Down to the Last Detail

13 And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. 14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work.

15 He cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of one pillar, and a line of twelve cubits measured its circumference. It was hollow, and its thickness was four fingers. The second pillar was the same. 16 He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. 17 There were lattices of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals on the tops of the pillars, a lattice for the one capital and a lattice for the other capital. 18 Likewise he made pomegranates in two rows around the one latticework to cover the capital that was on the top of the pillar, and he did the same with the other capital. 19 Now the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars in the vestibule were of lily-work, four cubits. 20 The capitals were on the two pillars and also above the rounded projection which was beside the latticework. There were two hundred pomegranates in two rows all around, and so with the other capital. 21 He set up the pillars at the vestibule of the temple. He set up the pillar on the south and called its name Jachin, and he set up the pillar on the north and called its name Boaz. 22 And on the tops of the pillars was lily-work. Thus the work of the pillars was finished.

23 Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. 24 Under its brim were gourds, for ten cubits, compassing the sea all around. The gourds were in two rows, cast with it when it was cast. 25 It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east. The sea was set on them, and all their rear parts were inward. 26 Its thickness was a handbreadth, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily. It held two thousand baths.

27 He also made the ten stands of bronze. Each stand was four cubits long, four cubits wide, and three cubits high. 28 This was the construction of the stands: they had panels, and the panels were set in the frames, 29 and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. On the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work. 30 Moreover, each stand had four bronze wheels and axles of bronze, and at the four corners were supports for a basin. The supports were cast with wreaths at the side of each. 31 Its opening was within a crown that projected upward one cubit. Its opening was round, as a pedestal is made, a cubit and a half deep. At its opening there were carvings, and its panels were square, not round. 32 And the four wheels were underneath the panels. The axles of the wheels were of one piece with the stands, and the height of a wheel was a cubit and a half. 33 The wheels were made like a chariot wheel; their axles, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all cast. 34 There were four supports at the four corners of each stand. The supports were of one piece with the stands. 35 And on the top of the stand there was a round band half a cubit high; and on the top of the stand its stays and its panels were of one piece with it. 36 And on the surfaces of its stays and on its panels, he carved cherubim, lions, and palm trees, according to the space of each, with wreaths all around. 37 After this manner he made the ten stands. All of them were cast alike, of the same measure and the same form.

38 And he made ten basins of bronze. Each basin held forty baths, each basin measured four cubits, and there was a basin for each of the ten stands. 39 And he set the stands, five on the south side of the house, and five on the north side of the house. And he set the sea at the southeast corner of the house. 1 Kings 7:13-39 ESV

The first question that comes to mind when reading this section of chapter seven is why the author took such great pains to describe each and every item in such precise detail. The amount of information is almost overwhelming, and even with all the helpful descriptions, it’s virtually impossible to determine what each item actually looked like.  So, why dedicate so much time and space to their description?

In a sense, the author is telling his readers that Solomon was a man who took a keen interest in every phase of the massive construction project he had commissioned. His father had left him with the overwhelming responsibility to create a house worthy of the God of Israel, and it was not something he took lightly. Solomon was a hands-on construction manager who cared deeply about every detail concerning this once-in-a-lifetime undertaking. And while he delegated a great deal of the work, there was never a moment when Solomon was not intimately and personally involved. He cared deeply about this project and wanted to make sure that the finished product was both beautiful and functional. When completed, the temple would become the focal point of Israel’s worship of their God. So, Solomon intended for each and every item associated with its construction and its ultimate operation were of the finest craftsmanship.

From the quarrying of the massive stones with which the temple was built to the carving of the intricate relief that adorned the bronze stands, Solomon oversaw everything. And to ensure that the workmanship was of the highest quality, Solomon hired the finest craftsman money could buy.

Verse 13 states that Solomon sought out the services of a man from the city of Tyre who was a gifted worker in bronze. But notice the additional details concerning Hiram’s qualifications:

And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. – 1 Kings 7:1 ESV

This brings to mind a passage from the book of Exodus where God provided Moses with the identity of another man who would assist in the construction of the tabernacle.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” – Exodus 31:1-5 ESV

As was the case with Moses, it seems that Solomon was receiving divine assistance in procuring the services of the right people to help him complete this one-of-a-kind project. Hiram came highly recommended and divinely gifted for the job.

Once he arrived in Jerusalem, Hiram set to work casting the two bronze pillars that would grace the entrance to the temple. At 27-feet in height, these two immense pillars were likely more decorative than functional. Because they were cast from a relatively soft metal like bronze and featured hollow interiors, they would have been incapable of providing support to the temple’s roof.

These pillars were intended to frame the opening to the entrance of the temple and provide symbolic significance to the One who dwelled inside. Each pillar had a name. One was called Boaz, which means “In Him is strength.” The other was named Jachin, which means “He shall establish.” Both names were clear references to the God of Israel. Every detail that adorned these pillars, from the water lilies to the pomegranates, was intended to illustrate the goodness and greatness of God. The Israelites served a God who provided them with everything they needed, including fertility and fruitfulness.

Next, Hiram crafted “the sea,” a large bronze basin that would sit outside the entrance to the temple. This massive bowl was designed to take the place of the bronze laver that God had prescribed for the tabernacle, but it would serve the same function as the original. According to Exodus 30, the first laver was used by the priests to purify themselves before offering sacrifices to God.

“You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.” – Exodus 30:18-21 ESV

The new basin was 15 feet in diameter, 47 feet in circumference, with a depth of 7.5 feet. It could hold up to 18,000 gallons of water, and it seems that its large size was meant to allow the priests to completely immerse themselves, rather than just washing their hands and feet. It rested on the backs of 12 bronze oxen, arranged in groups of three, which each group facing a different direction on the compass. These bronze bulls may have been intended to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. But regardless, they were clearly symbols of strength.

Hiram then crafted ten mobile carts, each equipped with a large bronze basin. They featured wheels that allowed it to be moved about the temple courtyard.

He also made ten basins in which to wash, and set five on the south side, and five on the north side. In these they were to rinse off what was used for the burnt offering, and the sea was for the priests to wash in. – 2 Chronicles 4:6 ESV

These carts were each six feet square, five and one-half feet high, and held a bronze basin that could hold up to 240 gallons of water. And as the Chronicles passage indicates, they were strategically located around the temple courtyard and used by the priests to cleanse the blood from the sacrificial animals before they were offered up to God.

