The Very Power of God

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Luke 18:31-34 ESV

For quite some time, Jesus has been hinting at the fate that awaits Him in Jerusalem. He has repeatedly tried to let His discloses know that His earthly mission was going to end in an unexpected manner.

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” – Luke 5:35 ESV

He had a God-ordained assignment to complete that would end in His brutal crucifixion rather than a royal  coronation.

“I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” – Luke 12:50 ESV

And as He drew ever closer to Jerusalem, the day of His death drew nearer as well. So, His rhetoric became increasingly less cryptic.

“I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” – Luke 13:33 ESV

“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” – Luke 17:24-25 ESV

But now, Jesus dispenses with any semblance of subtlety, choosing instead to reveal the exact nature of His pending suffering and death. He hides nothing from His disciples because He wants them to know that while His entrance into Jerusalem would be met with fanfare, it would end with His execution and not His exaltation.

the Son of Man…will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him. they will kill him…“ – Luke 18:32-33 ESV

Up to this point, everything Jesus had disclosed to His disciples had been tied to life in the kingdom of heaven. He had been trying to get them to understand that things were not going to be as they expected. While they believed Him to be the Messiah, they were defining the term according to their own standards. In their minds, the Messiah would be a conquering king. He would come with power and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, from where He would rule and reign, placing Israel back in a position of political prominence. But here was Jesus, once again, announcing that His journey to Jerusalem would end with a cross, not a crown. And His death would be the direct result of His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, who would condemn Him to death. Rather than welcome Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, they would hand Him over to the Roman government to be mocked, flogged and crucified.

While we know how this story turned out, the disciples did not. They were oblivious to the “good news” associated with Jesus’ death. In fact, it seems evident that they never grasped what Jesus meant when He indicated that he would “be raised on the third day.” The reality of the resurrection escaped them. All they heard was the shockingly bad news regarding Jesus’ death. And, as before, this news left them dazed and confused.

What is truly amazing is all that they had missed. As God-fearing Jews, each of these men had been raised to revere the Hebrew Scriptures, which included the writings of the prophets. They had been exposed to the countless Old Testament passages that predicted the coming of the Messiah, but like all those who came before them, they had conveniently ignored the Scriptures that foretold of the Messiah as the suffering servant.

So, when Jesus informs His disciples that “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:31 ESV), suffering is the last thing to come into their mind. As far as they understood, the prophets had promised the arrival of a conquering king who would defeat the enemies of Israel much as King David had done. But Jesus had already warned them that His mission was going to be much different than that of David.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22 ESV

Even in the upper room where Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples, He told them: “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37 ESV). And the Scripture Jesus referred to is found in the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet. All throughout this chapter, Isaiah predicted the suffering of the coming Messiah in graphic terms.

He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief – Isaiah 53:3 ESV

he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:3 ESV

…he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted. – Isaiah 53:4 ESV

he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities… – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

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

By oppression and judgment he was taken away – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

…he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people… – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

…they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. – Isaiah 53:9 ESV

…it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief… – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

Not exactly a description of glory and greatness. And most certainly, it was not at all what the disciples had been anticipating. Yet, even after His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and reminded them that exactly what happened had been in keeping with the words of the prophets.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 ESV

On this occasion, after having been raised back to life through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued to teach His disciples that this was all part of God’s preordained plan. He had not been an innocent victim of the Jewish religious leaders or the passive subject of the Roman legal system. He had been in full control of the circumstances and in perfect submission to the will of His Heavenly Father. That is why He could say, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded” (John 10:18 NLT).

But as Jesus and His disciples made their way to Jerusalem and He continued to disclose the gruesome nature of His destiny, they were having a difficult time taking it all in. Luke even indicates that their inability to comprehend His words was divinely orchestrated.

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. – Luke 18:34 NLT

For reasons known only to God alone, the disciples were prevented from comprehending the full import of Jesus’ words. And, later on, when they walked by His side into Jerusalem to the cheers of the adoring crowd, they probably assumed that the time had finally arrived when Jesus would set up His earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be only hours away from a crown of gold and the royal throne. But in reality, Jesus would end up adorned with a crown of thorns and nailed to a Roman cross. All in fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan for man’s salvation.

