A Different King of King

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” Luke 23:1-16 ESV

The next phase of Jesus’ trial was about to begin. The high priest and his compatriots on the high council now had the evidence they needed to bring accusations of treason against Jesus. By claiming to be the Messiah or king of Israel, Jesus had given them ample reason to get the Romans involved. The Roman government, while tolerant of other religions, was ruthlessly intolerant of insurrection in any form. There is little doubt that they had heard the rumors concerning Jesus. Though He was nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, He had attracted a large following and many were claiming Him to be the next king of Israel. So, the Sanhedrin knew that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would be more than interested in interrogating their prisoner. And their hope was that Pilate would protect the interests of Rome by having Jesus put to death.

While the Sanhedrin had determined that Jesus deserved death because of His blasphemous claims of divinity, they were prohibited by Roman law from practicing capital punishment. So, their plan was to use the rather lame charge of treason to incite the Romans against Jesus. And it seems that the entire religious leadership of Israel was party to this deadly charade. Luke indicates that “the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate” (Luke 23:1 ESV). The two high priests, Caiaphas and Annas, as well as the members of the council and the elders of Israel were all part of the contingent that accompanied Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace.

This angry mob dragged Jesus before Pilate and immediately began to level their charges against Him. It’s unlikely that they entered the palace of the Gentile governor because that would have rendered them unclean (John 18:28). So, they stood in the courtyard, their prized prisoner in hand, delivering their carefully crafted indictments against Him.

“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” – Luke 23:2 ESV

They deliberately distanced themselves from Jesus, choosing to treat Him with disdainful anonymity. Refusing to use His name or His rightful title of Rabbi, they paint Jesus as just another radical revolutionary stirring up trouble in Israel. And they attempt to portray themselves as friends of Caesar, dedicated to protecting his interests and in full allegiance to Roman rule over their nation. In fact, John records the disingenuous response of these men when later, Pilate mockingly declared Jesus to be their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ alleged claims of kingship were the primary focus of Pilate’s interest in Him. Having heard the accusations of the religious leaders, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3 ESV). Luke reports that Jesus simply responded, “You have said so” (Luke 23:3 ESV). But John provides much more detail regarding the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. He notes that Jesus responded to Pilate’s question by asking, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). This cleverly worded question seems to be inquiring whether Pilate is expressing personal interest in Jesus’ kingship or simply parroting the accusations of the religious leaders. In a sense, Jesus wanted to know if Pilate was simply looking for a confession of guilt or was curious to know if the rumors about Jesus were true. Was He really the Messiah, the son of David and the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel? But Pilate, sensing what Jesus was doing, quickly redirected the conversation.

“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

Pilate was looking for proof of Jesus’ guilt. He had been accused of promoting tax evasion and of declaring Himself the rightful king of Israel. These were serious charges and Pilate was attempting to give Jesus the opportunity to tell His side of the story. But instead, Jesus chose to clarify the nature of His kingship and kingdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

Pilate and the Romans had nothing to fear from Jesus. He was not an insurrectionist and He had no desire to disrupt the political status quo in Israel. He had not come to usher in a physical kingdom or wage war against the Romans. In fact, His battle was with the religious leaders of His own people, who were standing in opposition to His mission of repentance and redemption. They, of all people, should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. But because Jesus had not appeared in the form they had been expecting, they had rejected Him. He had not fulfilled their expectations concerning the Messiah, so they sought to destroy Him. But what they failed to understand was that the Messiah’s kingly mission would not be about crowns and conquests or the defeat of Israel’s political enemies. Jesus had come to deliver His people from slavery to sin, not subjugation to Rome.

But all this talk of kingship led Pilate to ask, “So you are a king?” (John 18:37 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The truth was that Jesus was a king. But He was a completely different kind of king who had come to establish a different kind of kingdom. He had come to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). His fight was not with Rome, but with Satan. His objective was the deliverance of men from spiritual slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that accompanied. The apostle Paul would later declare, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT).

But all of Jesus’ talk of otherworldly kingdoms meant nothing to Pilate. He sensed that Jesus was no threat to Rome and delivered his conclusion to the religious leaders gathered in the courtyard of his palace.

“I find no guilt in him.” – John 18:38 ESV

But this pronouncement was not what Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin wanted to hear. So, they became even more agitated and desperate, demanding that Jesus was a clear and present danger to the Roman republic.

“He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” – Luke 23:5 ESV

The mention of Galilee gave Pilate an excuse to pass the buck. He wanted nothing more to do with Jesus, so he had Him transferred to the royal palace of Herod, the governor of Galilee. Since Jesus was accused of stirring up trouble in Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate decided to let his fellow governor get in on the action. But Herod wasn’t interested in making a deliberation concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He had heard all about Jesus and was hoping this miracle worker from Nazareth would oblige him by performing one of His famous signs. But Jesus refused to play Herod’s game and, before long, Herod lost interest and sent Him back to Pilate. All the while Jesus was in Herod’s palace, the religious leaders stood outside shouting their accusations against Him. But to no avail. Herod had Jesus dressed up in “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11 ESV) and then subjected Him to the ridicule and contempt of his guards. But before long, Jesus found Himself back in Pilate’s palace.

What happened next is critical to the story of Jesus’ final hours. Pilate reported to Jesus’ accusers that their charges were insufficient to warrant His death. They had failed to produce enough evidence to convince either him or Herod to order Jesus’ execution. And for the second time, Pilate announced, “after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (Luke 23:14 ESV). The Gentile rulers declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges. Pilate agreed to punish Jesus but would not condemn Him to death. At least, not yet.

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

Rejecting Their Redeemer

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 ESV

Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city of Jerusalem, seated on the foal of a donkey, the crowds greeted Him with shouts of praise and adulation.

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:38 ESV

Everyone seemed to be in high spirits as “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37 ESV). Yet, as Jesus descended from the Mount of Olives on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley and began the climb up Mount Zion toward the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the city was displayed before Him – and He wept.

