So, He Saved Them

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 14:23-29 ESV

Sometime during the reign of King Jehoash of Judah, the other King Jehoash of Israel made his son, Jeroboam II, his co-regent. He was named after the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom after God had divided the nation of Israel in half. This division of Solomon’s kingdom was done as a punishment for his idolatry and apostasy. In the latter years of his reign, Solomon had begun to worship the false gods of his many foreign wives.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

As punishment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up Jeroboam and placed him over the ten northern tribes of Israel. But Jeroboam proved to be just as unfaithful as Solomon. One of his first official acts as king was to establish his own religion, complete with golden calf idols erected in the cities of Dan and Bethel. He even created his own priesthood and sacrificial system so that the ten northern tribes would have no reason to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of Yahweh.

And it reveals a lot about the character of King Jehoash of Israel that he chose to name his son after this man. But the author seems to assure his readers that this decision was fitting because Jeroboam II lived up to the reputation of his infamous predecessor.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 14:24 ESV

At his father’s death, Jeroboam II transitioned from his position as co-regent to that of king over all the northern tribes, a title he would hold for 41 years. He would become the longest-reigning king in the history of Israel, outlasting the monarchy of King Jehoash of Judah and that of his son, Amaziah. But other than the note describing the sinful disposition of Jeroboam’s reign, the author provides few other details about his accomplishments. There is a brief mention of his expansion of the territorial boundaries of Israel but it would appear that this was the work of God and not Jeroboam.

Verse 25 mentions the name of Jonah. He was one of three prophets, including Hosea and Amos, who ministered to the ten northern tribes of Israel. This is the same Jonah who would later receive a divine commission from God to call the pagan people of Ninevah to repentance (Jonah 1:1-2). But long before Jonah was sent to the Assyrians, his responsibility was to act as God’s spokesman to the kings and the people of Israel. It would appear from the text that Jonah gave King Jeroboam a word from Yahweh, commanding him to expand the borders of Israel, and the king obeyed.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

By faithfully fulfilling this divine mandate, Jeroboam II was able to restore the borders of Israel close to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon. While Jeroboam was anything but a godly king, he did prove to be an accomplished leader who helped reestablish Israel’s power and prominence. In fact, both the northern and southern kingdoms would experience unprecedented prosperity during this period of time. This fact seems difficult to reconcile when you consider that both kingdoms were being ruled over by godless kings who promoted idolatry and apostasy. Yet, the author reveals that God was at work, behind the scenes, protecting and preserving His people.

the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

God had made a covenant commitment to preserve His people. Despite their repeated demonstrations of disobedience and unfaithfulness, He had never allowed them to suffer the full and well-deserved consequences of their sin. He had stepped in and rescued them time and time again. Long before they ever entered the land of Canaan or established themselves as a nation, God had clearly communicated His expectations to them.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God… – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Then God outlined all the blessings they could expect if they lived in obedience to His will. But He had also warned them that disobedience would bring curses.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you… – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

The list of potential curses that followed was intense and terrifying and ended with the warning: “The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you[ (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT).

There would be dire and devastating consequences should they choose to disobey. But as the author of 2 Kings reveals, “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven” (2 Kings 14:27 ESV). While God had warned of destruction and even eventual deportation, He had never spoken of Israel’s obliteration. He was committed to keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it was Jacob whom God had renamed Israel.

“Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.

Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 NLT

This scene took place in Bethel, and it just so happens that Bethel became one of the towns in which the original Jeroboam set up a golden calf idol. The very place where God had promised to make of Jacob (Israel) a great nation, Jeroboam I had erected an idol that would lead the people away from Yahweh. He had promoted disobedience and, in doing so, had brought upon the people of Israel the curses of God.  And yet, the author of 2 Kings reveals that God chose to show His rebellious people compassion.

…the Lord saw the bitter suffering of everyone in Israel, and that there was no one in Israel, slave or free, to help them. – 2 Kings 14:26 NLT

Yes, they were rebellious. The people of Israel had forsaken Him time and time again. But God looked on His chosen people and saw them as helpless and hopeless. They had no one to save them. Their kings had proven themselves unwilling and incapable of providing godly leadership. Jeroboam II was no different than his namesake. And yet, God chose to use this godless king to protect His chosen people.