You can almost sense that Solomon is attempting to improve on every one of the items made for the tabernacle. Every item Hiram creates is bigger and better than the original. Solomon is obsessed with making the house of God a grand and glorious structure, with every detail reflecting the majesty of its divine occupant. He could have saved himself a lot of time and money by reusing the original items. But Solomon would not be satisfied with anything less than the best. So, he poured countless hours and resources into creating a temple worthy of his great God.

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

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

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

A Holy House-Cleaning

26 And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” 27 So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

28 When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. 29 And when it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and put him to death. And he was buried in his own house in the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2:26-35 ESV

After having dealt decisively with his half-brother’s continued deceit by having him put to death, Solomon turned his attention to the accomplices in his failed coup attempt. First, he took care of Abiathar, the priest. But rather than ordering Abiathar’s execution, Solomon decreed that this traitor be removed from his priestly role. The new king was willing to spare Abiathar’s life because he was well aware of his long and faithful service to David. But he was not willing to let the guilty go unpunished, so he humiliated Abiathar by having him defrocked. And Solomon’s decision had far greater ramifications than even he could have known. The author of 1 Kings reveals that Abiathar’s removal from the priesthood fulfilled a prophecy made by God concerning the descendants of Eli, the priest who had served at Shiloh. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served alongside their father as priests, but they were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV).

These two brothers used their priestly role to fulfill their own selfish desires, and “the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 NLT). They were even guilty of committing sexual sins with “the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2:22 NLT). Their father, fully aware of their indiscretions, tried to reprimand them but his words fell on deaf ears. They refused to listen to his warnings or change their wicked ways, so God stepped in and delivered a sobering statement of judgment against the house of Eli.

“I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age.” – 1 Samuel 2:30-31 NLT

In the short-term, God would take the lives of Hophni and Phinehas. But with Solomon’s removal of Abiathar, another descendant of Eli suffered the humiliating loss of his priestly role. He was allowed to live but would have to bear the constant shame that accompanied his fall from grace.

Having dealt with the prodigal priest, Solomon turned his attention to Joab, the former general over the armies of Israel. This man had been a close friend and ally of David, having served alongside him for many years. But Joab had fallen out of favor with the king because of insubordination. Against the wishes of King David, Joab had taken the lives of two men, Amasa and Abner, both of whom he perceived as threats to his power and prestige. Now, years later, Joab had chosen to align himself with the king’s son, Adonijah, choosing to lend his reputation and military expertise to an attempted takeover of David’s throne. And when Joab heard that Adonijah was dead and Abiathar had been stripped of his priesthood, he knew it was just a matter of time before Solomon came looking for him. So, he sought refuge in the tabernacle, just as Adonijah had done.

But Solomon was not about to show this murderer and traitor any mercy. Instead, he commanded that Joab be executed on the spot. In ordering Joab’s death, Solomon was clearing his father’s dynasty of any responsibility for the unwarranted deaths of Amasa and Abner. As long as Joab remained alive and unpunished for his crimes, his guilt would be shared by the house of David. By removing Joab, Solomon hoped to avoid the condemnation of God and restore the hope of His future blessings on Israel.

“May their blood be on Joab and his descendants forever, and may the Lord grant peace forever to David, his descendants, his dynasty, and his throne.” – 1 Kings 2:23 NLT

Unlike his father, Solomon wasted no time in dealing with the issues that surrounded him. He had just ascended to the throne but had taken decisive action to clean up the mess his father had left behind. Solomon was quick to deal with the guilty, delivering the appropriate punishment and, in doing so, ensuring the spiritual health of his kingdom. He was also faithfully fulfilling his father’s dying wishes, meting out justice, and repaying the guilty for their crimes.

But Solomon didn’t just purge the sin from their midst. He quickly filled the vacancies created by the removals of Joab and Abiathar by promoting “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army” and anointing “Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar” (1 Kings 2:35 ESV). He surrounded himself with faithful men he could trust and began the important task of establishing the identity that would mark his reign as king.

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

Lessons From the Past

1 Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. 1 Kings 1:1-4 ESV

It would be easy to assume that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings are nothing more than historical accounts that provide a chronological record of the kings of Israel and Judah. They read like a two-volume ancient history textbook, providing detailed accounts of the reigns of 40 different kings who eventually ruled over the people of God. But these two books are far more than a retelling of past historical events. They were written to tell a story and to provide an explanation for Israel’s sorry state of affairs after their return from exile.

While we don’t know the identity of the author of these two books, we do know to whom they were written. In their original form, they comprised one book that was addressed to the people of Israel who survived captivity in Babylon and were part of the remnant who returned to the land. As they made their way back to the land after 70 years of subjugation to the Babylonians, they discovered the city of Jerusalem in an abysmal state of disrepair and the beautiful temple built by King Solomon to be nothing but a pile of rubble. The gates of the city had been destroyed. The once-formidable walls were lying in ruins. The former capital of Israel was a virtual ghost town. And while the people would eventually restore the city and rebuild the temple, the nation would never enjoy a return to its glory days.

But how did this happen? What caused the fall of one of the greatest nations on earth? Why did God abandon His people and allow them to undergo such devastating destruction at the hands of their enemies?

Those are the kinds of questions that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings attempt to answer. They retell the sad story of Israel’s demise. 1st Kings begins with the coronation of King Solomon and his dedication of the temple. 2nd Kings ends with the capture of King Zedekiah and the destruction of the temple. And in between, we are given a detailed accounting of Israel’s serial unfaithfulness to God. The author provides his audience with a no-holds-barred retelling of Israel’s fall from the heights of glory to the depths of despair and devastation. And it is not a pretty picture. But it is intended to be a memorable one, providing those who read it with a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of what happens to those who forsake the Lord.

But these two books are not all doom and gloom. Yes, they paint a not-so-attractive picture of the people of God, portraying them as unfaithful and fully deserving of God’s judgment. But they also provide undeniable evidence of God’s unwavering faithfulness. After all, those who ended up reading these two books were living on the other side of the exile. They were fortunate to be among those who had been restored to the land of promise because God had kept His word. He had told them they would go into captivity for 70 years, but He had also promised that a remnant would be allowed to return. And He had been faithful to do exactly what He said He would do.

It was George Santayana who wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And God wanted His people to know and understand every sordid and sorry detail concerning their past relationship with Him. Their current state of affairs had historical precedence. For the people of God, sin will always have consequences. Unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. Disobedience will not go undisciplined. And these two books were not just intended to be a simple retelling of ancient history, but they were designed to prevent its repetition. Even today, there is much we modern westerners can learn from the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. They contain timeless lessons that bear repeating and offer the unflattering portraits of men whose examples we should avoid.