The Greek word used to describe His emotional state is klaiō, and it conveys the idea of someone in mourning. As Jesus saw the glistening walls of the city and the temple of Yahweh sitting on the peak of the mount, He couldn’t help but be saddened. He knew exactly what lay in store for the inhabitants of the royal city and, despite their vociferous shouts of praise and their seeming acknowledgement of His kingship, He knew they would eventually reject Him as their Messiah. Their shouts of hosanna would soon turn to demands for His crucifixion.

Jesus put His feelings into words by stating,  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42 NLT). He had begun His earthly ministry declaring the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repent and believe. 

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”  – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

But now, three years later, He couldn’t help but grieve over the fact that the people of Israel were going to refuse His call to repent and reject His claim to be their long-awaited Messiah. As the divine Son of God, Jesus was well aware of the fate facing the city of Jerusalem, but the people living within its walls were completely oblivious. Their shouts of praise had been directly tied to their belief that, as the Messiah, Jesus was going to bring salvation to the land of Israel. They had long been told that the prophets foretold of the coming of a warrior-king and deliverer, God’s Anointed One, who would defeat the enemies of Israel and restore them to power and prominence.

But when Jesus failed to accomplish the military mission they had all been expecting, they turned their backs on Him. This Rabbi from Nazareth did not live up to their expectations and they reacted with disappointment that quickly turned to anger and resentment. Jesus longed for them to see and understand, but He knew it was too late. With their eyes blinded by sin and their hearts darkened by pride and self-righteousness, they were incapable of seeing the truth of who Jesus was and all that He came to offer. The apostle describes them as having stumbled over “the stone” that God had placed in their path.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:31-33 NLT

Jesus was that stone, and they “stumbled” over Him because He did not meet their expectations. And the apostle Paul goes on to describe God’s role in all of this.

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

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

So, based on their eventual rejection of Him, Jesus warned that God would bring judgment against the people of Israel in the form of the destruction of their great city and revered temple. 

“Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side.” – Luke 19:43 NLT

Jesus describes a siege. The day was coming when Jerusalem would experience the same fate that had accompanied its fall to the Babylonians centuries earlier. And Jesus is unsparing in the dramatic details concerning the city’s eventual destruction.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

All of this brings to mind the words of the prophet, Isaiah, as, centuries earlier, he mourned over the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
“Has the Lord abandoned Jerusalem?” the people ask.
    “Is her King no longer there?”

“Oh, why have they provoked my anger with their carved idols
    and their worthless foreign gods?” says the Lord.

“The harvest is finished,
    and the summer is gone,” the people cry,
    “yet we are not saved!”

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people? – Jeremiah 8:18-22 NLT

Jesus was predicting a similarly devastating destruction at the hands of one of Israel’s enemies. But this time, it would be the Romans. After the Jews staged a rebellion against their Roman overlords in 66 AD, the emperor Nero dispatched his legions under the direction of General Vespasian. Two years later, Vespasian and his troops had just about quelled the rebellion, but Jerusalem remained under rebel control. That same year, the emperor Nero died and Vespasian took his place. He placed his son, Titus, over the Roman legions and the battle for control of Jerusalem continued unabated. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and in 70 AD, the walls were breached and thousands of the city’s inhabitants were slaughtered. Worse yet, the temple was ransacked and then burned to the ground. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the scene.

“…the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier’s back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.” – Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, xi. 1.2

And Jesus explains the actual cause of this tragic event. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple would not be because a group of Jews decided to rebel against their Roman oppressors. No, it would be because of the people of Israel refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

But the author of Hebrews lets us know that God’s judgment against Israel would not be permanent. His plans for them remain in place and the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their descendants remain unchanged.

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

For the moment, Jesus wept over His people because He knew all that was going to happen to them in the foreseeable future. But He was also confident that the day would come when God would fulfill all His promises concerning the people of Israel because He is the covenant-keeping God who never fails to keep His word.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 ESV

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Kingdom

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” – Luke 13:18-21 ESV

Luke seems to indicate that, immediately after healing the woman in the synagogue, Jesus began to discuss the nature of the kingdom of God. This comes across as a rather abrupt change in topic but, in a sense, Jesus is simply returning to something He had discussed earlier: The kingdom of God.

Throughout this section of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been attempting to help His disciples understand the true nature of the kingdom. He had begun His ministry declaring that the kingdom of God was near at hand.

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

And once the 12 men whom Jesus had chosen to be His disciples became convinced that He was their long-awaited Messiah, they fully expected Him to set up His earthly kingdom at any minute. As the days passed, they began to question why Jesus was delaying the inevitable. What was He waiting for? When was He going to enter Jerusalem and declare Himself the rightful king of Israel?

Now, as He began to draw His earthly ministry to a close, Jesus was back in Judea and on His way to Jerusalem. This likely stirred the interest of His disciples, causing them to wonder if the moment they had been waiting for was finally here. Maybe this would be the time when He revealed Himself to be the Messianic deliverer the prophets had promised. But the closer they got to Jerusalem, the more Jesus talked about the kingdom, and what He had to say didn’t line up with what they were expecting. The disciples were expecting Jesus to establish an earthly realm located in the royal city of David. And that realm would usher in a time of renewed power and prosperity for the people of God. But Jesus had warned His disciples about storing up treasure for themselves in this life. Instead, they were to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to contrast an obsession with earthly, material possessions and a desire for the kingdom.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:29-32 ESV

When Jesus told His disciples to seek God’s kingdom, He was not suggesting that they look for an earthly realm, but that they desire the rule and the reign of God. The term “kingdom” in Greek is basileia and it most often refers to “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule.” It should not be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom. So, Jesus was encouraging His disciples to seek the rule of God – in their hearts and lives, not in a geographic location.

This message of the kingdom was central to Jesus’ ministry and mission, and He was declaring Himself to be the one who was ushering in that kingdom. Most Jews believed that when God’s Kingdom came to earth it would be in the form of an earthly king who ruled over the restored nation of Israel. They were expecting a descendant of David to arise from among the people and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. This human savior would be a warrior-king who would set them free from their enslavement and subjugation to Rome. He would restore the political, military, and financial fortunes of Israel, making them a force to be reckoned within the region.