At the moment, none of it made sense to the disciples, but in time, it would.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18 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 Sacrifice Worth Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:1-6 ESV

Jesus has been unrelenting in His judgment of the Pharisees. He has castigated them relentlessly and even accused them of refusing the heed the words of their own Scriptures.

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

Their hatred for Jesus had reached such a fevered pitch that they had become incapable of recognizing Him as being the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold. Jesus was the Son of God, making Him not only the law-giver, but the perfect law-keeper. In His sermon on the mount, He declared of Himself:

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

But while the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders were outwardly committed to the law, they failed to recognize Jesus as its fulfillment. And their rejection of Him was causing others to question the validity of His identity and mission.  After all, if the religious leaders of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, maybe He wasn’t really  who He claimed to be. Perhaps He did cast out demons by the power of Satan. Maybe He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leading the gullible and the innocent to fall for His cleverly disguised lies. But Jesus had refuted these accusations, arguing, “if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matthew 12:28 NLT).

Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees of acting as road blocks to the good news of the kingdom. It was one thing for them to reject Jesus as the Messiah, but it was another altogether for them to persuade others to turn down God’s gracious offer of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.

“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

But as Luke begins this section of his gospel, he portrays Jesus focusing His attention off of the religious leaders and on to His followers. He wants them to understand that they too can become stumbling blocks to the gospel. They all ran the risk of losing hope in His identity as the Messiah. The days were coming when the pressure against Jesus would reach a fever pitch and He would become the focal point of the Pharisees’ rage and the enemy’s wrath. Satan was going to unleash his entire arsenal of weapons against the Son of God, all in a last-ditch effort to thwart the redemptive plan of God.

Even on the very night when Jesus would share His final Passover meal with the disciples, they would get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. This would take place after He washed their feet and described the death He was about to endure. And then, Jesus would turn to Simon and deliver what had to have come across as a rather a disturbing message:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 NLT

Simon was going to be tempted. He would find himself faced with the choice of admitting His relationship with Jesus or denying it to save his own skin. He would choose the latter. In doing so, Peter sinned. He let his fear of men overcome His faith in Jesus. But in Luke 17, Jesus encourages His disciples by acknowledging the reality of the temptations they would face. He knew the days ahead would be difficult and filled with opportunities to turn their back on Him. Even on the night when Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50 NLT).

The days ahead would be filled with temptations to turn their back on Him, and all of them would dessert Him in some form or fashion. Only Peter and John would follow Him to His trials. Of all the disciples, only John is described as being at His crucifixion. But Jesus wanted these men to know that their abandonment of Him would be forgiven. Their loss of faith would not be held against them. But if their lack of faith caused another to reject Jesus, the consequences would be serious.

The context is critical to understanding this passage. Jesus had been hammering away at the religious leaders and their lack of compassion for the people. These arrogant and prideful men viewed themselves as spiritual superior to everyone else. And in their highly educated and religiously savvy opinion, they deemed Jesus to be a fraud and phony. He was a wannabe Messiah who lacked the proper credentials, pedigree, and education to serve in such a prestigious and prominent role. And these men were leading others to sin against God by rejecting His anointed Messiah.

So, Jesus was warning His disciples to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the days, ahead, when things got dark and all looked lost, he wanted to them to remain faithful and not allow their doubts to cause others to dismiss Him as Savior. And He gave them some sobering words to consider:

It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.” – Luke 17:2 NLT

He forewarns them: “So watch yourselves!” (Luke 17:3 NLT). Things were about to get dark and deadly. His earthly mission was going to culminate with His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it would be followed by His miraculous resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And despite of His victory over death and the grave, the temptations would continue for the disciples. That is why He continues to encourage them to live in a constant state of preparedness, because the enemy was defeated but far from dead. Satan would continue to attack the disciples long after Jesus was gone. They would face ongoing temptations to sin and would need to avail themselves of the forgiveness Jesus made possible by His death on the cross.

Sometime after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would later:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

Forgiveness would be an ongoing commodity because sin would be an ever-present reality. Jesus’ death provided the payment for mankind’s sin debt, but it did not eradicate the danger of sin’s presence. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples:

“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4 NLT

When Jesus departed from earth, He left His disciples on their own, but He did not leave them defenseless and helpless. He provided them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, alone and on their own. No, He assured them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). The Holy Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to fulfill the Great Commission and survive in a hostile environment in which the enemy still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). The tempter, though defeated,  would still be alive and well and working overtime to distract and destroy the followers of Christ. Temptations would come. Believers would sin. And forgiveness would need to be extended.