And the very first portrait we are given is of the aging King David. We are told he was “old and advanced in years” (1 Kings 1:1 ESV). The once-powerful king of Israel is shown to be a shadow of his former self. The warrior-king who helped establish Israel as one of the greatest nations on earth has been relegated from the battlefield to the bedroom. Rather than fighting the enemies of Israel, he is waging a hopeless battle with the effects of old-age and senility. The one of whom they used to sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7 ESV), is now portrayed as a feeble old man, covered in blankets and fighting to stay warm.

His body suffering the ravages of time, David is unable to produce enough body heat to keep himself warm. In his old age, the slayer of Goliath finds himself so weak that he has to rely on the body heat of a young slave girl to keep him alive. In his prime, David suffered from an inordinate attraction to beautiful women that often got him into trouble. And because David is still the king, his advisors seek out the most beautiful woman they can find. But at this point in his life, the only pleasure David can derive from Abishag the Shunammite is the warmth her body can produce.

The author makes it quite clear that David received no sexual pleasure from this arrangement. It was totally utilitarian in nature.

The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:4 NLT

As the book opens up, we are given a less-than-flattering glimpse of King David, confined to bed and constricted to mere survival. The great king of Israel is portrayed with diminished capacities and at the end of his life. His amazing rise to power and the record of his many accomplishments are found in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel. But David’s days of glory are over. His reign is coming to an end. And his death will usher in an important point of transition for the nation of Israel. The stability the nation has enjoyed under his leadership will be put to the test. The peoples’ dedication and commitment to God will be exposed for what it really is: Lacking.

In some ways, the description of David’s physical condition provides a subtle portrayal of the spiritual condition of the nation. Over time, they have grown spiritually cold and incapable of rekindling the fire they once had for God. It won’t be long until they find themselves sharing their beds with the “young women” of the pagan nations in an attempt to “heat up” their languishing spiritual lives.

David had been a good king. He was the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). but even his godly leadership had failed to produce faithfulness among the people of Israel. And, as we will see, his influence over his own children will prove to have been lacking. Even before he breathes his final breath, David will find his kingdom under siege by his own family. From the king’s palace to the peasant’s hut, the unfaithfulness of Israel will soon be on full display.

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

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

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

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17 ESV

Jesus has just displayed His power and authority over the physical realm by healing the paralyzed man. But, more importantly, His astonishing ability to restore the man’s health was a demonstration of His God-given authority to forgive sin. As the Son of God, Jesus had come to earth in order to set men free from their slavery to sin and their condemnation of death. The formerly paralyzed man, while physically whole and forgiven, would still end up committing sins and face the ultimate penalty for doing so: physical death and eternal separation from God.

But Jesus had become a man so that He might serve as the substitutionary atonement, the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His death on behalf of sinful humanity would satisfy the just and righteous wrath of God, and provide all those who placed their faith in His atoning work with a way to be restored to a right relationship with His Father. And, as a result of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice, they would enjoy forgiveness of all their sins – past, present, and future. The author of Hebrews describes it this way:

…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:26 ESV

And the psalmist provides us with a powerful reminder of the sin-forgiving power of the Son of God.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
 – Psalm 103:12 BSB

Mark transitions his narrative from the crowded confines of Simon and Andrew’s home to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. But will maintain his emphasis on Jesus’ power and authority to forgive sin, and continue to reveal the growing divide between Jesus and the religious authorities.

While walking along the seashore, Jesus continued to teach the crowds that continued to follow Him wherever He went. And as they made their way along the roadway that ran from Capernaum to Damascus and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they came across the tax booth of a man named Levi. This was not some chance encounter but a divinely-scheduled appointment. When Levi woke up that morning, he had no idea that his day would include a one-on-one meeting with the Messiah of Israel.

Luke describes Levi as a “tax collector” (Luke5:27). His chosen profession would have made Levi highly unpopular with his fellow Jews. He was an employee of Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet king of Israel. And his job was to collect all taxes having to do with trade and customs. Because Capernaum was located on a major trade route from Damascus, Levi would have been responsible for collecting export and import fees, sales and customs taxes, as well as tolls. But what made men like Levi particularly unpopular was their tendency to extort additional fees and surcharges from the fellow Jews. Tax collectors were seen as social pariahs who worked for the enemy and took advantage of their own people to line their pockets.

So, when Jesus issued Levi an invitation to follow Him, the Jews would have been shocked and appalled. In their minds, Levi was a traitor to his people and the epitome of a godless sinner. And to make matters even worse, Mark reveals that Jesus decided to share a meal with this social outcast. Luke records that Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor and invited a large number of guests.

Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. – Luke 5:29 ESV

And Mark provides the added detail that “many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:15 ESV). It seems that Levi was forced to invite his friends, who like him, were considered to be the dregs of the community.

Yet, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation to dine at his house and willingly chose to associate with those whom the Jews considered as unclean and unacceptable. And Jesus’ actions did not go unnoticed.

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” – Mark 2:16 NLT

They were shocked and disgusted by this shameless display of poor judgment on Jesus’ part. He should have known better. By entering Levi’s home and sharing a meal with this motley collection of sinners, Jesus had made He and His disciples ceremonially unclean. They had contaminated themselves.

There is a clear us-versus-them vibe going on. The Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous because of their meticulous adherence to both the written and oral laws of the Jews. They were the law-keepers and the law-enforcers. And, as far as they were concerned, Jesus had chosen to associate with the scum of the earth. By entering Levi’s home, Jesus had done the unthinkable and unforgivable.

The Pharisees had no compassion for people like Levi. They had no desire to reach out to those whom they considered sinners. They bore no sense of responsibility for the spiritual well-being less fortunate, whom they considered to be unworthy of mercy. In the minds of the Pharisees, it was the sin-prone common people who held back the nation of Israel and kept it from enjoying the full favor of God. To the self-righteous Pharisees, it was the sorry likes of Levi and his friends that kept Israel from being all that it could be. They were a blight on the nation and now, Jesus had clearly revealed His love for the unloveable and His heart for the irredeemable.

But Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He was fully aware of the disgust and distaste His actions had caused, and He chose to address the issue head-on.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17 ESV

With this simple statement, Jesus exposed the glaring difference between Himself and His accusers. They considered themselves to be spiritually healthy and whole. They were well and had no need of a Savior. But what they failed to understand was that their good deeds were of no value to God. As the prophet Isaiah had written hundreds of years earlier: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

Jesus was not impressed by the Pharisees and their outward displays of righteousness. He would later call them out for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion.