…because the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel completely, he used Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, to save them. – 2 Kings 14:27 NLT

God was preserving His people. Not because they deserved it, but because He had a plan that required their continued existence. Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a promise to the patriarch, Abraham:

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:17-18 NLT

God had made a commitment to bless the nations of the earth through Abraham’s descendants. Yet, as we have seen, the seed of Abraham had proven to be anything but a blessing. They had brought shame to the name of God through their repeated demonstrations of unfaithfulness. But God was choosing to preserve them because He had a plan in place that would bring about the blessing of the nations. And He would do it through the “seed” of Abraham. And the apostle Paul tells us exactly how God fulfilled that promise.

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 NLT

God preserved the Israelites so that Jesus, who was born a descendant of Abraham, might become the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. And Paul goes on to describe how God’s commitment to protect and preserve the nation of Israel has impacted all the nations of the earth.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

All along the way, God had been watching out for His chosen people because He had set them apart for a reason. They were to be the conduit through which He brought the blessing of salvation to a lost and dying world. And that is why, even after He eventually sent them into exile in Babylon, God restored them to the land of promise.

“I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 NLT

God was faithful to keep His promise and preserve His people so that, one day, He might send His Son as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

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

 

When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

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

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

Sheep Without a Shepherd

15 And when he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, “Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 16 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 17 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” 18 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “How did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” 25 And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 26 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah, and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this fellow in prison and feed him meager rations of bread and water, until I come in peace.”’” 28 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!” 1 Kings 22:15-28 ESV

Imagine the scene. Micaiah, the prophet, has been forcibly dragged before King Ahab, who is seated on the dais with his guest, King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Surrounding the two potentates are 400 prophets of Baal, each taking turns declaring their version of the truth. For hours, they have been telling King Ahab exactly what he wants to hear: “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Kings 22:12 ESV). One of them, a man named Zedekiah, had even crafted a pair of iron horns and used them as a prop to support his message to the king: “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed’” (1 Kings 22:11 ESV).

Then Micaiah shows up. Unlike the 400 yes-men who have been masquerading as spokesmen for the false god, Baal, Micaiah was a prophet of Yahweh. And, as such, he was obligated to speak only those words given to him by God. Which is exactly what Micaiah had told the man who had come to fetch him.

As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” – 1 Kings 22:14 ESV

Yet, when King Ahab asked Micaiah to reveal what his God thought about the planned attack of Ramoth-gilead, Micaiah simply repeated the words of the false prophets. He basically told the king, “Go for it!” But Ahab sensed the thinly veiled sarcasm behind Micaiah’s answer and demanded that he tell him the truth. Ahab knew from past experience that Micaiah and his God were going to oppose his plans. He had even revealed to King Jehoshaphat just how much he loathed Micaiah, telling him, “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me!” (1 Kings 22:8 NLT).

Micaiah knew that it really didn’t matter what he told Ahab because the king would do what he wanted to do. Ahab’s stubbornness and arrogance would prevent him from hearing and heeding the message of Yahweh. But Micaiah shared it anyway.

“In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’” – 1 Kings 22:17 NLT

Ahab was infuriated because Micaiah had just predicted Israel’s defeat and the king’s own death. But this less-than-encouraging message was just what Ahab had expected from the prophet of Yahweh. Just like Elijah, Micaiah proved to be a messenger of doom and gloom, bent on delivering nothing but bad news concerning Ahab’s kingly aspirations.

But Micaiah was not done. He next revealed how God had chosen to implement His plan for Ahab’s demise.

“Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’

“There were many suggestions, and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’

“‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’” – 1 Kings 22:19-22 NLT

Micaiah had been given a vision of a conversation that had taken place in the throne room of God Almighty. In the vision, Yahweh is portrayed as a king surrounded by his advisors and his army. He is soliciting input from the heavenly host, asking for their counsel on the best way to get Ahab to proceed with his attack on Ramoth-gilead, which will result in his death. A spirit speaks up and offers to deceive the prophets of Baal by giving them a false message of victory. God approves the plan and sends the spirit on his way. Then Micaiah informs Ahab that this is exactly what has happened.

“So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.” – 1 Kings 22:23 NLT

Amazingly, Micaiah tells Ahab the stark reality of all that had just transpired. The 400 prophets had been unwittingly declaring a lie, enticing Ahab to go through with his plan to attack Ramoth-gilead and, inadvertently, bringing about his death.