All this talk about temptation, trials, sin, and forgiveness left the disciples wondering if they were up to the task. In their simplistic way of thinking, they believed they would need additional faith in order to survive what was coming their way. They didn’t want to flake out or run the risk of causing a brother or sister to stumble. So, they asked Jesus to increase their faith. It was like asking for more energy to survive a particularly strenuous task. But Jesus pointed out that it was not the quantity of their faith that mattered. Nor was it a matter of quality.

“If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you! – Luke 17:7 NLT

To the disciples, faith was the missing ingredient. But in their defense, on more than one occasion, they had heard Jesus say, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). That sounds like a declaration of need or an accusation of lack. In their minds, they simply presumed that more faith was the answer. But the amount of faith is not the issue here. It is the object of our faith that matters. A little faith placed in the right source will produce staggering results. It was Paul expressed in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jesus was going to ensure that they had all the strength they needed to endure what they were destined to face as His disciples. And Jesus would later assure His disciples that they would have all the faith, power, strength, wisdom, and words they needed to accomplish even greater works than He had done.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 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

Fear God, Not Man

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:1-12 ESV

It seems that the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the intensity of the exchanges between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased exponentially. The Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, was headquartered in the capital city and they were particularly wary of this renegade Rabbi peddling His influence on their turf. And the religious leaders had reason to worry because Jesus was proving to be just as popular in Judea as He had been in Galilee. Luke reveals that wherever Jesus went, “the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

And wherever the crowds gathered, the Pharisees and scribes tended to show up like carrion circling a corpse. They never let Jesus out of their sight and were constantly trying to trick Him into saying or doing something that they could use against Him.

…the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT

But Jesus refused to shy away from the confrontation, choosing instead to warn His disciples about the true intentions of these well-respected religious leaders. To the average Jew, the Pharisees and Sadduccees were considered the spiritual upper class of society. They were wealthy, influential, and powerful. And they were also revered for their apparent religious superiority. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of personal piety and fervent law-keeping. He knew their hearts and wanted His disciples to know the truth about these pseudo-spiritual elitists, which led Him to say, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

This kind of talk must have shocked His disciples. Not only would they have viewed it as disrespectful, but they would have deemed it to be highly dangerous. It had already become clear to them that the Pharisees were not big fans of Jesus, so why would He poke the bear? What possible good could come from making such incendiary statements about such powerful individuals? But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was preparing His followers for life in His absence. His earthly mission was quickly coming to a close and it would not be long before He had to leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His disciples. So, He wanted them to know the truth.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to emulate the ways of men – even those who appeared to be the icons of religious virtue. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and their peers were nothing more than hypocrites. The Greek word He used to describe them is hypokrisis, which was commonly used to describe actors in a play. Jesus was exposing the Pharisees as nothing more than pretenders. Like thespians in a Greek drama, they wore masks to disguise their true identity and fool the audience into thinking they were someone else. It was all a cleverly orchestrated charade. But unlike actors in a play, the Pharisees had become self-deceived, believing that they were exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this delusional mindset was contagious and dangerous. Like yeast that spreads through a batch of dough, the fake faith of the Pharisees had begun to permeate its way through the nation of Israel. The religion of the Jews had become all about outward displays of righteousness with very little emphasis on the true condition of the heart. And Jesus was fully aware that this mentality had already crept into the thinking of His disciples. They had a pharisaical outlook on life, measuring their spirituality by actions rather than attitude. But Jesus wanted them to know that behavior was always a byproduct of belief and not the other way around.

This led Him to state, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2 NLT). Jesus is revealing that the true condition of the Pharisees’ hearts will soon be exposed. With His coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the disciples will get an up-close and personal glimpse into the dark recesses of these men’s hearts. Their true intentions will be put on display for all to see, and it will not be a pretty picture. 

The sinister and secretive planning of the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin will become readily apparent. Their obsession to eliminate Jesus will finally come to fruition and all their carefully crafted questions and well-orchestrated encounters with Jesus will be exposed for what they were all along: Hypocritical lies motivated by hate and emanating from sin-darkened hearts.