“…they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:3-4 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

These men considered themselves to be the cream of the crop, the religious elite of Israel whose unblemished behavior guaranteed them a place in God’s kingdom. But Jesus let them know that their self-confidence was misplaced and mistaken. He had come to minister to the sick – those who recognized their spiritual malady and sought help. Like the paralyzed man, the tax collectors and sinners gathered in Levi’s home were in need of assistance. They knew they were sinners and were fully aware that they lacked what was necessary to “heal” themselves.

It was the apostle John who wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). The sinners reclining around the table with Jesus were just the kind of people Jesus came to save. They were sinners in need of a Savior. And if they would only confess their sin, they would know the joy of having their sins forgiven and their spiritual sickness healed.

But the Pharisees, riddled with pride and a misplaced sense of self-righteousness, were unable to see their need and unwilling to confess their sins. But their self-confidence would ultimately result in their own self-destruction. Their stubborn insistence that they were well would be their downfall. And the apostle Paul describes the dangerous path they had decided to take and the deadly destination to which it would lead.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Romans 1:21-22 NLT

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

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

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

A Prayer of Encouragement

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19 ESV

From the surrounding context, it would appear that Jesus is praying this prayer audibly, and in the hearing of His disciples. His words are directed to His Heavenly Father but for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this conversation because it contains vital information concerning their relationship with God that should provide them with further encouragement to face what lies ahead.

He begins by stating, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). As John revealed in the opening chapter of his gospel, with His incarnation, Jesus made God known (John 1:18). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the glory of God on earth. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT) and “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Jesus manifested or made known the name of God by revealing the divine nature of God through His life and ministry. His miracles displayed the power and authority of God. His words were spoken on behalf of God. And His death on the cross would be the ultimate expression of the love of God. For the last three years, He had been providing His disciples with an earned theology degree on the nature of God. These were “the people” given to Him by God to instruct and prepare for their future roles in the ongoing redemptive plan. They belonged to God because He had chosen them and then given them to His Son to train up as the future ambassadors of the Gospel.

Jesus reveals that these men, whom God had given Him, had remained faithful. They were still with Him, in spite of all the disturbing news He had just shared with them. While they didn’t understand everything Jesus had said, they still believed He was sent from God. And they were still walking with Him even as the darkness around them seemed to grow increasingly more intense. Their continued presence was proof of their commitment. All that they had seen and heard over the last three years had left them convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.

“I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” – John 17:8 NLT

And Jesus audibly states that His prayer was on their behalf.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. – John 17:9 ESV

It seems doubtful that Jesus would have made this clarification for God’s benefit. The more likely explanation is that His words were aimed at His disciples. As they listened in on Jesus’ prayer to His Father, they would have realized He was speaking not only about them but to them. He wanted them to know that, because of their relationship with Him, they were no longer of this world but were united to God. They belonged to Him.

All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:10 NLT

The disciples were going to share in the unity that exists between Jesus and His Father. God had given them to Jesus and now Jesus was giving them back to God. He had prepared them and was now presenting them to His Father for use in His divine plan for redeeming a lost and dying world. Jesus was leaving but they would be staying. And He makes that point clear.

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. – John 17:11 ESV

This is a somewhat strange statement for Jesus to make because He was still standing in front of His disciples. But it reflects His attitude at that moment. His earthly ministry was over. He had one last task to perform and that was to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was fully committed to completing His God-given assignment and His mind was fixed on the glory that awaited Him. The author of Hebrews explains the motivation behind Jesus’ single-minded focus.

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. – Hebrews 12:2 NLT

But as Jesus makes clear, His disciples would remain behind. Yet He wanted them to know that while they would be in the world, they were not to be of the world.

“…they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” – John 17:14-15 ESV

Yes, He was leaving them behind, but He was not leaving them alone or on their own. He was asking His Father to protect them. Again, it seems unlikely that Jesus is attempting to remind God to take care of His own. But this prayer would have revealed to His disciples that their future was going to be marked by spiritual warfare. Yet they could rest assured that their Heavenly Father would be caring for them every step of the way. As Jesus prepared to leave, He was turning over the daily care of these men to God. He had faithfully and successfully protected them for the last three years.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

But now, in anticipation of His return to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, Jesus was placing His disciples in His Father’s all-powerful hands.

Verse 13 strongly suggests that Jesus was praying within the hearing of His disciples.

“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13 ESV

He spoke so that they could hear and, in due time, they would recall His words and be filled with joy in knowing that His prayer had been answered. They would experience the joy of seeing Jesus in His resurrected state. They would watch Him ascend into heaven and then, just days later, receive the promised Holy Spirit and know the joy of having indwelling presence of God to guide and protect them.

Once again, Jesus stresses that the disciples were no longer of this world. And, as He had told them earlier, they would be hated by the world just as He had been.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

This “in it, but not of it” relationship the disciples would have with the world was not going to be easy. Jesus had come into the world and been rejected by it, so the disciples could expect to experience the same fate. And Jesus makes it clear that their presence in this sin-filled and hateful world was part of the divine plan.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:18 ESV

Just as Jesus had been commissioned to bring God’s plan of redemption to stubborn and rebellious world, the disciples would received their marching orders from Jesus to carry on His work after He was gone.

“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And Jesus asks the Father to continue to provide these men with the one thing they will need to accomplish their mission: The truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17 ESV

To sanctify simply means to set apart for service. The disciples were going to need a constant and steady flow of truth. Up until this point, Jesus had been their sole source of truth. As He had told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). But now, they were going to receive truth directly from God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. They would experience the reality of what Jesus had foretold.

“When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:19-20 NLT

But for this to happen, Jesus was going to have to complete His assignment. The Spirit would not come until Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side. That’s why Jesus states, “And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart” (John 17:19 NET). His death was going to make possible their ongoing exposure to the truth of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 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

The Hour of Decision

36 When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:36-43 ESV

Jesus has just informed the crowd that the hour has come. The time of His death was drawing closer. And when He was “lifted up” on the cross to die for the sins of mankind, it would accomplish a God-glorifying victory in the supernatural realm.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” – John 12:31 ESV

When His death eventually took place, the Jewish leadership would take it as victory. They had judged Jesus to be a blasphemer and He had gotten what He deserved. But they would not be alone in their rejoicing. Their father, the devil (John 8:44) would also celebrate the death of the Messiah. But only because he was ignorant of what Jesus death really meant. From a spiritual perspective, it would appear that Satan had won the day.

Yet Jesus informs His disciples and all those within His hearing that Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. Jesus projects onto Satan his ultimate defeat which will take place at the end times. But He also suggests that His death will destroy Satan’s power once and for all. The enemy’s vice-like grip on mankind will be broken by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. The payment for mankind’s sin debt will be made in full. God’s just and righteous requirement of a blood sacrifice will have been satisfied by the offering of His own Son’s sinless life.