But Jesus presents a much different picture of the kingdom than the one they held, and He describes it through the use of two simple parables. In both cases, His focus seems to be on the mysterious nature of the Kingdom. It was not going to come quickly or through the use of military power. Jesus utilizes agrarian imagery to make His point. His use of these rather bucolic descriptions of the kingdom must have seemed odd to people who were expecting something a bit more aggressive and revolutionary in nature.

Jesus gives the impression that He is searching for just the right metaphor to use and He lands on the image of the mustard seed. Mark records this same parable in his gospel and adds that Jesus referred to the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds” (Mark 4:31 NLT), a fact that everyone in the audience would have known. And Jesus points out that, when planted, this minuscule, seemingly insignificant seed became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19 ESV).

Everyone in His audience knew what a mustard seed was and they all knew what kind of tree it produced. But they had no idea how the transformation from one to the other took place. It was a mystery. And that seems to be Jesus’ point.

Jesus is using the imagery of the mustard seed to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. And what He has to say stands in direct contrast to the expectations of the Jews. They were not looking for a small, insignificant kingdom that would ultimately grow into something more impressive and impactful. They wanted immediate results. They had been waiting a long time for God to make things right. It had been hundreds of years since Israel had been a powerful nation with its very own king. So, the thought of having to wait for the “seed” to take root and grow would not have been something they found attractive.

But again, Jesus had come to establish a different kind of Kingdom. Several years later, as He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, Jesus would declare, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).

Jesus had not come to sit on a throne, but to hang on a cross. He had not come to be exalted to the highest office in the land, but to take “the humble position of a slave” and be “born as a human being” (Philippians 2:7 NLT). Paul went on to state that Jesus  “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 NLT). And as a result of His willing humiliation and sacrificial offering of His own life, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 NLT).

And one day, the exalted King is going to return and set up His kingdom on earth. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that now was not the time. Much to their shock and dismay, the kingdom was not going to show up as a result of military action and a revolutionary overthrow of the Roman government. It was going to begin small and grow over time. And to further stress the mysterious nature of the kingdom, Jesus used the metaphor of yeast or leaven.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of a little bit of leaven hidden within a measure of flour. It would be invisible to the eye and impossible to distinguish from the flour. But with the addition of water, kneading, and time, the yeast will begin to permeate its way through the entire batch. While the yeast remains impossible to detect, its influence slowly becomes obvious for all to see. In the same way, the kingdom will begin as an invisible and seemingly inconsequential movement that appears doomed to failure. But in time, it will mysteriously permeate the surrounding society.

In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of the kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice.

The day the disciples longed for was coming, but its arrival lies in the distant future. In the meantime, Jesus wanted them to understand the role they must play as they waited for that day to arrive. The present phase of God’s plan was going to allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it would continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it would slowly transform into something unexpectedly large and significant.

With His incarnation, Jesus had come to earth as the king, with the full power and authority of God at His disposal. But for time being, the form of the kingdom would remain a mystery. It would not be an earthly realm with a royal palace and a throne. As Jesus would later tell the Roman governor, Pilate:

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” – John 18:36 NLT

The king had inaugurated the kingdom, but its consummation lies in the future. In the meantime, the rule and reign of God were to permeate society through the lives of those who, by placing their faith in Jesus, had become full-fledged citizens of the kingdom to come. Their presence on this earth was to be like leaven in a lump of dough, slowly and imperceptibly permeating and spreading the good news of the kingdom. And in God’s good timing, the tiny seed planted by the Messiah, would eventually and mysteriously transform into a massive tree.

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 Fruit of Righteousness

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 ESV

At first glance, this parable appears completely out of place and irrelevant to the conversation Jesus had been having with the crowd. But the connection is found in verse 5:

I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:5 ESV

Immediately after addressing the subject of the future judgment, Jesus warned all those in His hearing of their universal need to repent. The murders of the Galileans by order of the Roman governor Pilate or the deaths of the “eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell” (Luke 13:4 ESV) had not been the result of sin. In fact, Jesus rejects the idea that the slaughtered “Galileans were worse sinners” or the Jews killed at the pool of Siloam “were worse offenders.”

As the living Word of God, Jesus was intimately familiar with the written word of God. He was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and drew from them regularly. And in this case, it seems likely that Jesus had in mind the words of Solomon as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

And Solomon had been taught this truth by his own father, the great King David, who declared the universal sinfulness of mankind in one of his psalms.

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
 – Psalm 143:2 ESV

Jesus had come to earth to settle the problem of man’s sin debt. As the apostle Paul would later put it:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-11 ESV

In this passage, Paul is quoting from another psalm penned by King David.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

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

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 ESV

Paul rightly concluded, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).  And long before Paul had his Damascus Road experience, Jesus embraced the same unflattering, yet irrevocable truth. Every person on the planet was in need of repentance because they were stood guilty and condemned before a holy and righteous God. The whole reason Jesus had come to earth was to fulfill His Heavenly Father’s plan to provide redemption and release to all those who were held captive by sin and death. And that list included every single individual whether they were a Judean or a Galilean, a Pharisee or a prostitute, a Jew or a Gentile.

And to drive home His point, Jesus used a parable. He described a man who “had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none” (Luke 13:6 ESV). The story is a simple one involving the owner of a vineyard who, season after season, was disappointed to find one of his fig trees devoid of fruit. Despite his care and cultivation of the tree, it remained barren. In exasperation, the owner of the vineyard gave his gardener orders to cut the tree down.

“I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.” – Luke 13:7 NLT

The tree had been planted to produce figs. That was its sole purpose. But for three years, the tree had failed to deliver what the vineyard owner expected: Fruit. So, for its lack of fruitfulness, the tree was judged unworthy and unacceptable. Having failed to live up to its potential as a fig tree, the vineyard owner ordered its immediate removal. In his mind, the tree was simply taking up space.

But the gardener intervened. He begged the vineyard owner to give the tree one more season. During that time, he would do all he could to see that the tree received special attention and was given ample opportunity to fulfill its God-ordained purpose of bearing fruit. If the tree remained barren by the next season, the gardener agreed to cut it down.

“Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.” – Luke 13:8-9 NLT

Since the crowd to whom Jesus was speaking was made up primarily of Jews, His story about the fig tree would have been understood as a reference to Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures contain multiple references where the fig tree is used as a symbol for the nation of Israel.

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers. – Hosea 9:10 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s indictment against the “fruitless” people of Israel.

“Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.” – Jeremiah 8:12-13 ESV

God had expected Israel to be fruitful but instead, they had repeatedly proven to be barren. Rather than produce the fruit of righteousness, they had delivered nothing but sin and shame. Season after season, God had patiently watched to see if His chosen people would produce the fruit for which they had been set apart. Through His law, the sacrificial system, and His prophets, God had continued to cultivate His people. He had repeatedly disciplined and pruned them. Like rain from heaven, He had poured out them His gracious mercies. And yet, they had produced nothing but disappointment and disobedience.

In this story, Jesus portrays Himself as the gardener. It’s no coincidence that He mentions the three years of fruitlessness. At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus would have been well into the third year of His earthly ministry. He was nearing the end of His mission and was on His way to Jerusalem where He would sacrifice His life on the cross. But in the days remaining, He was going to continue to do all that He could to cultivate a remnant of God’s people so that they might bear fruit. It was for that purpose that Jesus had been sent by the Father. The people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of producing fruit on their own. So, Jesus was spending the last days of His earthly ministry cultivating the soil and fertilizing the fruitless tree of Israel so that it might one day produce the fruit of righteousness.

In the last months of His life, Jesus was pouring Himself into His disciples. He was preparing them for the inevitable end that was coming by unveiling the truth regarding the problem of sin and the need for repentance. The situation was far worse than they imagined. Israel’s fruitlessness had rendered it worthy of elimination. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, stood before God as sinners who deserved the full weight of His wrath and the full extent of His judgment. But Jesus had come to intercede on man’s behalf. As John the Baptist had put it, Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

And ever since Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had proclaimed a single message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 ESV

He was the answer to humanity’s sin problem. He was the gardener who had come to cultivate the barren tree of Israel and restore its fruit-bearing capacity. But it would only happen through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus would die so that others might live. He would offer His life so that the spiritually dead and fruitless might be resurrected to new life. As the author of Hebrews put it: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

And it would be during their celebration of the Passover meal, that Jesus would hold up a cup of wine and tell His disciples, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Jesus had come to die. The success of His entire mission was based on His sacrificial death. It would be the key to Israel’s future fruitfulness. But even more than that, it would be the means by which God would restore a fallen and condemned humanity to a right relationship with Himself. Jesus was going to offer His life as a ransom for many. And long after Jesus had accomplished His mission and returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle Peter would write:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV

The Gardener gave His life so that the barren tree might produce the fruit of righteousness. And Paul provides us with a wonderful reminder of just what that fruit should look like.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:9-11 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

Rejected By His Own

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

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

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:14-30 ESV

Unlike the first Adam who, along with his wife, fell prey to the temptations of Satan and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, Jesus resisted the tantalizing offers of the enemy. In doing so, Jesus proved that He was far more than just another man on a mission from God. He was the God-man, the incarnate Son of God. He was the Davidic heir who, as King of the Jews, had come to do battle with Satan and end his monopolistic rule over the earth. Jesus, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, successfully repulsed Satan’s repeated attempts to distract Him from His mission. Satan was fully aware that Jesus was the Son of God, and he used that knowledge in crafting his plan of attack. The enemy attempted to get Jesus to compromise His God-ordained orders through self-gratification, self-exaltation, and self-glorification. But Jesus refused. He stood firm in His commitment to the Father’s will and walked away victorious over the enemy. But the battle was far from over.

Still empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, Jesus made His way from the wilderness of Judea to the region of Galilee. Luke reports that, as Jesus passed through the towns and villages in the region, He taught in their synagogues. But Luke provides few details about what Jesus said or did on those occasions. In his gospel account, Matthew sheds a bit more light on Jesus’ actions and the impact He had on the people living in Galilee.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

News began to spread and the crowds began to grow. Jesus was developing a reputation and a following. And there’s little doubt that a big part of His attraction was the miracles He performed. But there was also a growing interest in His message. As Matthew records, Jesus was continually proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus had begun His ministry by echoing the words of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

When John the Baptist had declared that very same message, he had been in the region of Judea near the Jordan River, and Matthew records that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5 ESV). But now, Jesus had moved further north, where the people had not yet heard the news of the coming kingdom. Yet, as He began to proclaim the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, the people of Galilee knew exactly what He was talking about. They too had longed for its coming for generations. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had been praying for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, and now the news of His arrival began to spread. Reports of Jesus’ amazing miracles made their way from village to village. And the people began to question whether this stranger named Jesus might be the Messiah the prophets had talked about.

Eventually, Jesus made His way back to Nazareth, the town in which He was raised. News of His return would have been accompanied by the rumors of all that had happened in the surrounding towns and villages. For the people of Nazareth, all of this would have been a shock. They knew Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph. In all the years they had known Jesus, they had been given no reason to believe that He was someone special, let alone the potential Messiah of Israel.

Yet, upon His return, Jesus did what He had done in every town He had visited: He spoke in their synagogue. It’s likely that the local synagogue ruler invited Jesus to speak because he had heard the rumors about Him addressing the synagogues in other towns in the region. It was not uncommon for traveling rabbis or teachers to speak in the local synagogue. But when Jesus stood up to speak, He chose to read from the scroll of Isaiah, and He chose a particular passage: Isaiah 62:1-12.

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

This was a well-known Messianic passage, and the crowd in the synagogue would have been quite familiar with it. They would have noticed that Jesus had left out an important part of the passage: “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). As Jews, their concept of the Messiah was one of deliverance and vengeance. When the Anointed One of God showed up, He would set the people of Israel free from their oppression by delivering a fateful blow to the Gentiles who ruled over them. They were expecting a King who would defeat the pagan enemies of Israel and re-establish the primacy and superiority of Israel on earth.