What the disciples needed to know was that the day was coming when the roles would be reversed. They had been living in fear of the animosity of the religious leaders. They knew these men were powerful and could make or break the ministry of Jesus. But according to Jesus, the disciples would soon be declaring the good news of the kingdom of God from the housetops. Despite the threat of persecution, they would carry the message of the Gospel to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

This led Jesus to encourage His disciples to live fearlessly and faithfully even in the present hour. They had no reason to fear the high priest or the rest of the Sanhedrin. Yes, these men were powerful, but they were nothing when compared with God Almighty.

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:4-5 NLT

Jesus clearly acknowledges that the religious leaders had the power and authority to take a man’s life. He was well aware that they would play a major role in determining His own death. But He wanted the disciples to understand that God was sovereign. The influence of these men was purely physical and temporal. They could take a man’s life but had no power over his eternal life. They could kill but they couldn’t condemn. They could cast a man into the grave but had no authority to cast a man into hell. But God could. He was sovereign over all things, including a man’s death and the fate of his eternity.

The Pharisees could have cared less about Jesus and His disciples. They viewed them as little more than thorns in their side that needed to be removed and disposed of. But God placed a high value on Jesus’ followers. The Creator-God who cares for the insignificant sparrow cared for them. So much so, that He was aware of the number of hairs on each of their heads. The Pharisees didn’t know a single disciple’s name, but God knew everything about them, including their eternal state.

With that amazing reality in mind, Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus their attention on the mission at hand. They were not to be distracted or deterred by the threats of the Pharisees. Instead, they were to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus’ Messiahship to the ends of the earth.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12: 8 NLT

Their faithfulness to follow through on their commission would reap significant rewards. And while the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would threaten and oppose them, the disciples would one day hear the words of Jesus, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

But the Pharisees faced a far different fate.

“But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:9-10 NLT

They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. As a result, they would be denied access to God’s Kingdom. The very men who believed themselves to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual mountain would one day find themselves barred from God’s presence. These men would pay dearly for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and for attributing His Spirit-enabled power to Satan.

But Jesus encourages His disciples by telling them that the very same Spirit would indwell and empower them in the days to come.

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:12 NLT

He didn’t sugarcoat the future. He clearly warned them that persecution and literal trials were going to be a part of their experience. But they would find themselves empowered by the Spirit of God. Despite the threats of the Pharisees, the disciples would boldly confess Jesus before men. No pretending. No pretext. No play-acting. These men would discover the truth behind the promise Jesus made to them just prior to His ascension into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. 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

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

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

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

Mission: Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Is Easier?

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” Luke 5:17-26 ESV

With this story, Luke introduces a cast of characters who will play an essential part in the drama of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For the first time in his narrative, Luke reveals the presence of the religious leaders of Israel who have taken a keen interest in this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. Word of His exploits and growing popularity have reached all the way to Jerusalem, where the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel was headquartered. The Sanhedrin was essentially the Supreme Court of Israel, made up of 70 men and overseen by the high priest. The council was comprised of men from the two main religious/political parties of Israel: The Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of these men were also known as scribes or lawyers, whose job was to study, teach, and provide counsel on matters concerning the Mosaic Law.

Luke indicates that Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from villages throughout Galilee and Judea to get a first-hand look at Jesus. When he mentions that some came from Jerusalem, these were likely members of the Sanhedrin, sent on behalf of the high priest to gather intel on this miracle-working rabbi whose reputation was spreading like wildfire throughout the nation of Israel. Obviously, news of Jesus’ miracles had reached the ears of the high priest, but it was likely Jesus’ comments in the synagogue in Nazareth that had gotten his attention. Jesus had declared Himself to be the fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Isaiah 61:1-2. In doing so, Jesus was clearly claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. This would not have been the first time that someone had made that claim, but the fact that Jesus was performing miracles and garnering a massive following had the high priest concerned. The last thing he wanted was any trouble with the Roman authorities. He and his fellow members of the council served at the discretion of the Roman government and they were expected to help maintain law and order. The last thing he needed was some unknown rabbi claiming to be the Messiah of Israel and leading the people in an insurrection against the Roman authorities. If the Roman governor received news that there was someone claiming to be the King of the Jews and stirring up dissension among the people, he would not hesitate to use Rome’s military might to restore order. And if that happened, the high priest knew he and his compatriots would be held accountable for their failure to control their own people. So, he had a vested interest in what was happening in Galilee.

