A False Assumption and a Faulty Conclusion

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” Mark 12:18-27 ESV

Driven by their mutual hatred for Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians had set aside their long-standing differences and joined forces in a vain attempt to bring His ministry to an end. But they had failed. They had tried to expose Jesus as a political insurrectionist who stood opposed to the Roman government and its excessive taxation of the people of Israel. But these men had misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. It was not of this world. He had not come to free Israel from slavery to Rome, but from slavery to sin and death. And His mission was spiritual in nature and not political. 

When the Pharisees and Herodians returned to the Sanhedrin and reported the results of their less-than-successful mission, they were replaced by a contingent of Sadducees. These men would form the second phase of their well-orchestrated attack on Jesus. The Sadducees were a powerful religious/political sect made up of the wealthy and influential upper class of Israel. They held the majority of the 70 seats in the Sanhedrin and controlled much of what happened in and around the temple. Their aristocratic mindset caused them to disdain the common man and to elevate themselves as members of the religious and political elite.

In order to preserve their superior status within the nation, the Sadducees had become reluctant partners with Rome, willingly accepting their presence as a necessary evil. Compromise with Rome allowed them to maintain their control over the nation of Israel. The Sadducees were essentially a political party that dabbled in religion. And while they expressed strong belief in the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), they rejected many of the established doctrines of the Hebrew religion.

For instance, they denied any resurrection of the dead. And this led them to reject the concept of an afterlife. They had concluded that the soul perishes at death, so this eliminated any idea of rewards or penalties. Therefore, in their theology, there was no heaven or hell. And to top it all off, they discounted any belief in an invisible spiritual realm populated by demons and angels. In a sense, they were the religious progressives of their day, espousing liberal views on a wide range of important doctrines that put them at odds with the more traditional Pharisees.

But since the Pharisees and Herodians had failed in their mission to entrap Jesus, the more liberally minded Sadducees were given their chance. And they approached Jesus with a very carefully concocted and convoluted story that was meant to expose His more conservative and antiquated religious views. These men knew that the majority of the peasant class also clung to the more traditional views on the doctrines of the afterlife and resurrection. So, they made up a hypothetical story that was meant to reveal the absurdity of these beliefs.

But like the Pharisees and Herodians who preceded them, the Sadducees were going to meet their match in Jesus. While they viewed Him as nothing more than an uneducated peasant from the backwater village of Nazareth, He would prove to be far more knowledgeable of the Scriptures and more than able to defend the doctrines of the resurrection and the afterlife.

And it is important to remember that Jesus had made many comments about eternal life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). He had offered the Samaritan woman water that would permanently satisfy her thirst and provide her with eternal life.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

And most recently, Jesus had told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, that her dead brother would rise again.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

These statements, and others like them, would have made their way back to the Sadducees. Jesus’ persistent claims regarding eternal life and the resurrection of the dead would have infuriated them. So, they decided to use their superior intelligence and vast knowledge of the Scriptures to expose Him as an uneducated fool.

They set up their trap by recounting a well-known law of Moses.

“Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.”  – Mark 12:19 NLT

They were referring to the levirate law, as outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This law required that the brother of a man who died without a male heir was obligated to marry his brother’s widow. The primary purpose of the law was to preserve the name of the deceased and to prevent the widow from becoming destitute.

But in an attempt to expose the ridiculous nature of belief in the resurrection, they created a convoluted and highly unlikely story. It involved a woman who ends up marrying seven different brothers, each of whom dies unexpectedly and prematurely, leaving her a widow without a male heir. Their strange tale ends with the death of the woman who had the unfortunate burden of being widowed seven different times. And they summarize their story with a question:

“So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” – Mark 12:23 NLT

You can almost see the smug expressions on their faces as they drop this bombshell on the unsuspecting Rabbi from Nazareth. They had Him. There was no way He would be able to answer this confusing conundrum and maintain His naive belief in the resurrection.

Little did they know that their whole story was built around a false premise. Jesus was about to expose their ignorance regarding the doctrine of the resurrection and it was because they did not understand God”s Word.

“Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.” – Mark 12:24-25 NLT

Jesus gave them a one-two combination that must have been a devastating blow to their overinflated egos. First, He accused them of not knowing the Scriptures. Then He added that they had no idea of the nature of God’s power. Because they could not fathom the idea of life after death, they had simply discounted it. And in spite of all their careful study of the books of Moses, they had been unable to appreciate the fact that nothing was impossible for God. They worshiped a God of limited power whose only interactions with mankind were relegated to this life.

They were trying to take an earthly-oriented law and apply it to eternal matters. But it was as Jesus had told Nicodemus: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV). These men were incapable of understanding eternal truths. They were trying to comprehend the ways of God by looking through the cloudy lenses of their earthly perspective. And, had he been around, the apostle Paul would have told them, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT).

Their limited understanding had led to a limited view of God. They could not conceive of an afterlife because they viewed it as implausible and impossible. They were intimately familiar with death and probably feared it. And since they could not see what lie beyond the grave, they simply refused to acknowledge that anything was there. This life was all there was. But the whole story they had concocted had been based on misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Scriptures. Jesus informed them that there would be no marriage in the afterlife. So, it really didn’t matter how many husbands the fictitious widow had in this life. There will be no marriage because there will be no need to procreate. By virtue of His vast power, God will give resurrected and glorified bodies to all those who live in His eternal Kingdom. Men and women will no longer be expected to bring new life into the world. Their God-given order to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply will no longer apply.

And Jesus adds another not-so-subtle point of clarification that was meant to blow holes in one of the Sadducees’ other errant beliefs. He states that, in their eternal state, men and women will be much more like angels than human beings. They will be divine creatures who have the capacity to live in unbroken fellowship with God the Father for eternity. And like the angels, they will focus all their time and energy on His glory and offering Him their ceaseless praise.

Jesus ends His response with a lesson on the Old Testament Scriptures. He takes them back to the writings of Moses, recounting the story of the burning bush as recorded in the book of Exodus. It was there in the Midianite wilderness, that God appeared to Moses and called him to be the deliverer of His people. Out of the burning bush, God had declared to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6 ESV). By the time Moses had come along, all three of these men had been long dead, and yet God refers to Himself as their God – present tense, not past tense. Jesus was trying to reveal to these so-called experts in the Pentateuch what they had missed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not gone, they had just been relocated. They were in the presence of their God.