But Jesus informs His audience that His death will bring judgment upon the world. At first glance, this seems to contradict an earlier statement made by Jesus. In his nighttime encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus told assured him that “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NLT). Now He is declaring that His death will be accompanied by judgment. To better understand what Jesus means, we have to consider all that He said to Nicodemus on the matter.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” – John 3:16-19 NLT

Jesus was letting Nicodemus know that God had sent Him into the world to bring salvation to mankind. In a sense, the judgment of mankind has already taken place. All humanity stands before God as guilty and condemned, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). And because of their guilty state, all men face the same fate because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). 

But the good news Jesus tried to convey to Nicodemus was that He had come to offer an alternative. His death was going to provide a way for condemned sinners to escape the inevitable and unavoidable judgment of God. Paul explains it this way:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. – Romans 3:23-25 ESV

The only way to escape judgment will be through faith or belief in Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him” (John 3:18 NLT). Through belief in Jesus, the sinner moves from condemnation to justification. He or she is made right with God because they have placed their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus. As John wrote in one of his later letters, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

The death of Jesus would bring judgment upon the world because it would force sinful men and women to make a decision The only way they could escape judgment would be through faith or belief in Jesus. But John reveals that “despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him” (John 12:37 NLT). Even after witnessing Jesus raise a dead man back to life, some would still refuse to believe He was the Messiah. And John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sees this failure to believe as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? – Isaiah 53:1 ESV

As John wrote in the opening chapter of his gospel, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus had come, speaking His Father’s words and displaying His Father’s power. But they refused to believe. The light had appeared in their midst, but they refused to acknowledge Him. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Again, John reaches back into the writings of the prophet Isaiah to show that the rejection of Jesus by the people of Israel was inevitable. It was part of the will of God. Paraphrasing the words of Isaiah, John announces that the stubborn refusal of the people of Israel was the handiwork of God.

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” – John 12:40 ESV

Their disbelief, pre-ordained by God, was essential to His redemptive plan. It was essential that Jesus be rejected and, ultimately, crucified. His death was absolutely necessary if mankind was to have any hope of escaping future judgment.

But many of the Jews continued to stubbornly cling to their own way of doing things. They could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was offering them a means of being made right with God that did not require their strict adherence to the law. And the apostle Paul would later describe that their continued belief in law-keeping as the means for achieving a right-standing with God was preventing them from believing in Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Belief and disbelief. That is the crux of the matter. Belief brings salvation and a right standing with God. Disbelief brings the judgment of God because it rejects the gracious gift of the Son of God.

But John indicates that there were those among the Jews who believed in Jesus. But he adds that they kept their belief to themselves, out of fear.

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:42-43 NLT

Belief and disbelief. Light and darkness. The closer Jesus gets to the cross, the more intense the contrasts become. The day of reckoning is quickly approaching. When the time comes for Jesus to hang on the cross, it will be a watershed moment in history. Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). All eyes will be fixed on Him. And, from that moment forward, His death will force every man and woman to make a decision, a choice to believe or disbelieve. To embrace the light or to continue to dwell in the darkness of sin, to face judgment or accept the free gift of a right standing with God through faith in His Son.

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

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

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

The Holy One of God

67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. John 6:60-66 ESV

Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum had left His listeners confused, disturbed, and even angry. And John indicates that when Jesus had finished “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:59 ESV). This comment by John regarding Jesus’ disciples is not a reference to the 12 men Jesus had chosen to follow Him. This was how John differentiated between the people who followed Jesus because of His miracles and “the Jews” who refused to believe that Jesus was anyone special.

The first group believed Jesus had supernatural powers, just as the Old Testament prophets had. Which is why some thought he might be a prophet sent from God. Others strongly considered the possibility that He might be the long-awaited Messiah. But none of them would have believed that He was God in human flesh. Yet, throughout His brief, but impactful, speech in the synagogue, Jesus had repeatedly claimed to have been sent to earth by God, His Father.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

While Jesus’ invitation to eat His flesh and drink His blood had left the people scratching their heads in confusion, it was His claim to have God as His Father that turned many of them from followers into scoffers.

“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” – John 6:57 ESV

He was boldly claiming to be divine, having been sent by God, and in possession of the key to eternal life. This was too much for some of His followers to handle. So, they walked away. But none of this surprised Him. Before they made their decision to leave, Jesus informed them that He already knew their state of unbelief.

“But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:64 ESV

And John adds the note: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus knew who His true disciples were. And as John indicates, Jesus even knew that there was one among the 12 disciples who would prove to be a betrayer and not a believer.

Anyone could follow Jesus, but only those who were called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God would see Jesus for who He truly was. That is why Jesus had said, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63 ESV). Without the regenerating work of the Spirit, no one could understand and accept the words coming from the lips of Jesus.

Jesus had come to offer Himself as the bread of life, destined to provide spiritual nourishment to those with a hunger for righteousness. He came to pour out His blood so that those who thirsted for righteousness might be satisfied. Many in the crowd that day had come to see a miracle. They had hoped Jesus would provide them with another free meal. Their minds were stuck on material things. Their hopes were focused on worldly matters. If they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, it was only because they were longing that He might set them free from Roman oppression. They were looking for a human savior who would provide them with temporal relief from their physical suffering, whether that meant subjugation to Rome, hunger, disease, illness, or poverty.

But Jesus had come to offer them eternal life. He had made that point perfectly clear.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 ESV

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life…” – John 6:40 ESV

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. – John 6:47 ESV

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. – John 6:51 ESV

But the crowds could not understand what Jesus was saying. His offer of eternal life made no sense to them because they refused to believe that He was the Son of God. It was His divinity that made His offer of eternity possible. It was because He was the Son of God that He could make the offer of eternal life because He was the author of life.

He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:2-4 ESV

John began his gospel with the presentation of Jesus as the Son of God and the co-creator of the world. As part of the Godhead, Jesus had played an integral role in the creation of all life on earth. So now, Jesus was claiming to be God and in full possession of the divine power to not only bestow temporal life but eternal life on all those whom God gives Him. In the preceding chapter, Jesus made the bold claim:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 6:21 ESV

The Jews believed that God had the power to raise the dead. But only God possessed that kind of supernatural power. And yet, here was Jesus claiming to have the very same capacity to bestow life, not just on the physically dead, but on the spiritually dead. And this claim was more than some of His followers could handle, so they walked away.