According to Mark, this scene took place in the town of Capernaum and at the home where Jesus had taken up residence. A large crowd of people, including the Pharisees and scribes, had gathered to hear Jesus teach. It was standing room only. And Luke adds that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal” (Luke 5:17 ESV). This statement clearly indicates that Jesus’ miracle-working power came from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He was still fully divine and had not lost any of the power inherent in His position as the Son of God, but during His time on earth, He had chosen to live in full submission to the Spirit’s power and presence. In doing so, He modeled the Spirit-filled life that His followers would experience after His death and resurrection.

Luke’s mention of the Spirit’s power to heal was meant to set up what happens next. A group of men arrived, carrying a paralyzed man on a pallet. They attempted to gain access to the house but were unable to enter because of the crowd. So, they used the outside stairs that led to the roof, where they cut a hole and lowered the man down into the room where Jesus was speaking. Their efforts could not have gone unnoticed. Debris from the ceiling fell into the room and the paralyzed man was slowly lowered by ropes until he lay before Jesus and His dumbfounded guests. Each of the gospel authors comments that Jesus “saw their faith” (Luke 5:20 ESV). He was struck by the extreme effort taken by these men so that their friend could come into His presence. They obviously believed that Jesus could and would heal him, so they had gone to great links to see that their friend was restored.

It was the sight of their faith that led Jesus to say, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20 ESV). This statement by Jesus should not be taken as proof that the man’s condition was somehow the result of sin. That was a common belief in those days. Illness of any kind was most often associated with a curse from God. Even poverty was considered a punishment from God due to some egregious sin that had been committed. The apostle John records an exchange between Jesus and His disciples concerning a man who had been blind since birth. They asked Jesus, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” (John 9:2 NLT). Even they believed that suffering was the result of sin.

But Jesus had something far more important in mind when He forgave the paralytic’s sins. He was deliberately focusing His attention on the presence of the Pharisees and scribes. He knew that they would have seen this poor man as nothing more than a guilty sinner who had only gotten what he deserved. Like the disciples, they would have speculated that this man had committed some sin worthy of his paralysis. So, Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal something about Himself that they were going to find not only surprising but repugnant.

The man came for healing, but Jesus offers him something far more significant: Forgiveness of his sins. Whether this man realized it or not, his greatest problem was not his inability to walk but his incapacity to stand before God free from condemnation for his sinful state. Just like everyone else in the room, including the scribes and Pharisees, this man was guilty of sin and worthy of death.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:23 ESV

the wages of sin is death – Romans 6:23 ESV

Jesus was pointing to the universal problem facing mankind: Unforgiven sin that creates an impenetrable barrier between man and a holy God. The man’s problem was not his paralysis but his unrighteousness. And the religious leaders of Israel stood equally guilty and condemned. But in their self-righteousness, they were appalled by Jesus’ words. Who was this upstart rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth and what right did He have to absolve anyone of their sins. That was the sole prerogative of God alone.

“Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Luke 5:21 ESV

And that was exactly Jesus’ point. He knew His words would light a flame in the hearts of these religious leaders and He also knew what they were thinking as they debated among themselves. Jesus had always planned to heal the paralytic, but He used the opportunity to reveal something far more important about His identity than His ability to cure diseases.

“Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Luke 5:22-24 ESV

Jesus wanted them to understand that His miracles were meant to be evidence of His identity. He was the Son of God and had proven it repeatedly by His displays of supernatural, Spirit-enabled power. And Jesus points out that anyone could say, “Your sins are forgiven you” because there would be nothing to prove the veracity of their words. Forgiveness of sins can’t be seen. But in order to prove that He had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus ordered the man to “rise, pick up your bed and go home.” He back up His authority to forgive sins by exhibiting His power to heal.