Like the Pharisees and Herodian before them, the Sadducees failed. They proved no match for Jesus, the Son of God. They had put all their hope in this life, so when Jesus appeared offering the gift of eternal life, they could not bring themselves to believe what He had to say. But the doctrine of the resurrection was a central tenet of Jesus’ teaching. And it would be His own resurrection from the dead that would give His offer of eternal life validity. The apostle Paul summed it up well.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-20 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

Prepare the Way

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8 ESV

While the author never refers to himself by name anywhere in his gospel account, there was a strong consensus among early church fathers believed that John Mark was the one who provided this chronicle of the life and ministry of Jesus.

One of the earliest references to John Mark as the book’s author is found in The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Written in the 4th-Century, this landmark work provides a chronological history of early Christianity that spans the 1st through the 4th-Century. In it, Eusebius records that John Mark, while not a disciple of Jesus, based his gospel on eyewitness accounts, including those of the Apostle Peter.

There are additional records from the early church fathers that also mention John Mark as the book’s author. These include the mid-1st-Century to early-2nd-Century writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. In one of the earliest prologues to the Gospel of Mark, written somewhere between 160-180 A.D., it describes John Mark as the author and states that he wrote his gospel account while in Italy. In his classic work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus, adds that John Mark completed his work sometime after the death of Peter.

John Mark is mentioned repeatedly in the book of Acts, where his relationship with the Apostle Paul is described in great detail. John Mark was one of Paul’s disciples, who accompanied him and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Later, he would prove to be of great help and comfort to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome as he awaited trial before the emperor Nero. So, due to his close relationship with Paul, John Mark would have access to the original disciples and other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

One of the first encounters between Peter and John Mark is recorded in the book of Acts. Under pressure from the Jewish religious leaders, Herod, the king who had been placed on the throne of Israel by the Romans, had begun to round up the disciples of Jesus. He had already killed James the brother of John and had Peter thrown in prison. But God miraculously rescued Peter from his imprisonment and, upon his release, Peter made his way to the home of John Mark.

…he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. – Acts 12:12 ESV

Luke, the author of Acts, also records that John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but left them when they arrived in Pamphylia. He returned to Jerusalem and would later travel with Barnabas, his cousin, to Cyprus. So, John Mark was very involved in those early days of the church as the apostles took the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. He had been able to travel with and sit under the teaching of such luminaries of the faith as Paul, Peter, and Barnabas.

There is still much debate as to the dating of Mark’s gospel. If it was written after the deaths of Paul and Peter, that would place its publication somewhere around A.D. 67-68. Since there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, it seems likely that the book had to have written before that date.

From the content of the gospel, it appears that Mark with a Gentile audience in mind. If he wrote it from Italy, as believed by many of the early church fathers, the Gentile-oriented focus of his gospel makes more sense. He takes great pains to explain certain Jewish customs and rituals that would have been unfamiliar and strange to a Gentile readership. He incorporated Latin words and phrases that seemed aimed at a Roman audience. But his emphasis was on Gentile believers living under persecution in a predominantly Roman world. The early church found itself facing attack from the Jews as well as the pagan world. Mark would have experienced firsthand the persecution that Paul encountered from the dispersed Jewish community and the pagan cultures of the cities they visited on their first missionary journey.

Yet, despite Mark’s emphasis on a predominantly Gentile audience and his effort to communicate to them in language and terms with which they would be familiar, he opens his gospel with a quote from the Hebrew scriptures.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’” – Mark 1:2-3 ESV

This is actually a combination of three separate passages: Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. He blends the words of three Old Testament prophets: Moses, Malachi, and Isaiah, but attributes the quote the latter. For Mark, a proper understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry had to begin with prophecy. And these three prophetic passages each spoke of the coming Messiah of Israel. These men, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the coming of the Anointed One of God. But they also foretold of the one who would “prepare the way” for His coming. Before the Messiah would appear on the scene, His arrival would be prefaced by another, a messenger who would warn the people of His imminent arrival.

Like the other gospel writers, Mark was interested in establishing from the outset the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. He was Jesus the Christ or Messiah (the word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah). Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He was Jesus, a man was born in the city of Bethlehem, but He was also the Christ, the Son of God. Which means He was fully divine.

According to Mark, God had sent a messenger or, literally, an angel (angelos) to prepare the way for the Messiah. And he describes exactly who this “angel” was. He was a man and not a heavenly being. His name was John and he appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching a baptism of repentance. In essence, John was calling the people to be baptized, but it was a baptism characterized by repentance. In the Greek language, the word “repentance” is metanoia and it means “to change the mind.” He was calling the Jews to change their minds concerning a wide range of issues, including their concept of what it means to be righteous, their expectations concerning the Messiah, their understanding of their relationship with God, and their need for forgiveness.

We know from Matthew’s gospel the basic content of John’s message.

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

And upon His arrival, Jesus would pick up this very same message.

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

The basic gist of their message was that the long-awaited Messiah had finally appeared and was bringing His Kingdom with Him. And Mark indicates that John’s preliminary declaration that the Kingdom of God was near was met with an enthusiastic response.

…all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:5 ESV

For the Jews, the coming of the Kingdom of God would be accompanied by the arrival of the Messiah. For them, the coming Messiah would be a king, just like the great warrior-king, David. He would be a deliverer and a military leader who would restore Israel’s fortunes. For centuries, the people of Israel had suffered under the heavy hand of a litany of foreign powers who had subjugated and persecuted them. The most recent iteration of Gentile domination over the people of God was the Romans. The land of Judah was occupied by Roman soldiers who enforced the laws of the empire, protected the interests of the emperor, and ensured that the Jews remained compliant and docile.

So, the people of Israel longed for the Messiah to come. It had been centuries since the nation of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. And while a remnant of the people taken captive to Babylon had returned to the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, the only king they had known was their current one, Herod, the puppet king placed on the throne by the Roman emperor. He was actually an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. And while his title of “King of the Jews” had been given to him by the Roman Senate, his reign was never accepted by the Jews. They considered him to be a usurper to the throne who tried to gain their favor through a series of ambitious building projects, including the expansion of and improvements to the temple.

