Unexpected and Undeserving Guests

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” – Luke 14:15-24 ESV

At least one of the guests who heard Jesus’ parable about the wedding feast seemed to understand that He was actually talking about the kingdom of God. Perhaps he was only trying to show off his own spiritual savviness in front of the other learned and well-respected guests. He wanted everyone to know that he understood the meaning behind the parable. But did he?

His comment, while intended to make him sound erudite and informed, was actually missing the whole point of Jesus’ lesson. His rather innocuous statement probably had everyone in the room shaking their head in agreement, except Jesus.

“What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” – Luke 14:15 NLT

His words have an air of pompousness about them. In a sense, he is subtly including himself in the list of those who will be fortunate enough to be a guest at the table of God. He fully expects to be invited to dine with God Almighty in His Kingdom. After all, he had been on the guest list to attend the dinner party put on by the ruler of the Pharisees, so it only made sense that he would be one of the fortunate few to break bread with God.

It seems obvious that this man was not one of “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13 NLT) that Jesus had mentioned. He was most likely a well-respected member of the community, even perhaps a fellow Pharisee. This man was not from the lower rungs of the societal pecking order. Yet, Jesus had said that someone who truly loved God and others would invite the lowly and the despised to be guests at their dinner.

But this unidentified man seemed to believe that God had reserved seats at His banquet for those who had earned their way into His good graces. Like the Pharisees and scribes reclining around the table beside him, this man was convinced that he was one of those who had been blessed by God. He was self-assured and confident that there was a place reserved for him at God’s table. But Jesus used another parable to expose the flaws in the man’s logic.

“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’” – Luke 14:16 NLT

The man in the story is meant to represent God, while the servant is intended to play the part of Jesus, the faithful servant. Formal invitations have been sent out in advance to a select list of guests, inviting them to join the host for a wonderful feast. It seems from the context of the story, that no date had been given for the feast. So, when all the preparations were complete and the day of feasting finally arrived, the man sent out his servant to gather all the invited guests.

“But they all began making excuses.” – Luke 14:18 NLT

Jesus does not provide any kind of timeline for His story, so it’s impossible to know how much time had passed between the sending of the invitations and the announcement by the servant. Yet it appears that the invited guests had all but forgotten about the banquet. They had made other plans. And those excuses for not attending the feast ran the gamut.

“One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” – Luke 14:18-20 NLT

All three guests mention changes in their life circumstances. While the man had been busy preparing his elaborate feast, these people had gone on with their lives. One had purchased a tract of land. Another had acquired a team of oxen with which to plow his fields. And finally, another had “bought” himself a wife. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, a groom was expected to provide compensation to the bride’s father.

In biblical times, mohar (מֹהַר), whereby the groom bought his wife from her father (Gen. 24:53; Ex. 22:15–16; Hos. 3:2), was the accepted practice. It was then customary that the groom give the bride gifts, and that she bring certain property to her husband’s home upon marriage: slaves, cattle, real estate, etc. (cf. Gen. 24:59–61; 29; Judg. 1:14ff.; I Kings 9:16).

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

So, in all three cases, these men had made some kind of financial investment that prevented them from honoring the invitation they had received. In a sense, they allowed their recent procurements to take precedence over the feast.

It was the faithful servant who was tasked with informing the invited guests that the long-awaited day of the feast had arrived. He went from home to home informing them of the exciting news, but his words were met with nothing but excuses. No one accepted his invitation to the feast. And this part of the story must have left Jesus’ audience dumbfounded. They would have been appalled by the audacity of anyone who refused an invitation to what was obviously a significant event put on by an extremely wealthy and influential person. But what they failed to realize was that Jesus was talking about them. They were the invited guests in the story. They had received an invitation from God to join Him at the great feast in the kingdom.

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His treasured possession. He had set them apart as His own and had blessed them with His law, the sacrificial system, and the covenant promises. The apostle Paul, a Jew and a former Pharisee, clearly articulated the unique status enjoyed by the Jews, God’s chosen people.

They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 9:4-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe how the Israelites had turned down God’s invitation to rest in His power and provision.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. – Romans 9:31-32 NLT

Rather than trusting in Him, they had put all their hope in their ability to “purchase” their good standing with Him through good deeds. In a sense, they were turning down God’s invitation to the future banquet and filling their lives with the temporal pleasures of this world. Paul went on to explain:

For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:3-4 NLT

And, in His story, Jesus reveals that the host was furious with the unacceptable behavior of His ungrateful guests. So, the son was sent out again, this time to scour the streets of the city, in search of “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21 NLT). He was to extend an invitation to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), offering them an opportunity to dine with his father at the great feast.

The son did as he was told, but when he had completed the task he informed his father, “There is still room for more” (Luke 14:22 NLT). So, the father instructed him to go out and search for others, until every seat in the banquet hall was filled. And the father warned that all those who had turned down the original invitation would find themselves on the outside looking in.

“For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 NLT

And Jesus had made a similar statement after observing the faith of a Roman centurion. He declared, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Matthew 8:10 NLT), and then He added:

“I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:11-12 NLT

The Pharisees and scribes reclining at the table with Jesus had made it clear that they were not fans of His. They refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They categorically denied any claim He had to be the Son of God. They were the guests who had received an invitation to the banquet, but who refused to listen to the words of the faithful servant. Instead, they came up with excuses. They decided to go on with the everyday affairs of life, dismissing the gracious invitation of the Host and ignoring the pleas of His Son. And, as a result, rather than being blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God, they would find themselves as permanent outcasts from His presence.