Yet, even when faced with the truth, Ahab stubbornly refused to give up his plan. He ordered Micaiah’s arrest and imprisonment and commanded that he be given nothing but bread and water until he had returned safely from his battle for Ramoth-gilead. But before being hauled off to prison, Micaiah made one final pronouncement to the king and all those who stood within earshot.

“If you return safely, it will mean that the Lord has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Everyone mark my words!” – 1 Kings 22:28 NLT

The problem with Ahab was not just his stubbornness and idolatry. It was his refusal to shepherd the people of Israel. All his self-centered acts of self-promotion had done irreparable damage to the nation of Israel. He had led the people into apostasy and idolatry. And, as a king over God’s chosen people, he would be held responsible for his failure to care for Yahweh’s flock. Hundreds of years later, the prophet Ezekiel would declare a foreboding message from God concerning all those kings who, like Ahab, had left the people of God like sheep without a shepherd.

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:1-6 NLT

This motif of shepherdless sheep goes all the way back to the days of Moses. When the great deliverer of Israel was nearing the end of his life, he had appealed to God, asking Him to provide the people of Israel with a new shepherd.

Then Moses said to the LORD, “O LORD, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” – Numbers 27:15-17 NLT

And centuries later, long after Ahab had died, Jesus would appear on the scene, offering His own assessment of the spiritual state of the people of Israel.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

The Good Shepherd couldn’t help but look at His own people and see them as shepherdless sheep, wandering about confused and helpless. For centuries, they had been misled and mistreated. Their political and spiritual leaders had used and abused them. Those who should have been feeding and caring for them had ended up taking advantage of them. They had followed the example of Ahab. But Jesus had arrived on the scene as the Son of David, emulating the example of the man after God’s own heart. Jesus was the quintessential shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for the sheep. And like His forefather, Jesus would shepherd the flock of God with care and compassion.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

At the end of the day, Ahab’s greatest problem was that he was a lousy shepherd. His chief sin was that he had failed to care for God’s flock. He had made his own needs a higher priority than the needs of the people. Like most of the kings of Israel and Judah, Ahab had abused his divinely ordained power and position. And he would have to answer to the Great Shepherd of Israel.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:11 NLT

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

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

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

The Love of the World

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:1-8 ESV

 

In this chapter, the author pulls back the curtain on Solomon’s life, revealing the poorly veiled secret that would prove to be his ultimate downfall. Solomon loved women. And he used his position and power as king to more than satisfy his insatiable desire for the opposite sex. The text reveals the staggering fact that Solomon had amassed a harem of 1,000 wives and concubines. And it had all started with his marriage to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). This had probably been a marriage of convenience, allowing Solomon to form a close alliance with another powerful nation. He certainly made the most of this marital union by purchasing thousands of horses and chariots from the Egyptians to equip his army (1 Kings 10:28-29).

But Solomon’s infatuation with women didn’t stop with Pharaoh’s daughter. He went on to add other foreign women to his growing harem, including “Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women” (1 Kings 11:1 ESV). And the author points out the underlying problem with Solomon’s actions. Solomon had chosen to love foreign women “from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods’” (1 Kings 11:2 ESV).

Solomon was in direct violation of the command of God, given to the people of Israel during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. God had warned the Israelites that they were not to intermarry with the pagans who currently occupied the land He was giving them as their inheritance. Moses conveyed this command in no uncertain terms.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

And God had also prohibited the Israelites from having anything to do with the Ammonites and Moabites.

These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the Lord your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the Lord your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. – Deuteronomy 23:4-6 NLT

But Solomon was a collector. He had a passion for fine things and filled his palace with treasures of all kinds, including women from all over the known world. He treated them like prized possessions, living symbols of his unsurpassed wealth and proof of his obsession with fulfilling his heart’s every desire. Years later, Solomon would confess his narcissistic propensities.

“I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. – Ecclesiastes 2:8-9 NLT

Despite the warnings of God, Solomon “clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:2 ESV). Even though Solomon had been gifted with wisdom beyond compare, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies led him to make decisions that were clearly foolish and, ultimately, destructive. God had made His will perfectly and plainly clear.

“The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon, emboldened by his wisdom and empowered by his position as king, decided that he knew what was best. Fulfilling his physical desires and passions took precedence over his obedience to God. And he would suffer the consequences for his unfaithfulness.