But as a pawn of the Romans, and due to his love of power, Herod placed his own personal needs ahead of the nation. So, when John the Baptist appeared on the scene preaching a message of repentance because the kingdom of God was near, the people immediately assumed something great was about to happen. Their hopes were raised that Messiah was near and their days of oppression and subjugation would soon be over.

This wild-eyed, strangely dressed preacher made an impression on his audience.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. – Mark 1:6 ESV

His bizarre attire gave him the demeanor of an Old Testament prophet and his message of repentance echoed those of his predecessors. But when he spoke of the One to come, he added a new twist to the description of the Messiah.

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:7-8 ESV

John’s sudden appearance on the scene had gotten the peoples’ attention. It had been over 400 years since they had heard from God. For four centuries, there had been no prophets speaking on behalf of God. He had gone silent. But now, with the arrival of John, it was as if God was speaking again. But John wanted his audience to know that there was something even more amazing about to take place. John’s arrival on the scene would pale in comparison to the coming of the Messiah. He would be greater, more glorious, and have a ministry that was far more significant than anything John had done.

While John could offer a physical baptism that represented or illustrated cleansing from sin. The Messiah would offer a far greater form of baptism that would actually remove all sin in preparation for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

tEnglish 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

Free Indeed

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:30-44 ESV

After confessing that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV), Martha ran to tell her sister Mary that He had come to Bethany. And Mary, filled with emotion, ran to meet Him and fell to her knees in front of Him. Likely through tears, Mary greeted Jesus with the same words that her sister had used.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

And like her sister, Mary was not expressing anger at Jesus for arriving too late. She was simply expressing her firm belief that He could have prevented the death of Lazarus. Had Jesus been able to come just four days earlier, her brother would still be alive.

Upon seeing the tears of Mary and her companions, Jesus was “deeply moved.” This somewhat cryptic phrase is used two different times in this passage. The Greek verb is embrimaomai, and, according to the NET Bible Study Notes, it “indicates a strong display of emotion, somewhat difficult to translate—‘shuddered, moved with the deepest emotions.’”

John will use the very same phrase to describe Jesus’ emotional state when seeing the tomb of Lazarus. But why would Jesus be indignant or angry at the tears of the weeping women or the sight of Lazarus’ grave? It is because He is witnessing the devastating impact that sin and death have brought upon creation. This was not the way it was meant to be. Jesus, the Word of God, had been with His Father “in the beginning” and “All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:2-3 ESV). Jesus had created life. In fact, John writes that “In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind” (John 1:4 ESV).

So as Jesus, the giver of life, stood watching the tears of Mary and her friends, He was filled with indignation and anger at having to witness the pain and suffering caused by death. And He knew that death was the result of sin. He also knew that death brought delight to Satan, whom Jesus earlier described as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV).

At that moment, Jesus must have been filled with a range of emotions. Of anyone, He knew that He could have prevented Lazarus’ death, but to do so would have been out of His Father’s will. The death of Lazarus was part of God’s plan to display His glory and “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4 ESV). Jesus was fully aware of how this was all going to turn out, but it still grieved Him to witness the despair that sin brought upon a helpless humanity. He stood before them as the answer to their problem, but many refused to believe in Him. Unlike Martha, who confessed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of God,” the majority of the Jews could not bring themselves to embrace Jesus as their Messiah.

Jesus had told Nicodemus, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NLT). The women who stood before Jesus, weeping with Mary over the loss of her brother, would one day face the same fate. They too would die and, if they Jesus knew that if they refused to believe in Him, the would be condemned by their unbelief and be destined to face an eternity separated from Him and His Father. All of this angered Jesus because He had come to offer Himself as the one and only solution to the problem.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

Jesus was moved to tears. His anger was mixed with sorrow, empathy, and compassion. It is interesting to note that Jesus had begun His public ministry at a wedding feast, a joyous occasion marked by celebration over that start of a new chapter of life. Now, here He was, nearing the end of His ministry and attending a funeral, a somber event marked by sorrow and despair over the end of life.

And as Jesus made His way to the tomb of Lazarus, there were those who expressed their confusion as to why He had not intervened. They had heard about His other miracles and couldn’t help but wonder why, if He loved Lazarus so much, He had not healed him. Their question seems to convey speculation that, perhaps, Lazarus’ condition was somehow out of His league.

Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” – John 11:37 ESV

But their doubt was about to be replaced with utter disbelief. They were going to be eye-witnesses to an amazing display of God’s glory.

Upon coming to the tomb, Jesus demanded that they roll away the stone blocking its entrance. At this point, the readers of John’s gospel should be recognizing the similarities between this story and the one they had heard about Jesus Himself. The tomb, the stone, the mourners. It all sounds familiar. The darkness, the despair, the overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It is eerily similar. But they have a sense of how this is going to turn out because they know the rest of the story.

And despite Martha’s protests, Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away, and He gently reminds her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV). Jesus had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26 ESV). And while Martha had boldly proclaimed her belief, she had not envisioned what was about to take place. Even though Jesus had told her, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), she had not gone to the tomb expecting to see it happen.

But it did. After a brief prayer to His Father, Jesus proclaimed with a loud, triumphant shout, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John, somewhat matter-of-factly and anticlimactically, writes, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV).

Don’t miss this moment. Up until this point in time, the atmosphere has been filled with doom and despair. The mood has been dark and doubtful. Both Mary and Martha had greeted Jesus with words of disappointment: “If only you had…”. The crowds had expressed their speculation as to whether Jesus could have done anything to help Lazarus. The whole scene has been marked by tears, mourning, resignation, and regret. And then, suddenly, “the man who died came out.” Lazarus was alive. And not only had he been restored to life, but any decay his body had experienced had also been miraculously reversed.

It is fascinating and a bit frustrating to consider that John provides no details concerning the response of Mary and Martha to this incredible event. He gives no indication as to how the crowd reacted when the heavily wrapped body of Lazarus hobbled from the tomb. John simply records the words of Jesus that must have broken the stunned silence of the moment.

“Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:44 ESV

There is so much wrapped up in these words. They bring to mind what Jesus had said to the religious leaders.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:34-36 ESV

The apostle Paul would echo these words when he wrote to the believers in Rome.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:32 ESV

He would write virtually the same thing to the believers in Galatia.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1 NLT

Jesus had just set Lazarus free from the bonds of death. He came out of the tomb alive and well, but he was still wrapped in the vestiges of death, in the form of the cumbersome grave cloths. To be truly free, Jesus demanded that Lazarus be untied and released to enjoy his newly restored life. In a sense, Jesus was communicating an aspect of the Gospel that would become a reality when He had offered His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. – Galatians 5:4 NLT

The restoration of Lazarus to life was meant to be a precursor of something greater to come: The resurrection of Jesus Himself. And with Jesus’ death and resurrection, all those who place their faith in Him would find themselves permanently freed from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they would no longer have to try to live up to God’s holy standards in their own strength. They would be free indeed.

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

Misguided Belief

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 2:23-3:2 ESV

As someone who seems obsessed with providing evidence for the identity of Jesus, John can be maddeningly stingy when it comes to the details. Even when describing Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, John cuts to the chase, providing the basic facts about what happened but leaving a great deal up to the reader’s imagination. He does the same thing in verse 23, where he makes an almost cursory allusion to the signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. – John 2:23 ESV

It’s difficult to read that verse without wanting to ask, “What signs?” But John appears to have no interest in explaining the nature of miracles Jesus performed. It’s not that the signs were unimportant to John because they will become the basis for what he describes in chapter three. It’s almost as if he assumes his audience is already familiar with the topic and he has more important matters to discuss.

The miracles performed by Jesus were an essential facet of His ministry, and, as John alludes to, they produced a certain measure of belief in Jesus. And that seems to be the primary point John wants to make. For John, the details concerning the signs Jesus did were irrelevant, but the belief they produced was not. It is likely that Jesus healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, and cast out demons. And when He did, the people marveled at His indisputable supernatural powers. Not only that, they believed in His name. But what does that mean? What was the nature of their belief and why does John state that their belief was in “the name” of Jesus?

To understand what’s going on, you have to go back to verse 20 of chapter one. The priests and Levites had sent a delegation to make inquiries about John the Baptist. His activities in the Judean wilderness had stirred up a lot of attention and resulted in much speculation as to his identity. And one of the first assumptions people made was that John the Baptist must be the long-awaited Messiah. This seems quite clear because when the delegation asked John the Baptist who he was, he declared, “I am not the Christ.” He knew what the people were saying about him. His call to repentance and his declaration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand had caused people to speculate that the Messiah had finally arrived.

Messiah-fever had begun to spread. And so had the news of Jesus’ miracle at Cana. So, when He had shown up in Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and started performing miracles, the people believed in His name: Jesus Christ – Jesus the Messiah. Remember what Andrew told his brother Simon.

“We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). – John 1:41 ESV

Philip had told Nathanael:

“We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” – John 1:45 ESV

And upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael had confessed:

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” – John 1:49 ESV

This news had spread. Word had gotten out that the Messiah had come. So, when Jesus performed signs and wonders, the people took it as evidence that He truly was the Messiah.

But John’s primary concern is in the object of their faith or belief. The people were believing Jesus to be the Messiah, but their understanding of what that meant would prove to be inaccurate. They were expecting the Messiah to be a conquering king and a mighty military leader like King David had been. They were looking for a deliverer, a political savior of sorts, who would lead them against the Roman occupying forces and set them free from the centuries-long misery of subjugation and suffering they had experienced since the Babylonian invasion.

And John points out that Jesus was aware of their misguided and misunderstood belief in Him.

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:24 ESV

Jesus was not fooled by their expressions of faith. He knew their belief in Him was solely based on their deeply held desire that He deliver them from Roman rule. If they had their way, they would take Jesus by force and attempt to thrust Him into their preconceived idea of a super-savior. You see this same fanatical fervor in John’s account of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV

Jesus had not come to be their earthly king. He would lead no armies against the Romans. There would be no battles waged, rebellions launched, or earthly kingdom established – at least, not yet. And that is the point John is attempting to make.

Chapter three opens with an encounter between Jesus and a member of the Pharisees. This highly revered religious leader schedules a somewhat clandestine meeting with Jesus, choosing to meet with Him under the cover of darkness. Due to his prestigious role as a Pharisee and his standing within the community, he wants his meeting to remain a secret.

John is going to use this Pharisee to illustrate the stark difference between what the people believed about Jesus and what Jesus would reveal to be the true nature of His incarnation. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, would have been well-educated and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, and would have been highly familiar with the many Messianic prophecies they contained. So, when he meets Jesus, he states his own belief that Jesus is a God-ordained messenger from God.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:2 ESV

His use of the terms “rabbi” and “teacher” indicate his respect and professional admiration for Jesus. He admired Jesus for His obvious divine anointing. He was intrigued by Jesus’ works and words. But he also knew that any association with Jesus could prove detrimental to his role as a Pharisee. Even at this early stage in His earthly ministry, the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders were beginning to see Jesus as a potential threat. These men were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council, that was comprised of the high priest and 70 members who represented the various sects within Judaism, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots.

They held sway over the people of Israel, functioning as a kind of supreme court or religious council. Their authority was second only to that of the Roman government. And they took exception to anyone who might attempt to disrupt or displace their sovereign rule over the people. Even the thought of a Messiah would have been threatening to their authority. Someone claiming to be the “chosen one” of God could cause all kinds of trouble, promoting political unrest, stirring up the common people, and, ultimately, angering the Roman government. And, if that happened, the Romans would step in, putting a swift end to any rebellion and holding the Sanhedrin responsible for allowing it to happen.

So, Nicodemus shows up at night, but his presence and his words indicate that he believes Jesus just might be the one for whom they have been waiting. Even he, as a member of the Pharisees, longs to see the Messiah. He greatly desires to see the kingdom of God reestablished on earth in the form of a revitalized Jewish state. But he is about to get a personal lesson from the Messiah Himself that will reveal just how misguided and misinformed he really was about God’s plans for Israel’s future.

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

God In Human Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:14-18 ESV

In verse 14 John returns to the focal point of his entire gospel: The Word of God. But now, he adds another crucial element to the identity of this one who “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2 ESV). This life-giving “light” penetrated the darkness of the sin-saturated world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:10 ESV

And adding an important point of specificity, John states:

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

But how did He He come? In what form did the Word of God appear? In verse 14, John shares the incredible truth regarding the incarnation – the miraculous moment when God took on human flesh. In this one verse, John brings together the two seemingly opposing doctrines of God’s transcendence and immanence. The holy and wholly righteous God of the universe not only made Himself known to mankind, He became one with them.