But Jesus stopped where He did for a reason and, rolling up the scroll, He took His seat in the synagogue. And Luke reports that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:20 ESV). They were waiting for some explanation. What was He going to say? Why had He read that particular passage? And Jesus didn’t leave them waiting long. He calmly stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). You can almost hear the audible gasp that came from the people as they heard Him utter those words. He was claiming to be the Messiah. This would have been a bold and shocking claim for anyone to make, especially someone they had known all their lives. But Luke reports that “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). Yet Matthew paints a slightly less favorable response.

When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Matthew 13:54-57 NLT

Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He knew He would have a difficult time convincing His own hometown of His identity as the Messiah. He responded to them by saying, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:23-24 NLT).

In a way, Jesus was using Nazareth as a symbol for the entire nation of Israel. As the apostle John wrote, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Here He was in His own hometown, and they refused to accept Him as who He was: Their Messiah and Savior. Which led Jesus to make a profound and somewhat surprising statement that left His audience offended. 

“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:25-27 NLT

Don’t miss what Jesus is saying here. First of all, He compares Himself to the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. His audience would have been highly familiar with these two men. But Jesus focused on two specific incidents involving these prophets of Israel and their interactions with two Gentiles: One a Sidonian widow and the other, a Syrian leper. Jesus infers that God seemingly overlooked the needs of Jews in order to minister to these two non-Jews. This unthinkable idea left His Jewish audience appalled and angry.

When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff – Luke 4:28-29 NLT

Keep in mind, these were His neighbors, the very people with whom He had spent His entire life. But as soon as Jesus placed a preference on Gentiles, they turned on Him like a pack of ravenous dogs.

What the people of Nazareth failed to understand was that their Messiah would be a Savior for all the people of the earth, including the Gentiles, whom they despised. And this bit of unexpected news didn’t fit their concept of the Messiah. They were expecting a Jewish Messiah who would wreak havoc on the pagan nations of the world, much as David did to the Philistines. They were hoping and longing for a Messiah who would deliver a devastating blow to their Roman occupiers and revive the Jewish state. There was no place in their concept of the Kingdom for Gentiles. And their anger with Jesus was so intense that they tried to kill Him. But Luke simply states that Jesus “passed right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30 NLT).

This would be the first of many attempts on Jesus’ life. But what sets this one apart is that it came from those who knew Him best. His own friends and neighbors tried to take His life. But it was just a foreshadowing of what was to come as, eventually, the entire nation of Israel would turn against Him.

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

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

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

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-38 ESV

Once again, Luke presents us with a detailed timeline of events. Eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised, in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

“‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity.’” – Leviticus 12:2-4 NLT

According to the law, the mother was considered to be unclean because of her contact with blood during the birth process. At the end of the prescribed period of purification (40 days), Mary was required to go to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present an offering before the Lord so that she might be declared clean.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood.’” – Leviticus 12:6-7 NLT

But strangely, Luke reports that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 ESV). Notice that Luke uses the plural pronoun, “their,” while the Leviticus passage used the singular pronoun, “her.” It could be that Joseph also required purification because he had been required to assist Mary in giving birth. But it could be that Luke is hinting that this human couple required atonement (cleansing from sin) before they could begin the process of raising the Son of God. They were both being purified for the daunting task of parenting the Messiah.

As part of their trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph also consecrated their newborn son to the Lord. The Mosaic law required that all firstborn sons be set apart or consecrated to God.

“Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 NLT

“…then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the Lord’s. – Exodus 13:12 NLT

The reason behind this ritual was tied to the final plague that had eventually secured the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. God sent an angel throughout the land of Egypt with orders to strike dead the firstborn males of both man and beast (Exodus 12:12). But God also ordered every Israelite household to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house. When the angel saw the blood, he passed over that home, sparing all the firstborn males of that family. This became known as the Passover Celebration. And God told the Israelites how to explain this annual celebration to each succeeding generation.

“When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificingto the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.” – Exodus 13:15 NLT

So, Mary and Joseph obediently consecrated their new son to the Lord. But Luke informs his readers that there was something special that took place that day. God had arranged for a specific priest to be on duty that day. His name was Simeon and Luke describes him as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25 ESV). This man had lived his entire life longing to see “the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” is paraklēsis in Greek and it means “to comfort or refresh” Simeon believed that God was going to send the Messiah to redeem and restore the spiritual fortunes of Israel. And, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon believed this long-anticipated event would take place in his lifetime.

God ordained that Simeon would be the priest on duty that day. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon made his way to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph showed up to consecrate Jesus. With the Spirit’s help, Simeon immediately recognized that Jesus was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been looking and hoping. While just over a month old at the time, Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. And in a state of ecstatic joy and gratitude, Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered up a heartfelt blessing to God.

“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permityour servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32 NLT

Simeon’s greatest desire had been fulfilled. He had lived to see the coming of the anointed one of God, the Messiah of Israel. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he describes Jesus as the salvation of God and then adds that He will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This statement was a direct reference to the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

This Messianic passage speaks of the commissioning of the Servant of God who would redeem and restore the rebellious nation of Israel but who would also bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he was holding this Savior and Redeemer in his hands. Jesus was the very same Servant whose words Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier.

“The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” – Isaiah 49:1 NLT

And this Servant would have a two-fold mission to accomplish.

“…the one who formed me from birth to be his servant—
he did this to restore Jacob to himself,
so that Israel might be gathered to him;
and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,
for my God is my source of strength—
he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

Yes, Jesus would be the Messiah of Israel, restoring them to a right relationship with God. But He would also be a light to the nations, shining the glory of God’s goodness and grace to all the nations of the world. But Simeon, as a faithful Jewish priest, understood the words recorded by Isaiah to be primarily a promise of God’s future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were experiencing difficult days. They had no king. The Romans ruled them with a heavy hand and burdened them with oppressive taxes. He, like all the other faithful of Israel, longed for the day when the Messiah would appear on the scene to set things right. And he must have had the words of Psalm 98 in mind when he composed his own song of thanksgiving to God.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he performs amazing deeds.
His right hand and his mighty arm
accomplish deliverance.
The Lord demonstrates his power to deliver;
in the sight of the nations he reveals his justice.
He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel.
All the ends of the earth see our God deliver us. – Psalm 98:1-3 NLT

For Simeon, God’s faithful restoration of Israel would be the light that would illumine the minds of the sin-darkened nations of the earth. But little did he know that God had something different in mind. The future restoration of Israel will take place, but it was not going to take place at the first coming of Jesus. Simeon had no way of knowing that his people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. The young baby Simeon held in his hands would end up crucified and rejected by those He came to save.

And Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounces a blessing on Mary and Joseph the meaning of which he probably did not fully comprehend.

“Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” – Luke 2:34-35 NLT

He prophetically announces that Jesus will have a decisive, yet divisive influence. There will be those who fall by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, and others who will rise by recognizing Him as the anointed one of God. Jesus will divide the nation by exposing the hearts of the people. And Simeon prophetically predicts that Mary will have her own heart pierced by the events she will be forced to witness. Her son, the Savior and Redeemer of Israel will be rejected and destroyed by His own people.

But this somewhat depressing statement of blessing by Simeon was followed up by a declaration of joy and thanksgiving by an elderly Hebrew prophetess named Anna. Luke indicates the timeliness of her appearance by stating that she showed up “at that very hour.” This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. And Luke adds that “she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NLT).

Their legal requirements fulfilled, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, with the words of Simeon and Anna still ringing in their ears. And for the next 12 years, they would raise their son in relative obscurity and silence, not knowing exactly how His future would unfold.

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 Light Was Dawning

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:67-80 ESV

Zechariah, no longer hampered by his temporary bout of deafness and muteness, reacts to the miraculous birth of his son by composing a song of praise to God. But this is far more than a song of gratitude for God’s gracious act of replacing Elizabeth’s barrenness with fruitfulness. Whether he realized it or not, Zechariah was revealing Spirit-inspired truths regarding the coming Messiah.

Filled with and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was given special insight into the plan of redemption God was about to unveil to His chosen people. With the Spirit’s assistance, Zechariah was able to clearly see God’s hand behind all that was happening, and he pronounces a blessing on God for His covenant faithfulness.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people…” – Luke 1:68 ESV

The Messiah had not yet been born but Zechariah knew that His arrival was imminent. God’s promise to raise up “a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:69 ESV) was as good as done. The days of darkness that surrounded the people of Israel were about to be permeated by the light of God in the form of the Messiah, the promised and long-awaited descendant of King David.

As a priest, Zechariah would have been intimately familiar with all the prophetic passages regarding the coming of the servant of God. And with the Spirit’s assistance, he was able to see that God was preparing to fulfill each of those prophecies in his own lifetime. For more than 400 years, the people of Israel had endured a deafening silence, as God had chosen to cut off all communication with His people. He had sent no more prophets. There had been no divine calls to repentance. And while a remnant of the people had returned from exile in the land of Babylon, rebuilt the temple, refurbished the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulated the city, the land was marked by a lingering spiritual darkness.

Ever since the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the nation of Israel had been without a king and had suffered a series of degrading occupations by foreign military powers. Even as Zechariah composed his song of praise, the land of Judah was filled with Roman legionnaires, and the people of Israel were having to endure the oppressive and humiliating presence of the Roman emperor’s powerful representatives. With no army to defend them and no king to lead them, the Israelites were powerless to do anything about their demoralizing situation.

But Zechariah knew that God had promised to one day save His people. The prophets had declared “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:71 ESV), and now it was all about to happen. God had sworn an oath to Abraham “that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.” (Luke 1:74-75 NLT). For Zechariah, this was all like a dream come true. The days of waiting were over. The long delay was about to end. The Messiah was finally coming, and He would bring deliverance and redemption for the people of God.

And Zechariah was blown away that his newborn son would play a role in this divine redemptive plan for the nation. He even addresses his infant son, disclosing the vital part God had preordained for him.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…” – Luke 1:76 ESV

Once again, Zechariah has the words of the prophets in mind. It is likely that he was thinking of the prophecy of Malachi, written some four centuries earlier.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

You can sense Zechariah’s excitement as he considers the prospects that lie ahead. He probably considered the words of the prophet Isaiah, and inherently knew that the time for rejoicing had come.

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God.” – Isaiah 40:1-3 NLT

Like any father, Zechariah was proud and pleased that his son had been hand-picked by God for this essential assignment. And, as a priest, he was blown away by God’s loving and gracious decision to redeem His people. Despite centuries of rebellion and rejection by His people, God was still willing to keep His covenant commitments. Motivated by His tender mercy, God was still offering them salvation and forgiveness of sins. He was sending His Son as the ultimate means of redemption and restoration. And Zechariah’s son would prepare the way for this darkness-shattering, life-transforming Servant of God.

And Zechariah wraps up his song with a poetic description of the Light of the world.

“…the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:78-79 NLT

And the apostle John would use similar words to open his gospel account.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

And the apostle would go on to describe and differentiate the unique role that Zechariah’s son would play.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John  1:6-8 ESV

When Zechariah’s son had grown to full manhood, he would begin his earthly, yet heavenly sanctioned ministry. He would declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. He would let the people know that heaven had invaded earth in the form of the life-giving light of God.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 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… – John 1:9-12 ESV

Zechariah was excited about the birth of his son, but he was even more energized about the fact that his son would be used by God to fulfill His long-standing covenant promises. The words of the prophets were about to come true, in Zechariah’s lifetime and, in part, through Zechariah’s seed.

The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious….

In earlier times he humiliated
the land of Zebulun,
and the land of Naphtali;
but now he brings honor
to the way of the sea,
the region beyond the Jordan,
and Galilee of the nations.
The people walking in darkness
see a bright light;
light shines
on those who live in a land of deep darkness. – Isaiah 9:1-2 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of the Savior

46 And Mary said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Barrenness to Bounty

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:18-25 ESV

Having recovered from the initial shock of his divine encounter with the angelic visitor, Zechariah gathered his wits about him and assessed the content of the message. He immediately saw a problem and shared his concern with the angel.