But as the crowds dispersed, Jesus turned to His 12 disciples and asked them a probing question: “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67 ESV). The structure of the sentence in the Greek reveals that Jesus was not in doubt about their commitment, but that He was seeking their confirmation of that commitment. He wanted to hear from their own lips what He knew to be true in their hearts. And Peter spoke for the group when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV).

With these words, Peter was acknowledging that he and his fellow disciples believed all that Jesus had said concerning Himself. They had heard what He had said concerning eternal life and believed His words to be true. He was the Holy One of God, having been sent from heaven with the words of eternal life. But there was still much that Peter and his companions did not understand concerning Jesus. In fact, it would be some time before Peter made a second confession regarding Jesus. On that occasion, Jesus asked His disciples who the people considered Him to be, and they had responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14 ESV). But when Jesus had asked them “But who do you say that I am?”, Peter had spoken up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). 

At that moment, Peter had expressed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah and, not only that, the Son of God. And Jesus revealed that this epiphany on Peter’s part had been made possible by God.

“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17 ESV

The truth is, the disciples were on a journey of discovery. Their understanding of who Jesus was would continue to expand with each passing day. But they would tend to view Jesus through their own particular lens of understanding. They couldn’t help but bring their own personal perspectives and longings to bear. While they recognized and believed that Jesus had “words of eternal life,” they were still longing for Him to set up His kingdom in this life. They were hanging their hopes on Him being the Messiah and that He would one day reveal Himself to the world and restore Israel to its former glory. That is what would later prompt James and John to approach Jesus and ask Him to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

They were looking for places of honor in what they believed would be His earthly kingdom. But Jesus warned them that He would have to drink the “bitter cup of suffering” before His kingdom could be established. He would have to die before He could reign. He would need to suffer before He could be glorified. And Jesus foreshadowed their own suffering, which would take place after His ascension and they began their ministry on His behalf.

“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering” – Mark 10:39 NLT 

There was much that would have to happen before the Kingdom would come in all its glory. And Jesus warned that even among the 12, there was one who did not share Peter’s belief that He was the Holy One of God.

“Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

Little did Peter know that Jesus would have to be betrayed. The Holy One of God would have to be brutally crucified. In order for the Son of God to be the Savior of the world, He would have to allow His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled, so that some may have eternal life.

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

How Can You Believe?

37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:37-47 ESV

As the Son of God, Jesus had every right to stand in judgment of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their rejection of Him was baseless because they had been given more than enough evidence to prove His identity. And, one of the primary pieces of evidence was to be found in the Hebrew scriptures, where the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah clearly pointed to Jesus as their fulfillment.

The men whom Jesus addressed were avid students of the Old Testament Scriptures and their familiarity with the many Messianic passages found there should have given them special insight into all that was happening right in front of them. Of all people, they should have recognized that Jesus was the one for whom they had long been waiting. But these men, like every Jew before them, had misread and misinterpreted these prophecies and had created a narrative concerning the Messiah that focused solely on His role as a conquering king and their political savior. They tended to ignore all the passages that pointed to the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant.

In his gospel, Luke records the moment when the recently resurrected Jesus appeared to His grieving disciples as they huddled together in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. Upon seeing Jesus, the disciples “stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). But then Jesus spoke to them and what He had to say reveals a great deal about the blind ignorance and stubborn resistance of the Jewish religious leaders.

“When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees had missed all of this. They were not expecting a Messiah who would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. And they had no desire for such a Messiah. And, as far as repentance for the forgiveness of sins, they had no need for that either. They considered themselves to be fully righteous because of their faithful adherence to the Mosaic law so, they had no need to repent and required no one to save them from their sins.

But these men, while familiar with the written word of God, were oblivious to the testimony of God found there. God had spoken through the men who had penned the Old Testament books. He had revealed the truth regarding His Son’s coming and yet, these religious leaders had failed to recognize the voice of God. And Jesus issues a stinging condemnation concerning them: “you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you” (John 5:38 NLT).

The Pharisees and Sadducees had a love affair with the Scriptures. They revered them and dedicated their lives to studying them. Jesus even admitted as much. 

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They spent countless hours pouring over the Scriptures, seeking to know the key to eternal life. They were desperate to know what God required of them so that they might keep God’s law and earn their way into His eternal kingdom. Their incessant need to “search” the Scriptures was based on their fear that they might overlook a commandment and fail in their quest for righteousness. It’s interesting to note that their obsession with the law caused them to seek the opinion of Jesus. On one occasion, they came to Him, asking, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” (Matthew 22:36 NLT). They had prioritized the commands of God, giving some higher priority than others. This way, they could concentrate their efforts on keeping the more important laws.

And Jesus had responded to their question by saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT).

In a sense, Jesus was accusing these men of loving the Scriptures more than they loved God. They were more concerned about discovering the laws they needed to keep in order to be deemed righteous by God than they were in loving and listening to God.

As Jesus continued His indictment of these pious religious leaders, He told them that He had no need of their approval or official sanctioning of His ministry.

Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” – John 5:41-42 NLT

What a slap in the face this must have been to these prideful men. They considered themselves to be the spiritual elite of Israel, yet Jesus was accusing them of having no love for God. Even worse, He was inferring that God’s love was not within them. In his first epistle, John would later pen the following words of warning:

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

John had learned a great deal from observing Jesus’ many encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees. At one time, he would have revered these men as icons of virtue and examples of spiritual sophistication. But he had discovered the truth that they were nothing more than hypocrites who loved the praise of men more than they loved God. They put more value in their own achievements than they did in the words and works of God.

So, when Jesus appeared claiming to be the Son of God sent to do the will of God, they refused to hear what He had to say.

“For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me.” – John 5:43 NLT

Because they had no real understanding of who God was, they were incapable of recognizing His Son. Their concept of God was skewed. Their understanding of righteousness was flawed. Their thinking concerning salvation was totally works-based and, therefore, inaccurate. That is why John the Baptist came preaching a message of repentance. He had repeatedly proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And the Greek word that is translated “repent” literally means “to change one’s mind for better.” It carries the idea of a radical change of mindset. John the Baptist was calling the people to rethink everything they believed concerning God, the kingdom, salvation, and righteousness. These were not what they seemed to be. Their understanding of God’s redemptive plan was inaccurate and insufficient.

With the arrival of Jesus, the truth of God concerning the salvation of mankind had become visible and knowable. But to believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world, the Jews were going to have to repent or radically change their way of thinking. They were going to have to listen to what Jesus had to say because He was the living Word of God. And even Moses had predicted that this day would come. He had foretold of a future prophet would come in the name of the Lord. And He would have a message for the people of God that came directly from the mouth of God.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees would have been very familiar with the words of Moses. And Jesus infers that they would have placed their hopes in the promises expressed by Moses. But they refused to recognize Jesus as the very fulfillment of those promises.