At the words of Jesus, the man experienced immediate and complete healing. His paralyzed body was suddenly rejuvenated and restored to wholeness. And he proved it by jumping up, gathering his mat, and walking home by his own power – glorifying God as he went. As expected, the crowd was blown away by what they witnessed. They were dumbfounded by the entire affair and could only respond by glorifying God. But it will soon become clear that the religious leaders were less enthusiastic about what they had seen that day. Mark records that they considered Jesus to be guilty of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. In their minds, His claim to be able to forgive sins was nothing less than a declaration of His equality with Yahweh. And they were right. That was exactly what Jesus was claiming, and He had backed it up by performing a miracle that left a paralyzed man fully healed and completely forgiven.

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

Kingdoms In Conflict

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13 ESV

After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV

The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV

Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV

It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).

Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.

Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV

Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.

Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.

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

Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.

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

Men on Mission

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 ESV

In the closing half of verse 6, Mark reveals that Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is concentrating His energies and efforts on the region of Galilee. Having been rejected by the citizens of His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has moved on, taking His message of the Kingdom to other towns and villages where He will find a more receptive audience.

In this section, Jesus, as Master and Teacher, begins to prepare His disciples for the role they will play when the time comes for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greater contribution to the Kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

For some time now, they have been witnesses to the witnesses of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they will find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they will be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.

Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He has been doing all along, Jesus is attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Jesus knew that His disciples remained unconvinced as to who He was. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power and it was clear, from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went, that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?

But the disciples had much to learn about the Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus did not do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:8 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT

Matthew reveals that Jesus provided strict instructions regarding the destination of the disciples. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV

Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.

And, Jesus warns, if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples are to walk away. They are not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructs them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.

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

Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee. They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

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

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

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

More Than You Need

Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:5-14 ESV

The sun was just coming up as the weary disciples began to pull in their net after an unsuccessful night of fishing. They had returned to the Sea of Galilee just as Jesus had told them to but, apparently bored with waiting, seven of them had decided to try their hand at fishing. But as they prepared to return empty-handed, they heard someone call out to them. Whether it was due to a combination of their distance from shore and the poor morning light, they were unable to make out the identity of the stranger who shouted to them from the shoreline.

But it seems likely that they were a bit put out by His impertinent and somewhat invasive question: “Children, do you have any fish?” (John 21:5 ESV). And you can hear the tone of irritation in their curt response: “No.”

Peter and his companions were worn out and probably a bit put out by their failure to catch a single, solitary fish. These men were professionals and they had probably used every trick of the trade they could think of – but all to no avail. Now, this nosy bystander was unknowingly rubbing salt in the wound, leaving what little pride they had left completely destroyed.

John makes it clear that they failed to recognize Jesus. Again, it could have been because of their distance from shore and the poor lighting conditions. But, like the two disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emaus, these men could have been a case of divine disablement.

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. – Luke 24:14-15 ESV

Whatever the case, the disciples had no idea that it was Jesus who was speaking to them. So, when this “stranger” suggested that they cast their net on the other side of the boat, they must have felt a strong urge to tell him to mind his own business. And yet, surprisingly, they did just as the man suggested. It could be that they did so out of respect. When the man had called out to them, he had called them “children.” The Greek word is paidion, and it was typically used to refer to a young child. It was a term of affection. So, perhaps they understood their well-meaning friend to be an older gentleman to whom they wanted to show honor by heeding his advice.

So, when he shouted out, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6 ESV), they immediately complied. Yet, it is doubtful that they harbored any suspicions that this time would be any different than all the others. They had no expectations that their efforts would prove successful. They simply wanted to cast their net, haul it back in, and call it a day. But they were in for a big surprise.

John, still writing in the third-person just as he has done throughout his gospel, recounts what happened when he and his fellow disciples did as the man had suggested.

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. – John 21:6 ESV

It was a miracle. And John was the first to recognize the nature of what had happened and the identity of who was behind it all. He immediately called out, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7 ESV). And in that split second of time, the eyes of every man in the boat shifted from the amazing sight of the net full of fish to the man standing on the shore. And forgetting all about the net, they began to row to shore. The always impulsive Peter, too excited to wait,  jumped into the water and swam to meet Jesus. Suddenly, the Giver became more important than the gift. The net full of fish lost its appeal as they recognized their resurrected Lord and Savior. 

