was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34 when he wrote “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And James did the same thing in the letter that bears his name.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. – James 4:6-7 NLT

Humility is a non-negotiable characteristic of a Christ-follower. That’s why Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe exactly what kind of attitude Jesus had.

…he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7-8 NLT

Jesus was the Son of God and, yet, He did not think of Himself as too good to take on human flesh and live among sinful humanity. The co-creator of the entire universe willingly left His Father’s side and entered this world as the servant of all. He was the suffering servant and the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. And we are to follow His example. we are to share His mindset of humility and selfless service.

And with Jesus as the prime example, Peter urges his readers: “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor” (1 Peter 5:6 NLT). Slaves who submitted to their masters, wives who lived in loving submission to their husbands, husbands who submissively and sacrificially served their wives, and individual Christians who willingly submitted to one another would each be submitting to God. And He would eventually reward them just as He had rewarded His Son. Which is exactly what Paul had written about our humble and selfless Savior.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

As Peter states earlier, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. His grace is our reward. The grace of the gospel, made possible by the selfless sacrifice of Jesus rewards us with salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, and, ultimately, our future glorification. We can look forward to a future reward that will include eternal life in His unshakeable Kingdom.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. – Hebrews 12:28 NLT

Peter wanted his readers to live humbly, sacrificially, selflessly, and expectantly. Yes, they would suffer in this life. And yes, they were expected to live submissively in this life. And yet, one day, their humility will be richly rewarded.

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

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

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

 

To Love Like Christ

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Peter has just quoted from the book of Psalms in order to encourage his readers. He has used the Old Testament Scriptures to remind them that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Psalm 34:15). But not only that, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16). He wanted them to know that God the Father was watching over them and was on their side. The presence of difficulties and trials in the their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned them. The psalmist had called the people of God to live in obedience to the will of God, even in the face of opposition and the seeming absence of God’s presence. He was there. He was always there. And not only did God see their righteous response to the unrighteous actions of others, but the full weight of His righteous indignation was against those individuals. He would repay the wicked. Their only responsibility was to not return evil for evil. In fact, they were to turn away from evil and do good.

Then Peter follows up his quotation of Psalm 34 by paraphrasing yet another message found in the psalms.

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 ESV

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. – Psalm 118:6-7 ESV

And the author of the book of Hebrews used these same passages as when trying to articulate God’s unwavering faithfulness and care for His own.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV

Financial distress was no reason to worry or lose hope. And the love of or desire for money should never replace God as the believer’s sole source of sustenance and comfort. Material goods would make lousy substitutes for God. That is why Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The love of money and the fear of man are two powerful forces that constantly pull on the followers of Christ. We are prone to believe that money can bring contentment and that men are our primary source of acceptance. The world teaches us that material wealth can make us happy, and that our peers can make us or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. Yet the psalmists, Jesus, and Peter teach something quite different. And Peter chooses to make his point by asking a rather strange question that is cleverly worded paraphrase of Psalm 56:11.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? – 1 Peter 3:13 ESV

To those hearing Peter’s letter being read to them, the obvious and logical answer might be: Everybody! As they looked at the very real circumstances surrounding their lives, they could easily confess that there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able to do them harm for doing what is good. So much of their suffering was a result of their decision to follow Jesus.

But Peter was trying to get them to understand that their reaction to their suffering was a key demonstration of their faith in Christ. Were they willing to remain committed to doing good, even in the face of opposition and oppression? Would their mistreatment at the hands of their enemies cause them to respond in like manner or would they be a mimētēs or an imitator of Jesus. Centuries before Jesus suffered persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government, the prophet Isaiah prophesied how He would respond to their unjustified and unrighteous treatment of Him.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

And Matthew records how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. – Matthew 27:12 NLT

Jesus suffered for the sake of righteousness. He didn’t defend Himself. He didn’t lash out in anger or resentment. And Peter lets his readers know that they too would suffer for the sake of righteousness and, when it happened, they could know that their suffering would bring the blessing of God. They would one day be justly and rightly rewarded for their faithfulness, just as Jesus was.