…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… – John 1:14 ESV

God had made Himself known before. He had regularly conversed with Adam and Eve in the garden. He spoke to Noah and Abraham. He appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel through the pillars of fire and smoke that led them through the wilderness. And God had repeatedly spoken to His prophets, providing them with the words to convey to His rebellious people, warning them of the judgment to come.

But what John is describing here is something different altogether. He is declaring that deity and humanity became one. The God of the universe stepped out of His heavenly palace and took up residence among us. Jesus, the Son of God, left His throne in glory and willingly assumed the nature of an ordinary human being. The apostle Paul describes this remarkable transformation this way:

…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. – Philippians 2:6-7 ESV

At the time at which John wrote his gospel, there would have been few who denied the existence of Jesus. His ministry had made Him a celebrity throughout Judea. His miracles and messages had attracted huge crowds which gained Him the attention of the religious and political leaders. Ultimately, Jesus’ growing celebrity status had threatened the powerful Jewish religious leaders, so they had Him crucified. And even that fateful event had been well-attended and well-documented. So, there would have been little debate over the humanity of Jesus.

But the deity of Jesus was a whole other matter. One of the primary reasons Jesus had been crucified was because the Jewish religious leaders had deemed Him guilty of blasphemy, for having claimed to be God. At one point, Jesus had said to a group of Pharisees, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). And their immediate reaction had been to stone Him to death. And they had justified their action by saying, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus had said to the religious leaders: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), and again, they responded by picking up stones to kill Him. Why? Because with His seemingly innocuous statement, Jesus had identified Himself as God. He had purposefully used the identifier “I am,” a direct reference to God’s own self-identification spoken to Moses at the burning bush.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14 ESV

The religious leaders had picked up on Jesus’ meaning and immediately understood that He was claiming to be divine. But they refused to accept that Jesus was anything but a man. He was nothing more than a non-descript, uneducated rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth. He may have been a nuisance and a threat, but He was anything but God.

But for John, the deity of Jesus was essential to understanding the humanity of Jesus. God had taken on human flesh and John claims to have been one of many eye-witnesses to the reality of Jesus’ divinity.

…we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

This is most likely a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus that John, James, and Peter had been privileged to witness. Matthew describes this event in his gospel account.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:1-3 ESV

John had been given an eye-witness glimpse of the glory of Jesus. The humanity of Jesus had been transfigured right before John’s eyes, revealing the full divinity and holiness of the one he called master and friend.

John even recalls how John the Baptist had recognized the unique nature of Jesus, describing Him as far more than just another man. When John the Baptist had stated, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:15 ESV), he was declaring the divinity and eternality of Jesus.

But why is all this so important? Why is John beginning his gospel account by stressing the deity and humanity of Jesus? Because there were those who denied that Jesus had been divine. Just like today, there were many who were willing to admit that Jesus had been a good man, a wise teacher, and a worker of miracles. They would even confess that Jesus had lived a life worth emulating. But they could not bring themselves to believe that He had been God in human flesh. That was outside their capacity to comprehend and accept.

But for John, the deity of Jesus was a non-negotiable aspect of His identity. If Jesus was not God in human flesh, then He was just another man who died a martyr’s death. And that death accomplished nothing of long-lasting value.

Yet, as his gospel will reveal, because Jesus was who He says He was, His death did have value. It was efficacious. There was a reason why God sent His Son to earth to live and die as a human being. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). The entire Jewish sacrificial system had been ordained by God as a means for sin-stained men and women to receive atonement and cleansing for their sins. But those sacrifices had always been temporary and imperfect. The blood of the animals sacrificed on behalf of sinful men and women was incapable of providing permanent deliverance from the penalty of sin. They provided temporary cleansing from ceremonial impurity and nothing more. Again, the author of Hebrews provides us with an explanation.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:13-14 NLT

Jesus, the Word of God, had to become a man so that He could become the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of man. As John will share later on in this same chapter, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he described Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus said of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). When the angel appeared to Joseph, letting him know that his fiance was pregnant, he announced, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mathew 1:21 ESV).

Jesus took on human flesh so that He could live as a man. But He was born as a Jew so that He would be required to live according to the law given by God to Moses. And because He was divine, He was able to live in perfect obedience to God’s law, making Him the sinless, unblemished, perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of man.

According to John, Jesus had been “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV), and that fulness expressed itself in the form of “grace upon grace” (John 1:17 ESV). What John seems to be saying here is that Jesus provided a new measure of God’s grace that was greater than that which had been made available through the law. Rather than temporary forgiveness from sin, God was making available permanent forgiveness and the right sinful men and women to be justified before Him. And it was all made possible through the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Up until the incarnation, the law reigned supreme. It was the only means by which sinful men could receive forgiveness. But as the apostle Paul states, “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). He communicated the same idea to the believers in Galatia.

“…no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

John states that Moses brought the law, but that Jesus made possible grace and truth. It is only through faith in Jesus, that sinful men can receive the grace of God and be truly freed from the penalty of sin. The law could never save. But Jesus, the God-man can and does save. And He made salvation possible by taking on human flesh and making God known to man. He made the invisible God visible. He made the unapproachable God approachable. Because He was God in human flesh.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:6-7 NLT

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

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

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

In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
 
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

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 was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 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

Diligence, Not Desire, Determines Your Destiny

1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:1-13 ESV

Paul, an older and more experienced minister of the gospel, is pouring out his heart to his young protégé, Timothy, in an attempt to prepare him for what lies ahead. Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting a hearing before the emperor. He was well aware that his fate, while in God’s hands, could end poorly. He had no delusions that he would receive a fair and just trial at the hands of the Romans. And the Jews had been relentless in their efforts to hold Paul accountable for what they considered to be his disruptive and divisive ministry.

As Paul sat in jail awaiting his hearing, he had written to the believers in Philippi, telling them, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 ESV). He knew that his days were numbered and that death was inevitable. His greatest concern was that his life would continue to honor Christ, whether through ministry or martyrdom.