When they finally made it to shore, they found Jesus standing by a charcoal fire grilling fish. It’s important to note that, in the Greek, the word for fish is in the singular tense. He is cooking one fish. And this entire scene should call to mind an earlier occasion that took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had encountered a large crowd of His followers and Mark recounts that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). Jesus, knowing that the people were tired and hungry, instructed His disciples to feed them. But they responded in disbelief, indicating that they did not have the resources to feed such a large crowd. And when Jesus asked them to gather what was available, they came back with fives loaves of bread and two fish. And Andrew, upon taking a look at the meager resources at their disposal, had responded, “what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). 

The disciples were full of doubts. They looked at the circumstances, assessed their potential for success, and concluded that the numbers were not in their favor. But they were wrong. John records that Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11 ESV).

Yet, as Peter and his companions stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they were looking at a single fish roasting on a charcoal fire. And it seems likely that the famished Andrew once again thought to himself, “what is this for so many?” How were eight men going to satisfy their hunger with one measly fish? But Jesus refocused their attention on the net that still remained tied to the boat and lying in the water.

“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” – John 21:10 ESV

John reveals that there were exactly 153 fish in that net. Many commentators have tried to come up with some hidden meaning behind that number, but it would seem that John is simply trying to compare and contrast the two stories. In the earlier case, the disciples had only been able to find two fish. But on this occasion, they had shown up with 153. And the difference between the two numbers the work of Jesus. He had been the one to instruct them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. So, the miraculous supply of fish had been His doing. But in graciously inviting them to bring what they had “caught,” Jesus was allowing them to contribute to the meal.

And what Jesus did next should not be overlooked.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

There is little doubt that John had the feeding of the 5,000 in mind when he recorded this scene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What he describes is remarkably similar to what happened on that earlier occasion.

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. – John 6:11 ESV

They ate and were satisfied. Jesus had miraculously met their need by transforming what was insufficient into an overabundance. But in this story, we see Jesus providing an overabundance before He met the need. And He allowed them to be participants in the miracle of provision. They had cast the net. They had rowed the boat. And Peter had hauled it to shore. But there were far more fish than they could eat. The supply outstripped the demand.

This entire scene was intended as a lesson in the sufficiency of Jesus and the need for their complete dependency upon Him. It was reminiscent of His earlier words to them.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 NLT

They were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul had learned.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 ESV

And Paul would add:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 ESV

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father’s side in heaven, He was letting His disciples know that they would become His ambassadors, carrying on His mission and conveying His message of Good News to the world. But they would need to rely upon Him. They would need to abide in Him. In just a matter of days, they would receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, who would provide them with the power of God so that they might do the will of God. They would have all the resources they needed to do all that Jesus would commission them to do.

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 Breath of Life

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 ESV

John has already described how he had been impacted by his experience of entering the empty tomb with Peter. As has been his habit throughout his gospel, John referred to himself in the third-person.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. – John 20:8 ESV

Unlike Mary Magdalene, John had not yet had the joy of seeing Jesus with his own eyes, but he still believed that He had risen from the dead. Some of the disciples had struggled to believe when the women had returned from the tomb with the message from the angel regarding Jesus’ resurrection.

…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. – Luke 24:11 NLT

In his hurry to recount the moment when he and his fellow disciples finally saw the resurrected Jesus, John skips over a lot of details that the other gospel writers include. John fast-forwards from early Sunday morning to later that evening when the disciples had gathered together in one place. He sets the scene by indicating that they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19 ESV). This is a reference to the Jewish religious leaders who had conspired to have Jesus put to death. John and his fellow disciples knew that they were marked men because of their association with Jesus. So, they had been keeping a low profile ever since the crucifixion had taken place.

His reference to the locked doors also helped to set up what happened next. Despite the inaccessible nature of the room in which they were meeting, suddenly Jesus was standing in their presence. John simply states that “Jesus came and stood among them” (John 20:19 ESV).

Luke provides a bit more context. He and Mark both cover the encounter between Jesus and the two disciples who had been on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had been returning home after having witnessed the devastating events surrounding Jesus’ death. Suddenly, these two disheartened disciples were joined by another individual who asked them what they were discussing. They recounted all that had happened in Jerusalem, even sharing the news about the new from that morning.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.” – Luke 24:22-24 NLT

It was not until later in the day, as they shared a meal with their unknown traveling companion, that Jesus revealed Himself to them.