God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. – 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Jesus had told His disciples, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). And He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was well aware that His future fate involved His own physical death at the hands of His enemies. They would kill His body, but fail to touch His soul. Jesus would die, but His body would be resurrected and reunited with His soul in its glorified form. His death was far from the end. It was just the beginning of God’s grand redemptive plan to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. It was on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, that Peter made the following statement to his Jewish audience.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:16 NLT

And it was some time later that Peter would stand before the high council of the Jews,  defending himself for having healed a lame man. And he would tell them:

“Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” – Acts 4:10 NLT

Jesus had suffered the ultimate for of persecution: Death by crucifixion. And yet, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was His resurrection power that enabled Peter, John, and the other disciples to do  “good deeds” even in the face of persecution. Peter knew from first-hand experience what suffering for the faith looked like. And he wanted his readers to know the secret to his ministry and resilience.

…worship Christ as Lord of your life. – 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

You might put it this way: Stop worrying and start worshiping. Rather than obsessing over what men might do to them, they needed to start praising Jesus for all that He had done for them. They were sons and daughters of God. They were heirs of the Kingdom. They were forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and had the Holy Spirit of God living within them. They had much for which to be grateful and plenty of cause to worship Jesus.

But along with praising Jesus for all that He had done for them, they were to tell others about the source of their hope, joy, and peace in the midst of life’s struggles.

if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

And as they shared their faith, even with their persecutors, they were to do so in love. They were not come across as judgmental or self-righteous. Their relationship with Christ was not to be a badge of honor or superiority that they flaunted before the less spiritual or ungodly. No, Peter told them they were to explain their faith  “in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT). In doing so, they would maintain a clear conscience, free from hate and marked by gracious humility. And this Christ-like response to suffering for the sake of righteousness would have a remarkable impact on their enemies. 

Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

It’s one thing to be hated for doing what is wrong. That is to be expected. But it is another thing to be hated for doing what is right and righteous. And Peter wants the believers to whom he is writing to understand the difference. If they respond to mistreatment with hate, they will only receive more hate in return. But if they respond in love, in total contradiction to human nature, their enemies won’t know what to do with it. This is not a promise of immunity from further suffering or even death. It is a reminder that the believer’s power to show love to their enemies is evidence that they belong to Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer. He warned them that the world would hate in the same way it hated Him. But Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. And as Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NLT). And, as His followers, we are love the world by sharing that message of divine love and salvation – even in the face of opposition, oppression, and the threat of death.

Remember,” Peter writes,  “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

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

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

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

 

A Traveler’s Guide for Christian Pilgrims

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

As the salutation of this letter suggests, its author is none other than “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is the very same Peter whom Jesus called to be one of His disciples. He was first introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. These two men were fishermen, who had a business partnership with two other brothers, James and John (Luke 5:10). But Andrew had been drawn to the enigmatic ministry of John the Baptist, the rather bizarre and mysterious character who had shown up in the Judean wilderness declaring that the kingdom of God had come and calling the people to repent and be baptized. John’s message, mannerisms, and style of dress attracted a lot of attention.

John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. – Matthew 3:4-6 NLT

John’s unconventional wardrobe and message caused a great deal of conjecture among the people. Many thought he might be a prophet sent from God. Some even believed he might be the long-departed prophet, Elijah. Others went as far as to suggest he was the long-awaited Messiah. But John put all these rumors to rest when he declared, “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’” (John 1:23 NLT).

The Pharisees, perplexed by John and a bit put out by John’s growing reputation among the people, demanded to know what right he had to say and do the things he did.