Whenever a child of God places his will above that of God, he will find himself making constant compromises and concessions in order to justify his actions. He will rationalize his decisions in an attempt to convince himself that he is doing the right thing. In doing so, he allows himself to be driven by his desires, rather than guided by the loving hand of God Almighty. And this pattern of behavior can be clearly seen in the life of Solomon. Back in chapter 3, the author declared Solomon’s love for and commitment to God.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father – 1 Kings 3:3 ESV

But by chapter 11, things had begun to change.

King Solomon loved many foreign women – 1 Kings 11:1 ESV

Solomon never stopped loving God, but he soon found himself with divided affections and a diminished devotion. His love, or better yet, lust for his many wives made it impossible for Solomon to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His capacity to love God had been severely diluted. He had allowed himself to become distracted by the things of this world. And, as the apostle John makes clear, this love affair with material possessions and physical passions always leads to diminished devotion for God.

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

Chapter 11 provides the sad and sobering turning point in the life of Solomon. Everything had started out so well. He had been appointed by God to replace his father as king of Israel. He had been gifted with great wisdom and rewarded with wealth and fame. His kingdom was marked by peace and prosperity. And he had been given the privilege and honor of building a temple for God. But the honeymoon was over.

Solomon had failed to heed his father’s warning.

“Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.” – 1 Kings 2:2-3 NLT

God had made a covenant commitment to David.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 NLT

But David had understood that this promise came with conditions. He knew that the covenant blessings would be forfeited if his son refused to remain faithful to God. And David had shared this important caveat with his son while lying on his deathbed.

“If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.” – 1 Kings 2:4 NLT

Yet here we find the son of David committing the unpardonable sin. He had not only disobeyed God by marrying foreign women, but he had begun to worship their false gods.

Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. – 1 Kings 11:5-6 NLT

His love for the world and all the tempting pleasures it offered had turned his heart from the Lord. His life had become a living example of something Jesus later warned about.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

It is fascinating to note that Solomon’s love of women eventually produced in him a devotion for their pagan gods. And his affection for these false gods would prompt him to erect shrines or places of worship in their honor. The man who had built the house for Yahweh, the one true God, found himself building altars to Chemosh and Molech, the gods of the Moabites and Ammonites. But notice where he built them – “on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7 ESV). This was the Mount of Olives, the very same place where, hundreds of years later, another son of David would pray the following prayer: “Father… not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). On the same location where Solomon had erected altars to false gods, Jesus would declare His commitment to faithfully fulfill the will of God.

It was on the Mount of Olives that Solomon and his many wives offered up their sacrifices to  Molech and  Chemosh. But in the very same place, Jesus, the Son of David and the Savior of the world would humbly and obediently sacrifice His own will for that of His Heavenly Father.

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

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

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

The Protection of God’s Grace

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV

There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.

But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.

Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).

David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT

David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.

But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.

“Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.

By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.

“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT

Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.

“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT

David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.

In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.

Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT

Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.

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

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

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

A Resurrection and a Transformation

9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Mark 16:9-20 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate among biblical scholars regarding the true ending of Mark’s gospel. Two of the oldest Greek manuscripts (4th-Century) of this book end with verse 8. But the majority of the extant manuscripts include an alternative ending, which is found in verses 9-20. While there are some of the early church fathers who fail to mention this alternative ending in their commentaries on Mark’s gospel, there are others who do. Since the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts do contain the longer ending and many of the early church father’s believed in its veracity, these verses are usually included in most modern translations. They are usually accompanied by a disclaimer or statement that qualifies their inclusion, but it would seem that the events included in this longer ending are of great value when studying the final hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 8 ends with a statement regarding the fear of the women who had encountered the angels at the empty tomb. They had been given strict instructions to deliver the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples, but the entire experience had left them in a state of shock. Mark reports that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 ESV).

But the angels had clearly told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reason they had found the tomb empty was that Jesus was no longer in need of a grave. He was alive. And the angels had assured the women, “he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7 ESV).

One of the first persons privileged to see Jesus in His resurrected state was Mary Magdalene. Mark states that “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9 ESV). John provides us with the details surrounding this unexpected reunion. Mary Magdaline had been one of the women who had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. But she had been the first to arrive on the scene and discover the tomb to be empty and the body of Jesus to be gone. Rather than waiting on her two companions, she ran to tell Peter and John the devastating news. The three of them returned to the tomb, and when Peter and John had seen the truth for themselves, they returned home, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping outside the entrance. Mary finally mustered up the courage to look inside the tomb and was shocked to see two angels. When one of them inquired about the cause of her tears, Mary responded, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” (John 20:13 NLT). And when she turned around, she saw someone standing there. Unaware that it was Jesus, she asked the stranger, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him” (John 20:15 NLT).