“But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” – John 5:47 NLT

It all boiled down to belief. They refused to believe the words of the prophets. Which means they failed to believe the testimony of God. And that resulted in their refusal to accept the words and the works of Jesus, the Son of God. They found it impossible to repent of their preconceived notions regarding God, sin, righteousness, and salvation. Their minds were set. Their belief system was firmly in place and nothing was going to change their way of thinking. Not even the Son of God.

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

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

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

In Spirit and Truth

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” – John 4:16-26 ESV

The woman wanted what Jesus had to offer. The thought of a source of freely flowing water that would eliminate her constant need to draw water from the well of Jacob was more than appealing to her. But, like Nicodemus, she was missing the point of Jesus’ words. She had come to the well to meet a physical need. Her mission had been to draw water from the well for use in drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Water was a daily necessity that made living in that arid region possible. Without it, life would be impossible.

But even water has its limitations. It can be consumed to quench thirst, but in time, the thirst will return. Water can be used to wash away the dirt and grime of life, but it can’t prevent one from becoming filthy again. That’s why the woman was forced to return to the well on a daily basis. Her need for water was insatiable.

Yet Jesus had piqued the woman’s interest with His mention of  “living water.” But don’t miss how He had opened His conversation with her.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10 ESV

The woman was clueless as to Jesus’ identity. When she had arrived at the well, she was surprised to find an unknown Jewish man waiting there. And her surprise turned to shock when this stranger dared to speak to her – “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9 ESV). Yet Jesus assured her that, had she known who He was and the nature of the gift He had to offer, she would have been the first to speak that day.

Jesus, in need of water to satisfy His thirst, had stopped at the well. But as the woman pointed out, He had “nothing to draw water with” (John 4:11 ESV). So He had asked her for help because she was the only one who had the means by which to satisfy His need. Yet, the inference behind the story is that the woman had a need for something far greater than water. And if she had only known the true identity of the stranger at the well and what He was capable of offering her, she would have been begging Him for the gift of God. 

It is easy to overlook the fact that both Nicodemus and this woman were worshipers of Yahweh. He was an orthodox member of the sect of the Pharisees. She was a Samaritan. He worshiped the God of Abraham at the temple in Jerusalem. Her people chose to worship Him at Mount Gerizim. Nicodemus prided Himself on his identity as a purebred Jew and a strict adherent to the Mosaic Law. The Samaritan woman, though viewed as a half-breed by the Jews, believed that her people were worshiping Yahweh in the manner prescribed by Moses. But what both failed to take into account was their need for a Savior. While the Jews and the Samaritans believed in the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, they were clueless as to His real mission. 

The primary message found in chapters 3 and 4 is that of need, and Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman had the same need in common. The need for eternal life. But in order to have eternal life, they would have to experience cleansing from their sin. Jesus had described it to Nicodemus as birth from above. He described it to the woman at the well as living water. Both of these individuals, despite their obvious differences, would be denied access into God’s kingdom for the very same reason: Sin.

Nicodemus, while outwardly righteous in appearance, was guilty of hypocrisy, just like the rest of his fellow members of the Pharisees. Jesus would have some harsh words of indictment against these well-respected members of Israel’s religious elite.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

But the woman at the well had her own set of issues. Not only was she a Samaritan and, therefore, guilty of practicing idolatry, but she was also guilty of violating the law of God. As Jesus was about to point out, she was an adulteress. When he asked her to go get her husband, she confessed that she was unmarried. But Jesus knew more about her than she could have ever imagined, and He revealed to her the true nature of her need.

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” – John 4:17-18 ESV

Suddenly, Jesus shifted the topic of conversation away from water to sin. He made it painfully personal. And while the woman’s statement had been anything but a confession, Jesus declared that what she had said was more true than she realized. She had no husband because she was in an adulterous relationship. She was guilty of sin.

But in a somewhat awkward attempt to change the subject, the woman declared, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19 ESV). She desperately wanted to talk about something other than her five failed marriages and her current live-in relationship. So, sensing that Jesus had some kind of prophetic powers, she decided to ask Him about an important point of controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” – John 4:20 ESV

By refocusing the topic of conversation, she was hoping to divert attention away from her own personal problems. But Jesus was not going to allow that to happen. He addressed her question, but in a way that brought the focus right back on her. In essence, Jesus let her know that the issue had less to do about where God should be worshiped, but the motive behind the worship. The Jews and Samaritans were busy debating about location, but Jesus was far more interested in motivation. Why were they worshiping God?

And Jesus dropped a bombshell on her that must have left her reeling.

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. – John 4:21 ESV

The worship of God wasn’t about a temple in Jerusalem or a shrine on Mount Gerizim. It was a matter of the heart. While the Jews had a more accurate understanding of God, they were guilty of worshiping Him falsely. Jesus would later declare of the Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:8-9 NLT).

And He told the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know” (John 4:22 ESV). The Samaritans practiced a form of syncretism that blended the worship of Yahweh with that of false gods. Their doctrine was polluted and filled with pagan ideas that rendered Yahweh virtually unrecognizable.

Jesus fast-forwarded the conversation to the future, revealing that a day would come when “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). Worship will no longer be about location and the ritual observation of rules and regulations. It will be about a relationship with God based on spirit and truth. And Jesus informed the woman that the future hour to which He referred was actually “now here.” It had arrived. And He had been the one to usher it in.

But what did He mean by “spirit and truth?” And how had His arrival changed the nature of man’s worship of God? The two terms “spirit and truth” are actually meant to convey one idea. Jesus is attempting to define worship that which is “truly spiritual.” In other words, it is not some physical activity practiced in a particular place and according to some man-made set of governing rules. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. It is spiritual in nature and not physical. Going through the religious motions either in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim was not going to cut it. Both the Jews and the Samaritans had been guilty of worshiping the one true God falsely and unfaithfully.

But Jesus had come to make the true worship of God possible, by restoring sinful men and women to a right relationship with Him. To do so, they would have to be born of the Spirit, just as He had told Nicodemus. They would have to have their spiritual thirst quenched by the living water Jesus would provide. And just a few chapters later, John will describe Jesus standing in the temple courtyard, shouting:

Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”(When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.).” – John 7:38-39 NLT

The true worship of God would be made possible by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. And to receive the Spirit, one would have to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.