As Paul penned this letter to Timothy, he must have thought about the message he had received from Christ after praying on three different occasions that his “thorn in the flesh” be removed. Jesus had told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this promise from the Savior had prompted Paul to respond, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

The power of Christ, made available through the means of His grace, was all that Paul needed and it provided him with an overwhelming sense of confidence and peace, regardless of the circumstances he faced.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Now, Paul is passing on the promise of Christ’s grace to Timothy. He tells him to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1 ESV). Timothy was in a difficult spot, trying to minister to the fledgling congregation in Ephesus while his mentor was behind bars in Rome. He was on his own and surrounded by hostile forces who opposed his ministry and message. He also faced dissension in the ranks as some of his own parishioners began to question their decision to follow Christ. Persecution and difficulty had begun to set in, causing some to lose faith, like Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had abandoned Paul in Asia.

Paul wanted Timothy to understand that he was no longer the disciple, but had moved into the role of disciple-maker. His days of serving as Paul’s assistant were behind him. It was now time for him to step up and embrace his responsibilities as a minister of the gospel. And that would require Timothy to raise up others to assist him in his work. There had been a day when Paul had chosen Timothy and determined to teach him and train him for the gospel ministry. Now it was time for Timothy to take the baton and run the next leg of the race on his own. But he was not to run alone. Paul encouraged Timothy to “teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2 NLT).

This was all about propagating and multiplying the ministry by constantly preparing others to share the burden. Jesus had told His disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9:37-38 NLT). But along with asking God to supply the workers, comes a responsibility to train these individuals in the disciplines required to harvest well. And that would require discipline on Timothy’s part. A landowner would not send inexperienced or untrained workers into his fields to harvest his crops. He would make sure they were trained to do the job well so every ounce of grain was gleaned. No loss. No waste.

Paul drives home the seriousness of Timothy’s role as a disciple-maker by using three different analogies. First, he compares Timothy to a soldier, who faithfully fulfills his duties, undistracted by the cares of this world.

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. – 2 Timothy 2:3-4 NLT

A distracted soldier will prove to be a disloyal soldier. If Timothy allows himself to become preoccupied with the things of this world, he will lose sight of his God-ordained mission. This is exactly what Jesus was warning His disciples about when He said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39 NLT).

Discipleship, like military service, requires a commitment that carries a high cost. Part-time soldiers make lousy warriors. And believers who allow their love for the things of this world to distract them will prove to be less-than-successful disciple-makers.

The next analogy Paul uses is that of an athlete. This particular imagery was a favorite of Paul’s and he used it repeatedly to illustrate the level of commitment required to live the Christian life.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. – 2 Timothy 4:7 NLT

Living the Christian life requires perseverance and determination. There are no easy paths to the finish line. There are no shortcuts. And, as Paul warns Timothy, victory cannot be expected if the runner fails to follow the rules. Timothy was not free to fudge on the God-ordained regulations established for the Christian life. He could take the path of least resistance and still expect to win the prize at the end of the race. Avoiding difficulty, taking shortcuts in the pursuit of spiritual growth, and running the race just to finish rather than to win, are unacceptable. God demands more.

The final analogy Paul uses is an agrarian one, highlighting the obvious life lesson that hard work has its rewards.

…hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. – 2 Timothy 2:6 NLT

In an agrarian culture, laziness could be a death sentence. The farmer who failed to plow and plant had no business expecting to reap a harvest. But the diligent farmer, who put in the required labor to prepare his fields and plant his crops at the proper time, could expect to enjoy the fruits of his labors. It was only natural, logical, and fair. Paul wanted Timothy to know that the Christian life also required commitment, diligence, perseverance, and hard work. And just in case Timothy missed the very obvious point behind Paul’s three analogies, he assures him that “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7 ESV).

Then, as if out of nowhere, Paul changes the topic altogether, shifting his focus to Christ and His resurrection from the dead. But his point remains the same. He is simply using Jesus, “the offspring of David” (2 Timothy 2:8 ESV), as an example of someone who lived a life fully committed to God’s plan for His life. He was a descendant of King David and the rightful heir to the throne, and yet He willingly suffered on behalf of sinful mankind so that He might become the sinless substitute and the selfless source of salvation for all those who would believe in Him. Jesus never shirked His God-given responsibility to be the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

And Paul uses himself as another example of someone who refused to compromise his convictions or cut corners when it came to his spiritual life. After all, he was writing this letter from prison, bound by chains and facing a trial on trumped-up charges intended to result in a death sentence. But Paul boldly proclaimed, “I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen” (2 Timothy 2:10 NLT).

The bottom line for Paul was that there was no place for faithlessness in the life of the believer. Jesus Christ had sacrificed Himself so that we might live in newness of life. He provided us with the Holy Spirit as a permanent source of power and direction. His death assures us of eternal life. Our endurance in this life comes with the guarantee of an inheritance in the next life. But even if we fail to remain faithful, Jesus Christ will never fail to keep His promise to keep and preserve us.

…if we are faithless, he remains faithful. – 2 Timothy 2:13 ESV

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

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

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

Committed to the Cause

13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

15 You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, 17 but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— 18 may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. 2 Timothy 1:13-18 ESV

Even while imprisoned in Rome, Paul took a keen interest in the affairs of the many local congregations he had helped to start. He wrote a great many of his pastoral epistles while under arrest, using his time to encourage the church of Jesus Christ, providing doctrinal instruction, relevant application of Jesus’ teaching, and an occasional admonishment aimed at false teachers and all those who had been swayed by their words.

But Paul also took advantage of his confinement by penning this letter to his young friend and disciple, Timothy, attempting to bolster his faith and strengthen his commitment to his calling as a minister of Christ. Paul knew from firsthand experience the kind of opposition Timothy was facing. He also understood the constant pressure his young friend was under to compromise his message and discredit his calling.

Timothy was a young man and yet, he had been thrust into a high-intensity role with responsibility to oversee the growing flock in Ephesus. He was the God-appointed shepherd to the sheep placed under his care and Paul knew that his young friend was struggling. Even Paul’s imprisonment had left Timothy wrestling with questions and doubts about the future. After all, his mentor had been arrested and accused of crimes against the state. And Paul’s enemies had used his arrest as an opportunity to undermine his work and destroy his reputation. But Paul encouraged Timothy to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV).

Paul assured Timothy that there was only one reason behind his imprisonment: His preaching of the gospel. He wasn’t an insurrectionist or an enemy of the state. He was simply a “preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11 ESV), who had been faithfully fulfilling his God-ordained responsibilities. So, for him, confinement in prison was a badge of honor, a symbol of his alignment with the sufferings of Christ. And Paul wanted Timothy to have the same mindset.