But when Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she suddenly recognized Him. Evidently, Mary was so overcome with joy that she clung to Jesus in the hopes of preventing Him from ever leaving her again. Yet Jesus commanded her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17 NLT).

And Mark records that Mary “went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10 ESV). Peter and John had returned from the empty tomb, but had not regaled their companions with news of Jesus’ resurrection. They had simply shared that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone. And this news had left the 11 disciples in a state of deep despair. Even the reports by Mary and the other women had left the disciples unconvinced. When they told these men all that they had seen and heard, their “words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11 NLT).

The common denominator in all these scenes is doubt. None of the followers of Jesus were expecting to find Him resurrected. In their minds, Jesus was dead and buried, and any hopes they had of taking part in His earthly Kingdom had died along with Him. This defeatist attitude can be seen in the encounter Jesus had with two of His disheartened followers who were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Mark simply states that Jesus “appeared in a different form to two of them while they were on their way to the country” (Mark 16:12 NLT). Jesus evidently disguised His appearance so that these two disciples were unable to recognize Him. Luke reports that they were walking along the road “talking to each other about all the things that had happened” (Luke 24:14 NLT). 

Suspecting Jesus to be just another pilgrim making His way home after the Passover celebration, the two disciples struck up a conversation with Him. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, one of them responded somewhat sarcastically: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18 NLT). Had this man been living under a rock? How could He be ignorant of all that had happened over the last 24 hours? But Jesus continued to play dumb, asking, “What things?”

And these two disheartened disciples began to regale this uninformed stranger with all the details concerning Jesus’ death.

“The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” – Luke 24:19-24 NLT

Notice those three revealing words: “we had hoped.” These two individuals were leaving Jerusalem and headed back to Emmaus, filled with doubt and despair. Even the testimonies of the women regarding the news of the angels had failed to convince these two unbelieving disciples. And Jesus immediately confronted them for their refusal to believe.

“You foolish people—how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

And John reports that Jesus gave these two disciples an Old Testament survey class, revealing how the entirety of the Scriptures had all pointed to Him. He was the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets had spoken about.

After having shared a meal with Jesus, these two returned to Jerusalem and told the 11 disciples all that had happened. But Mark indicates that “they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13 ESV). But they were about to have their disbelief shattered by the irrefutable presence of the resurrected Lord. Luke indicates that even while the two disciples were sharing their news, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.

While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 NLT

Yet instead of peace, their hearts were filled with fear, believing Jesus to be some kind of apparition. But Mark reveals that Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 ESV). Angels had declared His resurrection and these men had failed to believe their word. Then others had testified that they had seen Jesus alive, but these men had remained stubbornly doubtful. Now, as He stood before them, all they could come up with for an explanation was that He was a ghost.

But Jesus let these doubting disciples know that they were going to have a job to do. The time for disbelief and despair was over. He was alive and would soon be returning to His Father’s side, and the ministry of the Gospel would be their responsibility.

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

Jesus was leaving, but the work was far from done. They were to continue to preach the Good News. And their word would be backed by a divine power to perform supernatural signs and wonders. The followers of Jesus would be equipped with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They would have divine enabling that would empower and protect them. It would also validate their message by proving that they had been sent by God.

Luke records that Jesus would later take His followers back to Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. There He would give them His final commission and then ascend back into heaven, returning to His Father’s side. And these formerly doubtful and discouraged disciples would go on to change the world.

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now during the blessing he departed and was taken up into heaven. So they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple courts blessing God. – Luke 24:50-53 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

He Has Risen

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 ESV

Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV

Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV

But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV

So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and  “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV

And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT

Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).

But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT

And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.

…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT

The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.

“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT

Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).

The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).

Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”

And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).

Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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

Even in Death, He Gave

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. Mark 15:40-47 ESV

Jesus died sometime after 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon. After more than six hours of excruciating suffering, His entire body racked by indescribable pain, He had been able to utter one last prayer to His Heavenly Father: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then He drew His final breath. Jesus had done what He had come to do. Despite the pain and suffering it had entailed, Jesus had willingly given His life as a ransom for many. He had accomplished His Father’s will and made atonement for the sins of mankind. And as the sun began to set that fateful Friday, His beaten, bloodied, and bruised body hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, just as He had predicted.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32-33 ESV

But even in His death, Jesus was to suffer one further indignity. John reports that the Jewish religious leaders were anxious that the three executions be expedited so that Jesus and the two other criminals would die more quickly. They wanted the bodies of the victims removed so they would not profane the Sabbath, which officially began at sundown.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. – John 19:31-34 ESV

But even this was in keeping with the Spirit-inspired prophecy of Isaiah.

he was pierced for our transgressions. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

John highlights the fact that, when the lifeless body of Jesus was pierced by a Roman spear, it poured forth blood and water. Even in death, Jesus continued to give.  The blood represented the sin-cleansing nature of His death.

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

…the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 ESV

It was just as Jesus had told His disciples at their final Passover meal together: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

And the water that poured from the side of the body of Jesus was meant to symbolize the gift of the Spirit of God. Once Jesus had died, been resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, the Spirit would be poured out on His disciples. And this would be in keeping with the prophecy of Joel.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” – Joel 2:28 ESV

As this gruesome scene took place, a group of very interested bystanders watched from a distance. Included in the group were Mary Magdalene, her sister Salome, and Mary the mother of James and John. These three women had endured the entire six-hour ordeal, watching every second of Jesus’ slow and agonizing death. But there was another individual who had observed the death of Jesus. This man had likely been standing alongside his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, who had dared to mock and ridicule Jesus as He died. But John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38 ESV). Luke provides further insight into Joseph’s unique relationship with Jesus.

He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. – Luke 23:50-51 ESV

He shared the same outlook as Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, who had earlier come to Jesus in secret, desiring to know more about His true identity. These two men risked everything by approaching Pilate and asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus for burial. Their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would have been appalled at this display of respect for this disreputable and discredited Rabbi from Nazareth. But these two well-respected members of the Jewish high council risked their reputations in order to provide the body of Jesus with a proper burial.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. – John 19:40-41 ESV

And even their efforts were in keeping with the words of Isaiah, penned centuries earlier, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

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

Jesus had died alongside common criminals but was given the dignity of being buried in a rich man’s tomb. His body was not thrown into some nondescript plot of land reserved for paupers and petty thieves. Thanks to the kindness of Joseph, the body of Jesus was placed in a tomb that had been designed for a man of great worth and honor. And due to the generosity of Nicodemus, His body was properly prepared for burial with costly spices and perfumes. These two men spared no expense in providing Jesus with a proper funeral, wrapping His body in a linen cloth and then sealing the tomb with a large stone. Then they walked away.

And the efforts of Joseph and Nicodemus had not gone unobserved. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had both witnessed what had happened and taken note of the location of the tomb. But the entire scene carries a note of finality to it. Jesus was dead. His body had been anointed for burial and placed in a tomb. And like an exclamation point punctuating the end of a sentence, Mark writes that they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

But this story was far from over.

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

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

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

From Darkness to Light

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 ESV

At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.

Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV

Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). 

But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many.  He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.

And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.

Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.

Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT

Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 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

Delivered to Die

1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:1-15 ESV

It proved to be a long night for everyone involved. Jesus had been arrested late Thursday night and taken to the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest. His interrogation by Caiaphas and the other members of the Sanhedrin had lasted well into the early morning hours of the next day. During that time, Peter had denied Jesus and fled the scene in tears. And even Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus, had stuck around to see what happened next. When he saw that Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin, he had a change of heart. Matthew records that “when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matthew 27:3-4 ESV).

But his feelings of regret and remorse, while probably sincere, were of no benefit to Jesus. Judas’ decision to betray his Master had helped seal His fate. And while Judas returned the blood money he had been paid for his dastardly deed, it did nothing to assuage his guilt. In a final act of contrition, Judas took his own life (Matthew 27:5).

Meanwhile, having convicted Jesus of blasphemy, the high priest and the council convened an early morning meeting to determine their next steps. They knew that the Roman authorities would find the charge of blasphemy to be insufficient cause for authorizing the death of Jesus. So, they met one last time to deliberate on what additional charge they could bring against Jesus that would warrant His death and force the Roman governor to give his seal of approval. And it seems that they chose to accuse Jesus of high treason. If they could convince Pilate that Jesus was a dangerous revolutionary who was fomenting insurrection against the Roman government, they would achieve their goal of eliminating Jesus once and for all.