These words left the woman in a state of confusion. She was having a difficult time following what Jesus had to say. But she proclaimed her belief in the coming of the Messiah and her hope that He would clear up all the confusion regarding where to worship God. And that’s when Jesus boldly proclaimed to her, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26 ESV). The not-yet had become the now. The long-awaited Messiah had shown up and He was talking to her. The answer to her question regarding the true worship of God was standing right in front of her.

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

What Does God Require?

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:6-8 ESV

In verse 3, Micah records God confronting the people of Israel with a series of questions:

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me! – Micah 6:3 ESV

God is demanding to know the reason for their disobedience and disrespectful treatment of Him. Was it something He did or said? Was He to blame? But before the Israelites would answer, God reminded them of His faithfulness by recalling His actions on their behalf. He had delivered them out slavery in Egypt. He had provided them with qualified leaders. He had protected them from their enemies. And He had miraculously aided their crossing of the Jordan River so they could enter the land of promise.

And then God explains why He had done all these things for them:

that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” – Micah 6:5 ESV

They had experienced the righteous acts of God, firsthand. He had displayed His righteousness in tangible ways that they could see and appreciate. But it is important that we understand what God means by “righteous acts.” His deeds, done on behalf of the people of Israel, were righteous and just. All that He had done for them had been accomplished in a just manner, without pretense and unstained by sin. Moses was able to say of God:

“his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

Every single action of God, done on behalf of His chosen people, was fully just and right. He had made no mistakes. He had done nothing with impure motives or in violation of His own righteous standards. So, the people of Israel could not point their fingers at him and accuse Him of wrong-doing. They could excuse their behavior by blaming God.

God describes His actions as “righteous.” The Hebrew word is tsedaqah, and it means “justice, righteousness, things done justly.” As Moses stated, all of God’s ways are perfect, right, and just. He sets the standard for righteousness and justice. And that seems to be the point of this passage. God had given the people of Israel tangible evidence of what justice and righteousness look like. They had seen them lived out in their own lives through His acts of deliverance, protection, mercy, grace, and undeserved kindness.

But God had not stopped there. He had also provided them with His law as a concrete example of what acts of righteousness were to look like in their own lives.

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness [tsedaqah] for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” – Deuteronomy 6:24-25 ESV

God was just and right in all His ways, and He expected His chosen people to emulate His behavior. That is why He had told them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV). God had expected them to live distinctively different lives than the pagan nations which occupied the land of Canaan. So, He had given them a standard for their conduct that clearly differentiated between right and wrong. And God had warned them against following the ways of the world.

“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.” – Leviticus 20:22-23 ESV

They were not to emulate the ways of the world. They were not to use human reasoning or secular solutions to guide their lives or to determine their conduct.

“I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” – Leviticus 20:24, 26 ESV

This idea of separation is essential to understanding what Micah is trying to communicate in these verses. The people of Israel had been “set apart” by God. But their separateness was to manifest itself in tangible ways, not so much in physical segregation from the rest of the world, as through their daily behavior. And Micah clarifies that God was not interested in external displays of piety or religious zeal. He was not swayed by outward acts of obedience that were only righteous in appearance.

The people of Israel had a reputation for going through the motions, performing their God-appointed rituals and observing the feasts and festivals with a certain degree of religious zeal, but God accused them of hypocrisy.

“…this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV

And Micah picks up on that theme by asking a series of probing questions designed to illustrate how the people of Israel had missed the point of what it means to do acts of justice or righteousness.

What can we bring to the Lord?
    Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
    to pay for our sins? – Micah 6:6-7 NLT

God was not interested in outward displays of obedience that were nothing more than unrighteous people going through the motions. The people of Israel had been doing all the “right” things, but their hearts had been in the wrong place. And it was King David who had pointed out what God really desired from His people.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

The peoples’ hearts were far from God. Their hearts were anything but contrite. Their spirits remained unbroken. And their actions, no matter how righteous in appearance, were anything but pleasing to God.

Jesus pointed out the danger of turning our acts of righteousness into nothing more than performance art, done for the praise and admiration of others.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

In today’s nomenclature, we might call this “virtue signaling.”

virtue signaling: the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.  – dictionary.com

We post and repost. We display images on our Facebook pages that convey our convictions and confirm our stand on particular issues and social concerns. We affirm our positions on various hot-button topics with the click of a button. And, in doing so, we practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.

But Micah provides us with some sobering food for thought. Yet, these verses are often lifted out of their context and used to justify the very behavior condemned by Jesus and described in the dictionary.com definition above.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

Micah makes it quite clear that God has already communicated what He deems to be “good” or acceptable behavior. And he sums it up in three simple statements:

…to do justice

…to love kindness

…to walk humbly with your God

But what do these phrases mean? And who gets to determine their definitions? Here is where this verse gets abused and misused, even by well-meaning Christians. We take those three imperatives and define them according to our cultural context. We allow the world to dictate what justice means. We let others determine what true kindness looks like in everyday life. But the context of Micah 6:8 is the rest of chapter 6 and the entirety of the book of Micah. God is speaking to the people of Israel. He is addressing the sins of those whom He has chosen as His own. And the justice He has in mind is not some form of outward behavior mandated by the prevailing culture. He is speaking of acts of righteousness that emulate His own. He is demanding that His people do what he has deemed to be right. They are to live according to His standards, not those of the world. They are to use His definitions, not those of a secular society that are nothing more than commandments taught by men (Isaiah 29:13).

The people of God are to do what God would have them do. They are to do what is right and just, but according to His definitions, not their own. The world will always be quick to tell us what is the right thing to do. The prevailing society will always attempt to influence our actions by dictating the rules for acceptable behavior. And our desire to fit into this world will constantly tempt us to mimic the world’s ways.

To do justice is to do what God would have us do. It is to live according to His will and not our own. And it will require a separateness and set-apartness that puts pleasing Him ahead of any desire to please the world.

These three attributes found in Micah 6:8 are focused on God, not man. They are not meant to be an outline for enacting social justice in the world. They are a reminder to the people of God that the standards for right living are determined by our righteous God. They are a call to love the mercy and kindness of God more than we love this world. When we fail to do so, we find ourselves seeking to be loved and accepted by the world. We do what the world would have us do. We live up to its standards of righteousness and justice. We virtue signal. We post. We blog. We posture. We give in to the world’s demands. And when we do, we fail to walk humbly with our God.

Self-righteousness is the greatest danger we face. Pride in our achievements and the desire for the praise of men are constant threats to our effectiveness as God’s people. Micah wanted the Israelites to know that good deeds done with good intentions were not what God was looking for. He was looking for people who lived according to His standards of holiness, fully appreciated His acts of kindness, and were willing to walk humbly before Him.

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

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

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