Timothy had become part of Paul’s entourage, traveling alongside the apostle and watching him preach the good news of Jesus Christ all throughout the Roman Empire. And he had witnessed the sheer power of the gospel message as countless individuals from all walks of life had placed their faith in Christ. He had seen small congregations spring up in the most unlikely of places. Gentiles who had grown up in pagan cultures worshiping a pantheon of false gods had discovered the truth about Yahweh and His Son. They had turned their backs on idolatry and been restored to a right relationship with the one true God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And Timothy must have found all of this incredibly encouraging to his faith. He had enjoyed a front-row seat experience to the gospel’s transforming power and to Paul’s obvious calling as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. And he was compelled to follow Paul’s example – until things went south and Paul was imprisoned. But Paul didn’t want Timothy to lose heart. So, he challenged Timothy to quit focusing on his imprisonment and to remember all that he had taught him.

Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:13 NLT

Paul’s circumstances had done nothing to alter the gospel message. His imprisonment had not confined the good news any more than Jesus’ death had prevented His resurrection and ascension. The sovereign plan of God was alive and well and Timothy had a responsibility to continue the work of spreading the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.

Confined to prison, Paul passed the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles to Timothy and warned him to “carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14 NLT). And he was to do it “through the power of the Holy Spirit” (2 Timothy 1:14 NLT). Nothing had changed. Paul’s imprisonment was not a problem for God. It had not caught the Almighty by surprise or left Him desperately trying to develop a “Plan B.” It was all part of God’s divine strategy and Paul wanted Timothy to know that he had been chosen by God for this very occasion. He had been called, gifted, and empowered by God. He had been sent to Ephesus by Paul. And he was right where he was supposed to be in order to accomplish what God had for him to do.

Paul wanted Timothy to understand that his role was not up for debate. He may not have liked the circumstances surrounding his life, but he had no choice but to embrace the gift of grace bestowed on him by God.

God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

And to ensure that Timothy remains faithful to his calling, Paul brings up the actions of two individuals named Phygelus and Hermogenes, who had used Paul’s imprisonment as an excuse to abandon him. Evidently, these men had played a leadership role among the churches in Asia and their treatment of Paul had negatively impacted those under their care.

In contrast, Paul points out the efforts of Onesiphorus, someone who had chosen to remain faithful to Paul and his ministry in spite of his imprisonment. Paul points out that this individual and his family “often visited and encouraged me. He was never ashamed of me because I was in chains” (2 Timothy 1:17 NLT). Onesiphorus had even made a special trip to Rome in order to locate Paul and encourage him. And Paul expresses his gratitude by asking the Lord to show special kindness to this man and his family.

Paul wants Timothy to model his life after Onesiphorus, not Phygelus and Hermogenes. He wants his young friend to embrace a mindset of selfless service and sacrificial love, refusing to allow the circumstances of life to deter him from his mission or to distract him from his calling. The gospel does not need fair-weather friends who bail at the first sign of trouble. Paul wanted Timothy to know that his job was going to be difficult but not impossible. He would face trials, but he was not alone. And Timothy was going to need to embrace his role as non-negotiable and fully binding. In fact, in the very next lines of his letter, Paul will call Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3 ESV).

And, as a soldier of Christ, Timothy was obligated to serve faithfully and obediently. That’s why, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul had provided him with some strong words of instruction.

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT

Paul may have been in jail, but Timothy was free to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to continue the work of building up the body of Christ. There was no time to doubt and debate the efficacy of God’s strategy. There was work to be done and Paul wanted Timothy to know that he was the man for the hour. And his young age, inexperience, feelings of inadequacy, fear, and reservations were no match for God’s divine calling and Spirit-empowered gifting for the task at hand. Timothy needed to remain committed to the cause and ready to be used by the one who had called him to begin with.

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

Well Worth the Effort

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 ESV

While there had been those who accused Paul and Silas of being in the ministry for what they could get out of it, Paul strongly denied their charges. He insisted that “we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT). Their purpose had been “to please God, not people” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT). And with God as his witness, Paul asserted “we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT).

Now, Paul uses the Thessalonians themselves as witnesses to his defense. He recalls how they had gladly heard and received the message of the gospel.

…when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

They knew from their own experience that the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone was real and life-changing. Upon believing, they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit, which was proof that the words of Paul and Silas were from God and not from men. And Paul could not stop thanking God for the life-transforming power of the Gospel. He even reminds the Thessalonians that this power to change lives was still at work in them.

…this word continues to work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

The word they had shared had worked. It had produced in them true and lasting life change. For Paul, that was the bottom line. It was all the proof needed to substantiate his ministry and message. The Thessalonians had gotten far more out of Paul and Silas’ ministry than they had. And before they considered listening to the false claims leveled against Paul and Silas, they needed to look at the fruit in their own lives. They were living proof of the validity of the ministry and the message of these two men.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provided them with a much-needed reminder of the transformation the Gospel had made in their lives. He wanted them to see and appreciate the stark before-and-after contrast of their encounter with Christ. The Gospel had been far more than just another message from the lips of men. It had been radically transformational and eternally significant.

Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

This was true for the Thessalonian believers as well. They had each experienced a remarkable alteration to their habits and behaviors. Faith in Christ had resulted in the fruit of the Spirit. If they were ever tempted to question Paul’s motives, all they had to do was look at the impact of his message on their own lives. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God.

And Paul adds another aspect of their experience that gave proof of the Gospel’s veracity and power.

…you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT

Their own persecution at the hands of their countrymen was proof of the Gospel’s power. Their lives had changed and their friends and neighbors had not been happy with the results. They had become lights in the darkness, exposing the sinful condition of their fellow citizens. And the result had been persecution. And Paul assures them that this was normal and to be expected. It was further proof of the Gospel’s power. Their suffering on behalf of their faith in Christ was exactly what the believers in Judea had experienced. It came with the territory.

Jesus Himself had warned, “everyone will hate you because you are my followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). He had told His disciples that they could expect to be hated by the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:19-20 NLT

And this hatred by the world was nothing new. The message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind has always met with resistance. Paul recounts how the prophets of God, who had carried His message of repentance to His disobedient children, were met with rejection and even faced death at the hands of those they were trying to save. And the apostles of Jesus were having similar experiences as they took the message of God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to a lost and dying world.