Having determined their strategy, the members of the high council had Jesus bound, and they moved en masse to the palace of the Roman governor. And Luke tells us that, once they had the ear of Pilate, these men wasted no time in pressing their charges against Jesus.

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

If there was one thing the Roman government would not tolerate, it was any form of sedition. They knew from experience that the key to maintaining order in any of their vassal states was to deal with rebels quickly and harshly. And as the local representative of the Roman Empire, Pilate was responsible for maintaining law and order in his region. So, when the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of being a would-be king of Israel, it got the attention of the Roman governor.

But as Pilate looked at the unimpressive figure standing before him, it is likely that he found the charges to sound a bit far-fetched. Jesus did not have the look of an insurrectionist. There was nothing about Jesus’ appearance or demeanor that would give the impression He was a threat to the Roman government. In fact, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah in less-than-flattering terms:

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. – Isaiah 53:2-3 NLT

So, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2 ESV). There was probably a tinge of sarcasm in Pilate’s words. In a sense, he was asking Jesus, “Are YOU the king of the Jews?” Was this disheveled looking man the reason Pilate had been forced to have this early morning meeting? Was He really the cause of all the turmoil taking place?

But all Jesus said in response was, “You have said so” (Mark 15:2 ESV). He didn’t deny the charges or attempt to defend Himself. He didn’t proclaim His innocence or expose the hypocrisy of His accusers. But while Jesus remained passive and quiet, HIs enemies barraged Pilate with a litany of additional charges against Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that this prisoner was able to maintain His composure and refrain from answering the growing list of charges against him. At one point, he even asked Jesus, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” (Matthew 27:13 ESV). But Jesus refused to respond.

Amazingly, despite all the charges leveled against Jesus, Pilate reached the conclusion that He was innocent. He told the members of the Sanhedrin, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4 ESV). But refusing to accept Pilate”s verdict, they intensified their efforts, shouting, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place”  (Luke 23:5 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as a dangerous radical who was inciting trouble all throughout the region, from Judea all the way to Galilee in the north.

But again, Pilate seemed to sense that their problem with Jesus was religious in nature and had nothing to do with Rome. This man was no threat to the empire. Pilate seems to have been intrigued by Jesus. In his gospel account, John reports that Pilate questioned Jesus further about His supposed kingship.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

And Jesus responded by asking Pilate whether his question was motivated by personal interest or simply based on the accusations of the Sanhedrin. Pilate, taken aback by Jesus’ words, demanded to know what was really going on.

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

And Jesus responded with a clarification of the nature of His kingdom.

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

To Pilate, this sounded like an admission of guilt, so he asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The issue was not so much whether Jesus was a king. It had more to do with the nature of His kingdom. The truth was that Jesus was a king, but not like Caesar. And He was not interested in overthrowing Rome and dethroning the emperor. His kingdom was not of this world. It was spiritual in nature. And this discussion led Pilate to conclude that this was nothing more than an internecine squabble among the Jews. So, he attempted to extricate himself from the situation by offering a compromise solution.

Over his years as prefect, Pilate had established a custom of releasing a single Jewish prisoner in honor of Passover. It made sense to Pilate that Jesus would be the obvious choice on this particular occasion. But he was surprised to hear the Jews demand the release of Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer. They specifically requested that Pilate keep Jesus under lock and key, while setting free a dangerous criminal who was a real threat to the Roman empire.

Evidently, all the commotion that morning had attracted a crowd. So, Pilate, in an attempt to pacify the crowd, had offered to release Jesus “the King of the Jews” (Mark 15:9 ESV). But the Jewish religious leaders had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, inciting them to reject Pilate’s offer and demand the release of Barabbas. When Pilate asked what He should do with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Confused by the intensity of their anger, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Mark 15:14 ESV), and the people simply shouted, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23 ESV).

And sadly, Mark records that Pilate acquiesced to the demands of the people. While he felt certain that Jesus was innocent, having done nothing worthy of death, Pilate feared the growing anger of the mob.

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. – Mark 15:15 ESV

And everything was happening just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years earlier.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 ESV

The King of the Jews “was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). And in just a few hours, the Son of God would become “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 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