“If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” – John 1:25 NLT

And John responded emphatically, albeit a bit cryptically, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:26-27 NLT). Andrew would have overheard these exchanges between John and the Jewish religious leaders. And the very next day, he just happened to be standing next to John when Jesus walked by. When he heard John say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36 ESV), Andrew’s curiosity got the better of him and he followed Jesus. He ended up spending the entire day in the company of this stranger from Galilee and when the day was done, he made a beeline to his brother Simon. 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). – John 1:40-41 NLT

After less than 24 hours in Jesus’ presence, Andrew had become convinced that He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God who would restore the fortunes of Israel by re-establishing the Davidic dynasty and restoring the nation to power and prominence. The next morning, his excitement undiminished, Andrew introduced his brother to the man he believed to be the one of whom the prophets spoke.

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”). – John 1:42 NLT

Upon meeting Simon, Jesus promptly changed his name to Cephas, the Aramaic version of the Greek name, Petras or Peter.  But Simon received far more than a name change that day. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his entire life was about to undergo a radical transformation that would have eternal ramifications. Yet, at the time, the newly named Peter seems to have made no plans to become a disciple of Jesus. In fact, according to Luke’s gospel, Peter simply went back to his normal routine. But he would soon learn that his new name was just the beginning of the changes that Jesus had in store for him.

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. – Luke 5:1-11 NLT

It would appear that Simon had not initially shared his brother’s enthusiasm and certainty that Jesus was the Messiah. He simply went back to work. But Jesus was not done with Simon. This “change” encounter by the Sea of Galilee would dramatically alter the trajectory of one man’s life and forever change the world. Simon the fisherman would become Peter the fisher of men. This impulsive and, oftentimes, impudent man would end up deserving his new name. He was a “rock” in more ways than one. Hardheaded and quick-tempered, Simon was a speak-first-think-later kind of guy who regularly put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged. He was competitive, compulsive, prone to pride, and desperate for recognition. He was an overachiever whose rough edges rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. 

And while Simon had been blown away by the miracle of the massive catch of fish, the greatest miracle would be the ultimate transformation of his own life. He would go from fisherman to follower of Jesus. In time, he would become one of three disciples who formed the inner circle of Jesus. He, James, and John would be privileged to witness the transfiguration of Jesus. They would be invited to join Jesus in the garden as He prayed on the night of His arrest. Simon would be the one to declare of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But he would also be the one who, three separate times, denied even knowing Jesus. Yet, this man would become a “rock” in the early days of the Church.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Simon would earn his nickname as the “rock,” preaching with boldness and conviction and producing a harvest of new lives for the Kingdom of God.

Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. – Acts 2:40-41 NLT

It was this same Peter who penned the words of this letter that bears his name. And he wrote to an audience made up of new converts to Christ. These were believers living in such distant lands as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were predominantly Gentiles who were having to live out their newfound faith in the midst of a secular and, oftentimes, hostile culture. Peter refers to them as “elect exiles of the Dispersion” in order to stress the temporary and alien nature of their status as followers of Christ. By aligning themselves with Jesus, they had made themselves enemies of the state. Misunderstood and often maligned, these individuals were facing extreme persecution and harsh retribution for their decision to follow Jesus. Yet, Peter was writing this letter to encourage them to remain strong in the face of opposition

Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:9-10 NLT

Ultimately, Peter wanted the recipients of his letter to understand that God was not only aware of their difficult circumstances, but He had sovereignly ordained them. Nothing they were experiencing was a surprise to God. Their salvation had been His doing, but their suffering and sanctification were also part of His divine plan. Peter knew that these people were beginning to question the efficacy of their salvation experience. They had come to Christ fully expecting the promise of abundant life. But now they were experiencing trials and tribulation, rejection and ridicule. In their minds, the Gospel appeared to be some kind of bait and switch. But Peter wanted them to understand that it was all part of God’s sovereign will for their lives. God had not abandoned them and He was far from done with them. In fact, Peter wanted them to know that their current trials would be the source of great joy.

There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

In a sense, Peter was providing his readers with a traveler’s guide for Christian pilgrims. He was giving them much-needed directions for safely navigating the path that God had laid out for 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.