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! – Luke 24:31 NLT

Rather than continue home to Emmaus, they returned to Jerusalem in search of the disciples so that they might share their exciting news. And they wasted no time. Luke records that “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them” (Luke 24:33 NLT). But Mark adds another vital detail to the unfolding scene: “no one believed them” (Mark 16:13 NLT). The testimony of these two eye-witnesses was rejected by the disciples.

But despite the doubt and disbelief that filled the room, Luke records that “Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them” (Luke 24:36 NLT). All John records is that Jesus appeared and spoke to them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19 ESV). But Mark and Luke both reveal that Jesus had a bit more to say to them.

He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. – Mark 16:14 NLT

Luke adds that “the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!” (Luke 24:37 NLT). And Luke provides the exact nature of Jesus’ rebuke.

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. – Luke 24:38-40 NLT

And Luke reveals that even after all the evidence Jesus provided, “they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). John simply states, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20 ESV). He paints a much more flattering image of the disciples than do Mark and Luke. But this makes sense when you consider that neither of these men had been in the room that night because they were not part of the original group of disciples. Their recounting of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus were based on interviews with those who had been there. John was writing from first-hand experience. He shared his own personal recollections of what he saw and heard.

And rather than focusing on Jesus’ rebuke of His unbelieving disciples, John chose to highlight His commissioning of them. John had believed from the moment he had entered the empty tomb. He had not shared the doubt and disbelief of his fellow disciples. So, he was thrilled when he heard Jesus say, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV). John didn’t need to see the hands and feet of Jesus to believe. The empty tomb had been enough for him. And now, he was thrilled to hear that their mission was far from over. Jesus had more for them to do.

Luke and Mark add additional details that give a more well-rounded picture of what took place that night. Luke reveals that Jesus provided the disciples with an in-depth overview of Old Testament Scriptures and how they pointed to Him.

“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

Mark provides even more information that helps complete the scene.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Despite their disbelief and fear, this ragtag group of disciples was being given a divine mandate to carry on the work of Jesus in His absence. They were being trusted to take the message of the Gospel to the world, and Jesus reminded them that their ability to carry out their commission would not be left up to them.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. – John 20:22 ESV

There is much debate as to what is actually being described here. Was Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit to His disciples? This seems unlikely because they would not receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit until Jesus had ascended back to heaven. It would only be after His glorification that the Spirit would be sent. That’s why Jesus later instructed them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

Also, there is no indication that the disciples experienced any significant change as a result of what Jesus said and did that night. It appears to have been a symbolic act, designed to remind the disciples of the ultimate source of their coming power. The Spirit would be a personal gift from Jesus to His disciples. And when Jesus “breathed on them,” He was mirroring the gift of life given by God in the garden of Eden.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

John understood the significance of this act. He is the one who wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV).

John also wrote that “In him was life” (John 1:4 ESV). Jesus was the source of all life. And in breathing on His disciples, Jesus was letting them know that they were already recipients of the “breath of life” – eternal life – that would be sealed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. With His death, Jesus had provided these men with His righteousness. They had been cleansed and purified by His blood and were now fully acceptable in God’s eyes. They were also worthy of receiving the coming Holy Spirit. It would not be the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that made them holy. They were already holy because of what Jesus had just accomplished on the cross. By breathing on them, Jesus was assuring them that they were acceptable before God. They were clean vessels, worthy of containing the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul reminds us of what Jesus accomplished for us through His death on the cross.

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

These doubting men were being commissioned by Jesus. He knew their weaknesses and He understood their reticence. But He was letting them know that it was He who was the author of all life, and He was imparting to them His very breath as a sign of His life-giving power.

But John adds one more important note regarding the events of that evening. He records something else that Jesus told them.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:23 ESV

Their commission was accompanied by incredible responsibilities. With the sharing of the Good News, they would be offering people the choice between forgiveness and condemnation. It was the same message that Jesus had given to Nicodemus.

“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.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

Now, that message would be theirs. And, like Jesus, they would find some willing to receive the message and the forgiveness of sins that accompanies it. But there would be others who “hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed” (John 3:20 NLT). Some will receive forgiveness while others will find themselves condemned by virtue of their unbelief.

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