“How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” – Luke 1:18 NLT

He desperately wanted to believe the news that his barren wife would have a son, but he needed proof. After all, the odds were stacked against them. Even if God could arrange for Elizabeth to get pregnant, there was another pressing problem: She was well beyond child-bearing age. So, as wonderful as this news sounded, Zechariah was having a difficult time accepting it as true.

You would have thought the appearance of an angel would have been more than enough for Zechariah. As a priest of God, he would have known about Israel’s history and the other divine encounters his forefathers had experienced, including Abraham the great patriarch of the Hebrew people. As we saw yesterday, there are glaring similarities between the story of Abraham and Sarah and Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both couples were advanced in years and the two women were suffering from an inability to bear children. Yet, centuries earlier, God had appeared to Abraham in a vision and declared His intention to bless this elderly couple and make of them a great nation.

“Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” – Genesis 15:1 NLT

But Abraham, like Zechariah, had found the good news to be a bit too good to be true.

“O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 NLT

Abraham saw a glaring flaw in God’s plan and couldn’t help but share it. Yet God was nonplused, responding to Abraham’s doubt with further assurances of His intentions to make of Abraham a great nation.

“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” – Genesis 15:4-5 NLT

What happens next is significant and often overlooked. We are told that Abraham believed God and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT). Abraham is recognized for his faith and declared to be righteous accordingly. Yet, moments later, after God reiterates His promise to give Abraham the entire land of Canaan as his possession, Abraham responds in doubt.

But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” – Genesis 15:8 NLT

Within minutes, Abraham went from believing God to having serious concerns about God’s ability to pull off what He was promising. So, he asked the Lord for a sign and received one. It may be that Zechariah had this story in mind when he said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” Abraham had asked for and received a sign, so why shouldn’t he? But what Zechariah got was a stern answer from the angel.

“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. – Luke 1:19 NLT

This was not just any angel, but the well-known and revered Gabriel. Zechariah would have recognized the name because the prophet, Daniel, had recorded about his two encounters with the very same angel.

As I, Daniel, was trying to understand the meaning of this vision, someone who looked like a man stood in front of me. And I heard a human voice calling out from the Ulai River, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of his vision.”

As Gabriel approached the place where I was standing, I became so terrified that I fell with my face to the ground. – Daniel 8:16-17 NLT

Daniel would have a second and equally memorable visit from Gabriel.

As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision.” – Daniel 9:21-23 NLT

This was the very same angelic being who was appearing to Zechariah, having been sent from the very throne room of God with a personal message for this elderly priest and his barren wife. But because Zechariah had chosen to doubt the veracity of the message, Gabriel delivered a stern word of rebuke along with a promise to give Zechariah the sign he had requested.

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

Zechariah was immediately struck dumb. He lost his ability to speak. He had asked for a sign and received one. And it is interesting to note that, with the sign, Zechariah had the proof he needed to believe the message of Gabriel. The good news was true. But now, because of his lack of faith, he had lost the ability to share that news with anyone. On leaving the temple, he was immediately confronted by those in the courtyard who had begun to worry about his long delay. They peppered him with questions, but unable to speak, Zechariah was forced to use his hands to try and explain what had happened inside the temple. But despite Zechariah’s hampered communications capacity, the onlookers could tell that something significant had taken place.

They realized that he had seen a vision in the Holy Place. – Luke 1:22 NLT

When he had completed his priestly duties for the day, Zechariah returned home. He couldn’t wait to share the good news with his wife but would find it virtually impossible to convey the content of Gabriel’s message without the ability to speak.

Somehow, Zechariah was able to let his wife know the exciting news. At some point, he probably took a stylus and a sheet of parchment and inscribed the details of his encounter with Gabriel. And it seems likely that Elizabeth would have been just as incredulous at discovering the content of the angel’s message. But as the months passed, she soon received irrefutable proof that all Gabriel had said was true. She was pregnant. Despite her old age and barren state, she had a child forming in her womb. And she immediately recognized her condition as a gracious gift from the hand of God.

“This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.” – Luke 1:25 NLT

Her words echo those of Rachel, another barren woman who was given a child by the gracious hand of God.

She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. – Genesis 30:23 NLT

Elizabeth shared the same boundless gratitude to God that Hannah expressed when her years of barrenness ended with the birth of Samuel. She proclaimed her joy and thanks to God in the form of a son.

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
    The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
    I rejoice because you rescued me.” – 1 Samuel

Whether these women realized it or not, they were speaking on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. Each of them had suffered through years of childlessness, bearing the shame and indignation that accompanied their inability to provide their husbands with offspring. In their culture, that was a fate worse than death. They were fruitless and powerless to do anything about it. Yet, each of them had called out to God and He had heard their cries and answered.

Elizabeth had longed for God to remove her reproach. She was tired of being the focus of everyone’s cruel gossip. She knew that other women were talking among themselves, spreading the vicious rumors that she had done something to anger God. These women would have assumed that Elizabeth was being punished for some hidden sin or moral indiscretion. Her inability to bear children must have been a curse from God Almighty. But they were wrong. Her barrenness, like that of Hannah, Sarah, and Rachel, was meant to be a sign that God could reverse the fortunes of the fruitless and hopeless. He could turn a barren womb into a place of sanctuary and nurture for the next generation of Israelites. He could use a woman’s reproach to bring about the world’s redemption. Elizabeth would have a son who would grow to be a man. And this man would herald the coming of another baby, born from the womb of a young Jewish girl named Mary.