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

A Sacrifice Worth Making

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:18-30 ESV

It’s amazing to consider the sovereign nature of all of Jesus’ encounters. Nothing that ever happened to Him was ever a case of luck or blind chance. It was all providentially orchestrated by His Heavenly Father. Every lame person who ever came to Jesus for healing did so of their own free will, but under the sovereign direction of God. Even those individuals whose lives were under the oppressive control of a demonic spirit somehow scored a face-to-face encounter with the Son of God. Even the demon within them could not stop the inevitable and irresistible will of God.

God’s timing was always impeccable, and the Son’s adherence to His Father’s will was always irreproachable. So, as Jesus walked in lock-step with His Father’s plan, it was inevitable that He would encounter those whom God had providentially preordained Him to meet. And that is exactly what happens when the rich, young ruler comes to Jesus with an important question. This was not just a case of good timing. It was an example of God’s carefully orchestrated oversight of every phase of His Son’s life and ministry. This particular man showed up at this particular time and with this particular question on his mind.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 ESV

Keep in mind that Jesus had just made a startling admission regarding entrance into the kingdom that left His disciples dazed and confused.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:17 ESV

And prior to dropping that bombshell on His disciples, Jesus had made another unexpected disclosure regarding justification before God.

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14 ESV

So, this man’s appearance could not have come at a better time. And his question could not have been more appropriate and applicable to the circumstances.

Luke tells us that this man was a ruler, which infers that he was both powerful and influential. The other synoptic gospels add that he was also rich and young. In other words, he had a lot going for him. We are not told what kind of ruler this man was. He could have served in some kind of governmental capacity. Perhaps he was a leader in the local synagogue. Or he could have been a member of the Sanhedrin. But regardless the nature of his leadership capacity, he seeks out Jesus. And notice how Jesus responds to the him.

“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. – Luke 18:19 ESV

Jesus seemingly ignores the man’s question and focuses on a single word contained within it. The man referred to Jesus as a “good” teacher, but uses this polite but overused description to make an important point. According to psalmist, only God alone is good.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 53:2-3 ESV

So, why was the young ruler using this word to describe Jesus? The truth is, the man meant nothing by it. But whether the man or anyone else in the crowd understood it, Jesus was subtly inferring His own deity. Jesus really was a “good” teacher. In fact, He was the God-teacher, the God-man.

But Jesus doesn’t belabor the point. Instead, He points out five of the Ten Commandments.

“Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” – Luke 18:20 ESV

Matthew adds that the man’s request was focused on what “good deed” he must do to inherit eternal life. From the conversation that followed, it seems clear that the man believed he had already done enough. He was young and rich, and from the perspective of most Jews, he was already blessed by God because of his wealth. He was also a religious man because when Jesus listed the five commandments and told the man to keep them, he proudly announced, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18:21 ESV).

This man was looking for confirmation, not a list of things to do. As a faithful Jew, he believed he was a child of Abraham and, therefore, a rightful heir to eternal life. As a descendant of Abraham, he was guaranteed a place in God’s eternal Kingdom. Now, he was asking Jesus to place His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on his life.

The wording of the man’s question is very specific. He uses the word klēronomeō, which means “to obtain by inheritance.” This reveals that he believed eternal life was already rightfully his, but he wants to know how to he can get his hands on it now. He was not willing to wait. His attitude is similar to that of the young man in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In that story, Jesus described another young man from a wealthy family who was destined to inherit his father’s vast riches. But unwilling to wait for his father to die, he demanded that he be given his inheritance right way.

“I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. – Luke 15:12 NLT

Finding himself suddenly wealthy beyond belief, that young man ended up spending everything he had on a life of excess and immorality. He had gotten what he wanted but had misused and abused it.

And, in a similar way, the rich young man kneeling before Jesus was demanding that he be given what was rightfully his: His guaranteed inheritance of eternal life. This man had it all but he wanted more. He coveted the one thing that was missing from his portfolio: Assurance of eternal life.