To the world, the message of the Gospel was non-sensical. The claim that the God of the universe had sent His Son to take on human flesh and die on a cross to pay for the sins of mankind sounded ridiculous. And the very fact that the salvation offered by God required an admission of sin and the need for a Savior, made the Jews uncomfortable. Paul pointed out the incomprehensible nature of the Gospel in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

The Gospel has and will always face opposition. But Paul insists that those who stand opposed to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death will fail. Paul flatly states that in their attempt to reject the Gospel message or its messengers they “fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 NLT). Sadly, their efforts do little more than anger God and add to their debt of sin. And, as Paul told the believers in Rome, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

For Paul, the physical separation from his spiritual children in Thessalonica was difficult. He longed to see them and to continue his ministry among them. It had been more than a year since he and Silas had first visited their city, and a lot had taken place during that time frame. He was proud of them, but his pastoral heart longed to be with them. But, Paul insists, he had faced some serious opposition that kept his desire from becoming reality.

we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV

Paul believed in spiritual warfare. He was fully convinced that his ministry was opposed by the enemy of God because his ministry had been ordained by God. His commission placed him on the front lines of a battle that was taking place in the spiritual realms but that had real-life implications.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was well aware that he faced human opposition, but he also knew that the primary force behind it all was Satan himself. And yet, he remained “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and he “put on all of God’s armor” so he would “be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT).

And, fully prepared for the battle in which he found himself engaged, Paul found the motivation to fight the good fight by focusing on the fruit of his efforts.

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NLT

Doing battle with the enemy was well worth it because it meant the difference between souls being saved or remaining lost. Resisting the opposition was essential if the message of man’s reconciliation to God was to continue being spread. The joy of watching lives be transformed by the power of the Gospel is what kept Paul going. And while he may face opposition in this life, he knew the day was coming when all his efforts would be repaid with eternal life.

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

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

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

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

Not In It For What They Could Get Out Of It

1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Paul was under constant pressure to defend his apostleship. While not one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus, Paul had received his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles directly from Jesus Christ Himself. But his opponents, of which there were many, questioned the validity of his claim to be an emissary of Christ. And so, they would attempt to undermine his ministry by raising doubts concerning his authority to speak and the veracity of his message. He was just a man, they claimed. His message was not from God, but nothing more than the self-delusional rants of a self-appointed apostle.

So, Paul was forced to validate his ministry and message. In the opening line of his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). Just a few verses later, Paul told them:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12 ESV

And Paul went on to explain to them how that revelation came about.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles… – Galatians 1:13-16 ESV

Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, confirms Paul’s description of that event and provides us with further details.

Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2 ESV

But while on his way to Damascus, fully intending to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus, Paul had a life-changing encounter.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-6 ESV

Saul (his Hebrew name), blinded by the light and bewildered by this unexpected change in his itinerary, made his way to Damascus. In the meantime, God appeared in a vision to Ananias, a Christ-follower living in the city, informing him to lay hands on Paul to restore his sight. Ananias expressed his reluctance because of Paul’s reputation for animosity against Christians, but God insisted that this was all part of His divine plan for Paul.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 ESV

And years later, Paul would stand before King Agrippa and recount the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. And he would add the words of the message he received when Christ confronted him.

“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:16-18 ESV

But what does all this have to do with chapter 2 of the book of 1 Thessalonians? Everything. Because in this chapter, Paul is reminding the believers in Thessalonica of the day when he and Silas first appeared in their city more than a year earlier. In the interim, enemies of Paul had been spreading rumors and suggesting that he was not what he claimed to be. They had been casting dispersion on both his message and his motives.

Yet Paul reminds them that he and Silas had arrived in their city after having been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. The city officials in Philippi had forced them to vacate the premises because their presence had resulted in a riot. And Paul reminds the Thessanlonians:

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV

If Paul was claiming to be an apostle in order to get rich or famous, he was less than successful in his efforts. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to know that his only motivation was to declare to them the gospel of God – even in the midst of conflict.

And Paul had the same message for the believers in Galatia. If he was simply out to gain the favor of men, he was failing miserably. In fact, if Paul had wanted to win a popularity contest, the last thing he would do is present himself as an apostle of Christ with a controversial message of sin, judgment, and salvation. That’s why Paul told the Galatians:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 ESV

And Paul assured the Thessalonians believers that, despite what others were saying, he and Silas had been anything but deceptive or dishonest in their motivation.

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive… – 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV

They had not been out to please men, seek glory, or get rich. But they had been approved by God and entrusted with the gospel message. That’s why, when they had suffered in Philippi, they hadn’t abandoned their mission, but continued their efforts to spread the gospel – even in the face of extreme opposition and personal pain. If Paul and Silas had been in it for what they could get out of it, they would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. But as Paul makes clear, their motivation had been and continued to be pure.

Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul was anything but a people-pleaser. And his message was far from politically correct. He was an in-your-face, no-holds-barred kind of guy who delivered the message of the gospel unapologetically and with no attempt to water it down to make it more palatable and acceptable.

In taking the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul had faced opposition from the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, who still questioned the validity of uncircumcised Gentiles having access to salvation. If nothing else, they believed these Gentiles had to convert to Judaism first. But Paul had stood his ground, demanding that the gospel message put no such requirements on Gentile converts. Salvation was based on God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And Paul had also faced opposition from the Gentiles, who resisted his efforts to convert their people to this new religion or cult, called The Way. Paul’s message of the gospel was resulting in conversions among the Gentiles, leading these new believers to walk away from their false gods and their old ways of life in order to serve the one true God. Because the gospel brought about life change, these conversions were having an influence on the local communities and their economies. And, according to Luke, that’s exactly what happened in the city of Ephesus.

Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. – Acts 19:18-19 NLT

The gospel was powerfully transformative. It changed lives. And that was why Paul was committed to carrying out his God-ordained mission to share the gospel. He was motivated by love and compassion, not greed and fame. And he reminded the Thessalonians that he and Silas had come to them like innocent children, free from guile and with no ulterior motives. They had displayed the same kind of love as a mother who feeds and cares for her children. She does so sacrificially and willingly, and not for what she can get out of it.

And Paul assured them that “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They had given their lives away. They had sacrificed. Rather than demand payment for their services, they had willingly shared all that they had. And they had risked all for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of the handful of Thessalonians who had heard and received it.

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