In reality, the spiritually barren people of Israel were going to give birth to the Savior of the world. God had promised to give Abraham as many descendants as there are stars in the sky and to make his offspring a blessing to the nations. And that promise was about to be fulfilled but in a way that no one expected. The apostle Paul would later explain that all the promises that God made to Abraham were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

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

God was about to do something spectacular, and it would begin with the birth of a son to an elderly priest and his barren wife. The spiritual desert that Israel had become was about to burst forth with fruitfulness and abundance in the form of a prophetic messenger and his news of the coming Kingdom of God.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to the Lord

1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;
say to him,
    “Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
    and we will pay with bulls
    the vows of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
    we will not ride on horses;
and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
    to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he shall blossom like the lily;
    he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
    his beauty shall be like the olive,
    and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
    It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
    from me comes your fruit.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
    whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
    and the upright walk in them,
    but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:1-9 ESV

Despite all the chapters dealing with Israel’s apostasy and God’s pending judgment, the book of Hosea ends on a highly positive note. In the closing chapter, Hosea makes one more impassioned plea for the rebellious people of Israel to return to the Lord. He lovingly implores them to leave their sins behind and make their way back to God. Hosea reminds them that they can only find healing and forgiveness with Yahweh. Their idols are useless and incapable of providing them with the help they need. But they will need to confess their sins and offer heart-felt sacrifices to the one true God. If they do, they will receive atonement and a restored relationship with the one who lovingly set them apart as His own chosen possession.

In an effort to encourage a positive response to his call to repentance, Hosea even provides them with the words to say.

“Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us,
    so that we may offer you our praises.
Assyria cannot save us,
    nor can our warhorses.
Never again will we say to the idols we have made,
    ‘You are our gods.’
No, in you alone
    do the orphans find mercy.” – Hosea 14:2-3 NLT

He practically wrote their confession for them, so all they had to do was speak the words.  But it would all mean nothing if their hearts were not in it. God was not interested in lip service. Pious-sounding words that were not back up by sincerity of heart were worthless to Him, and He had condemned such hypocritical behavior before.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God also gave a somewhat discouraging assessment to His prophet, Ezekiel, warning him that the people would listen to his words but with no intention of doing what he said.

“Son of man, your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors. They say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying!’ So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!” – Ezekiel 33:30-32 NLT

King David had understood that what God wanted from His sinful people was not ritualistic sacrifices offered in some kind of perfunctory fashion. He desired that His people offer Him their broken and repentant hearts, not empty sacrifices that were in keeping with the letter of the law but lacking in sincerity and truth.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Hosea wants the people of Israel to know that only meaningful repentance will result in restoration. He even quotes God’s promise to restore His repentant people.

“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
    my love will know no bounds,
    for my anger will be gone forever. – Hosea 14:4 NLT

Amazingly, God offers His people the undeserved gift of His forgiveness, mercy, and grace. He is still willing to show them compassion. He is still prepared to shower them with His blessings – despite all the centuries marked by rebellion, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to His holy law. All the way back when Solomon was still king over the unified kingdom of Israel, God had made him a promise. It was at the dedication of the newly constructed temple that Solomon had constructed in God’s honor. After Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God made a pledge that He would honor the new temple with His name and listen to the prayers that His people prayed toward this sacred site.

“…if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 BSB

That promise was still valid, because God always keeps His word.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God is a covenant-keeping God. He does not renege or go back on His promises. And in the book of psalms, we read on His covenant commitment to David.

“I will establish your descendants as kings forever;
    they will sit on your throne from now until eternity.” – Psalm 89:4 NLT

God loved David greatly and called him a man after His own heart. And He promised to give David a long-lasting, never-ending dynasty. But at the time when Hosea was writing the book that bears his name, the prospects of this promise being fulfilled looked bleak. The kingdom that David had turned over to his son Solomon had been divided in two. And the day was quickly coming when there would no longer be a king over Israel or Judah. Both nations would be defeated by foreign powers and watch as their kings were dethroned and their kingdoms destroyed. To this day, there has been no king to rule over the people of Israel. Yet God had promised David:

“I will make him my firstborn son,
    the mightiest king on earth.
I will love him and be kind to him forever;
    my covenant with him will never end.
I will preserve an heir for him;
    his throne will be as endless as the days of heaven.” – Psalm 89:27-29 NLT

But there was a caveat that came with the promise. God had also warned what would happen in the people of Israel failed to be obedient. There would be consequences.

“But if his descendants forsake my instructions
    and fail to obey my regulations,
if they do not obey my decrees
    and fail to keep my commands,
then I will punish their sin with the rod,
    and their disobedience with beating.
But I will never stop loving him
    nor fail to keep my promise to him.
No, I will not break my covenant;
    I will not take back a single word I said.” – Psalm 89:30-34 NLT

They would suffer for their sins but God would not alter one letter of His covenant commitment to David. He would never stop loving him. He would never fail to keep the promises He made to him. And the descendants of David would stand to benefit greatly from God’s faithful commitment to keep His word.

“I will be to Israel
    like a refreshing dew from heaven.
Israel will blossom like the lily;
    it will send roots deep into the soil
    like the cedars in Lebanon.” – Hosea 14:5 NLT

Using highly poetic language, God describes a remarkable change in Israel’s future circumstances.

“My people will again live under my shade.
    They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.” – Hosea 14:7 NLT

Just as they are assured the inevitability of their coming destruction, they are also promised their future restoration and revitalization by the gracious hand of God.

But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to “stay away from idols!” (Hosea 14:8 NLT). He longs to be their sole source of comfort and the only one to whom they turn for help, hope, and healing.

I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.
I am like a tree that is always green;
    all your fruit comes from me.” – Hosea 14:8 NLT

Their false gods will fail them. But not Yahweh. Lifeless idols cannot hear or answer their prayers. But God can and will – if they will only call out to Him in humility and brokenness. And Hosea wraps up his book with one final plea for the people to act wisely and respond to the Lord with discernment. They must choose.

The paths of the Lord are true and right,
    and righteous people live by walking in them.
    But in those paths sinners stumble and fall. – Hosea 14:9 NLT

This was essentially the same message that the prophet, Jeremiah, pronounced. He too recorded God’s call for His people to make the right choice and to walk the right path. But sadly, they refused to listen.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
    But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’
I posted watchmen over you who said,
    ‘Listen for the sound of the alarm.’
But you replied,
    ‘No! We won’t pay attention!’” – Jeremiah 6:16-17 NLT

Choose the right path. Heed the warnings of God. Display a heart of contrition. Repent and return to the Lord. And He will graciously offer you forgiveness, atonement, and the joy of a restored relationship with Himself.

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

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

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