Because of his wealth, social standing, and success at religious rule-keeping, this young man believed himself to be blessed by God. He viewed himself as a good man who deserved everything that was due to him. And if Jesus could guarantee him that he had done enough to earn eternal life, he could live the rest of his life in ease and comfort. But when Jesus emphasized that “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19 ESV), He was letting this man know that there was only one “good man” participating in this conversation. And it wasn’t the rich, young ruler.

And while this man could brag about having kept the commandments, Jesus knew the truth about his heart. It’s interesting that Jesus only listed five of the commandments and they all had to do with the horizontal relationships between individuals.

These five commandments bring to mind Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In that message, Jesus stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to explain what it looked like to “relax” one of God’s laws. He put hatred on the same par as murder (Matthew 5:22). He compared lust to adultery.

“…everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 ESV

Lust, like adultery, is essentially taking what does not belong to you. It is a form of stealing. And Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29 ESV).

All throughout His sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a radically different picture of what it means to keep God’s law. It wasn’t just about rule-keeping. It was about a change of the heart. Those who hoped to inherit God’s kingdom would have to live sacrificially and selflessly. Their adherence to God’s laws would have to manifest itself in their relationships with others. That’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42 ESV).

Which brings us back to the rich young man. Jesus turned to him and said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV). This proved to be the deal-breaker. This one “good deed” was more than the man could handle. He was unwilling to part with his wealth. All his law-keeping had cost him nothing. But now Jesus was demanding that he do one thing that would cost him everything.

The man was focused on what Jesus was asking him to give up. But the real tragedy of this story is what the young man eventually turned his back on. He was willing to walk away from eternal life so that he could keep living the “good life.” Mark sadly reports that the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22 ESV).

He was possessed by his possessions. He was held captive by the things of this world. His love of material goods and temporal pleasures proved too great. And years later, the apostle John would probably recall this sad scene when he wrote the following words.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This man had been young and full of life. He was wealthy and blessed by every imaginable earthly pleasure. He was a ruler who wielded tremendous power and responsibility. In other words, He was great. He was all that the disciples hoped to become. When they looked at the rich young ruler, they saw the image of what they aspired to be. And as the disciples stood in stunned silence watching the young man walk away, Jesus further exploded their misconception of greatness.

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:23 ESV

This led some in the crowd to exclaim, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26 ESV). If the wealthy, who were obviously blessed by God, were going to find it difficult to enter the kingdom, what hope did they have?  But Jesus assured them, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27 ESV).

At this point, the ever-impulsive Peter stepped into the conversation and reminded Jesus how he and his companions had sacrificed all to follow Him. They weren’t rich like the young ruler, but they had given up everything to be His disciples. Peter was hoping that Jesus would confirm that they had eternal life locked in. According to the criteria Jesus had given the young ruler, Peter figured they had done enough.

But Jesus surprises them by stating: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30 ESV). What Peter did not yet understand was that, with Jesus’ coming death on the cross, he and the other disciples would eventually inherit the Holy Spirit. Not only that, they would end up becoming part of the much larger family of God. But the greatest blessing they would receive would come at the end of the age: Eternal life. But all of it would be based on the work of Christ, not their own human effort. Eternal life was a gift, not a reward for work well done.

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

I Once Was Lost…

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke 17:14 ESV

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT).

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

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

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

An Unlikely Vessel

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.’ 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 ESV

The birth of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah, while obviously divinely ordained and miraculous in nature, was meant to be a precursor to the more important and paradigm-shifting birth that was to follow. John’s entire life and ministry would be that of a herald or preparer of the way.

“…he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:17 ESV

In the same way, Luke records John’s birth as if it was merely a sign of greater things to come. While there are obvious similarities between the two birth accounts, Luke wants his readers to understand that there were glaring and significant differences as well. Years later, after beginning his ministry announcing the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, John would elaborate on the differences between him and Jesus.

“You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of Him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him, and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must increase; I must decrease.

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.” – John 3:28-31 BSB

Once again, the angel Gabriel is sent to earth by God with a message. This time, he appears to a young virgin girl named Mary. Unlike Zechariah, Mary bears no title or job responsibility that would give her an air of importance or worth. She lived in Nazareth, a relatively obscure town located in the region of Galilee. With the mention of her place of residence, Luke has moved the narrative outside the walls of the capital city of Jerusalem where Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. In doing so, he has shifted the reader’s attention from the sacred environs of the temple to the less-than-holy confines of Nazareth. The reputation of this backwater town was far from stellar. Years later, when Philip told Nathanael “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45 ESV), Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But it was in this unimpressive place and to an unassuming young girl that God sent His angelic messenger with unexpected news.

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:28 ESV

Luke records that Mary’s response to seeing an angel was markedly different than that of Zechariah. He had been troubled and filled with fear at the sight of Gabriel but Mary seems to have been more disturbed by the content of the message than the heavenly status of its deliverer.

…she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. – Luke 1:29 NLT

Mary was a nobody. It’s likely that she was no more than a teenager at the time. And besides her name and the fact that she was a virgin, all Luke tells us about her is that she was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27 ESV). There is nothing about Mary that should have set her apart as special in any way. And that seems to be the point. When Gabriel announced her “favored” status, he was not declaring that she had somehow earned her way into God’s good graces.

The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη, and it means “to grace” or “to indue with special honor.” It is only used one other time in the New Testament. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul refers to the grace or unmerited favor that God had poured out on them.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV

They had done nothing to earn their adoption as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. It had all been a gift from God. And he would elaborate on the undeserved nature of that gift in the very next chapter.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

Mary had done nothing to merit her visitation from Gabriel, and her designation as God’s “favored one” was unearned as well. God had chosen her. He had set her apart to be the earthly vessel that would carry the priceless treasure of His Son. It was her relative obscurity and apparent inadequacy that set her apart. And Mary seemed to recognize the incongruity of Gabriel’s words with her own understanding of her value. She was troubled by what she heard and couldn’t reconcile the confusing nature of the angel’s message. But the apostle Paul provides us with a statement that helps to explain what was going on as Gabriel declared God’s message to Mary.

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

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. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-289 NLT

Mary was an unlikely vessel to contain the glory of God. But then, so are we.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

This young girl was going to be used by God to bring light into the world. She would bear and give birth to the Son of God. For nine months, she would carry the hope of the world in her womb, and eventually, she would deliver God’s priceless gift of grace into the waiting arms of a rebellious and sin-stained world.

Gabriel assured Mary that she had “found favor with God!” (Luke 1:30 NLT). Once again, this does not mean that Mary had earned favor, but that God had graciously chosen to act on her behalf. He was gracing her with His favor. And then Gabriel explains to her how the favor of God would manifest itself.

“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

If Mary had been troubled before, she had to have been reeling at this point. This was mind-boggling, earth-shattering information that must have left her head spinning and her heart racing. And her confusion is evidenced by her reaction: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). She and Joseph were still in the betrothal stage of their relationship and were not yet officially married. It sounded like Gabriel was getting the cart before the horse. She and Joseph still needed to complete their betrothal, go through the marriage ceremony, and then consummate their relationship.

That’s when Gabriel drops the next bombshell.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. – Luke 1:35 NLT

This was all uncharted waters for this young Jewish girl. She had no way of understanding what Gabriel meant. There was no precedent to which she could turn to understand this kind of supernatural explanation. It is doubtful that she fully comprehended the nature of Gabriel’s words. But rather than ask more questions, she simply responded: “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NLT). There may have been a tone of confused compliance behind Mary’s statement. She had no idea what was about to happen but because it was the will of God, Mary was ready to humbly submit.  

It all had to have sounded improbable and impossible to Mary. But Gabriel had assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NLT). And he gave Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence of God’s involvement in all that was going on. The creator of the universe was working behind the scenes to bring about the greatest event in human history, and He was using broken, barren, insignificant, and undeserving individuals to make it happen.

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