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 Sign of Things To Come

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV

Some in the crowd had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others “to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16 ESV). It is to this second group that Jesus now turns His attention. Both Matthew and Mark include their own descriptions of the same or a similar incident where Jesus addressed the peoples’ demands for a sign. And it would appear that their insistence that Jesus do some significantly spectacular sign to prove His identity was also the brainchild of the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” – Matthew 12:38 ESV

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. – Mark 8:11 ESV

Their demand was very specific. They wanted a sign from heaven. These men had stood back and watched as Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. And, in an attempt to repudiate those miracles, they had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. So, it seems unlikely that they are requesting Jesus to perform another miracle. The Greek word translated as “sign” is sēmeion, and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than healing the blind or casting out demons. After all, there were others who claimed to perform miracles and even the Jews practiced exorcism.

No, it seems that they were asking Jesus to do the truly impossible. If Jesus He was divine, as He so claimed, then He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, such as predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction. But the motivation behind their request was evil to its core. They knew what the law said regarding anyone prophesied falsely in the name of God.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

Simply put, they were in search of an excuse to put Jesus to death. But He saw through their ploy and responded to their request with a stinging indictment.

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. – Luke 11:29 ESV

Jesus knew the intentions behind this request. The hearts of those demanding that He do some kind of miraculous sign were wicked and unbelieving. He knew that no matter what He did, they would refuse to believe. So, not only did Jesus refuse their request for a prophetic pronouncement, but instead, He announced a sign of coming judgment.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” – Luke 11:30 ESV

The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to those in the crowd. They would have made the connection concerning Jonah’s influence over the Gentile city of Nineveh. After refusing to obey God’s command to deliver His message of repentance to the Assyrian capital, Jonah was reprimanded and then rescued by God. Jonah attempted to run from his divine commission but ended up being swallowed by a great fish. This life-threatening incident ended up getting Jonah’s attention, convincing him to follow through on his God-given assignment. And the result was a miraculous revival among the pagan Ninevites. The entire city repented of their sins and worshiped Yahweh.

Jesus infers that Jonah, the reluctant messenger, because a sign to the people of Nineveh. He had spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish but then had been “resurrected” so that he might deliver God’s message of judgment and His call to repentance. Jesus is predicting His own 3-day-long interment in a tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” – Luke 11: 32 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse His offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the future judgment, the repentant people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the unrepentant Jews. Jesus predicts that the Jews will refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by His coming death on the cross.

And then, Jesus adds another claim of superiority to His growing list.

something greater than Jonah is here – Luke  12:32 ESV

Jonah was a prophet of God and the only one who had been sent by God to the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees would have related well to Jonah’s initial reluctance to take God’s message of repentance to non-Jews. The story of Jonah attempting to get out of this undesirable assignment would have resonated with them. Now, here was Jesus was claiming to be superior to Jonah.  But, in reality, Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to have precedence over the stories of Scripture because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah was just a man, and yet he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedient servant, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus was actually fulfilling their request. He was giving them “a sign by which anything future is pre-announced/.” He was predicting His own death, burial, and resurrection. And He was letting them know that all who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus also predicted that when that sign appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe it. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

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

Proclaim the Kingdom

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. – Luke 9:1-6 ESV

Jesus’ disciples had witnessed Him perform a variety of amazing miracles, but His raising of the dead girl to life was by far the most shocking. And everything they had seen Him do had been intended to bolster their belief in Him. Jesus wanted them to fully understand who He was and what He had come to do. But He was having to battle their preconceived notions of the Messiah and their expectations that He had come to restore the political fortunes of the Hebrew people. While they were obviously impressed with His power to heal diseases and His authority to cast out demons, they were still waiting for Him to reveal Himself as the conquering king who would defeat their Roman overlords. To the disciples, the miracles and messages of Jesus were impressive, but they were also a bit of a distraction. They couldn’t understand why Jesus was spending all His time up in the region of Galilee when Jerusalem was where they expected the Messiah to rule and reign. Yet according to Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people” (Mark 6:6 NLT). Much to the disciples’ surprise and dismay, Jesus continued to concentrate His efforts on the northern region of Galilee, taking His message of the kingdom to other towns and villages where He always found those eager to see His miracles for themselves.

But every step along the way, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the role they would play when the time came for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greatest contribution to the kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

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

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

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

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

Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him? – Luke 8:251 ESV

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

But the disciples had much to learn about the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus failed to do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

“Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” – Luke 9:3 ESV

Mark provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions.

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

Matthew reveals that Jesus gave the disciples further instructions regarding their mission. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

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

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

And, Jesus warned that if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples were to walk away. They were not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructed them to “shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

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

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

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

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee, “preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:6 ESV). They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

It’s important to note that Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the gospel. But the content of that gospel message concerned the coming of the kingdom of God. When we hear the term “gospel” we tend to think of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. For those of us living on this side of the cross, the gospel has come to mean the good news regarding salvation made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death on our behalf. But for the disciples and all those living prior to Jesus’ death, the gospel concerned the arrival of the King and His kingdom. Jesus made that point perfectly clear to His disciples.

“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’” – Matthew 10:7 NET

…he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God. – Luke 9:2 NLT

And that message concerning the kingdom was to be delivered to the people of Israel. They were to be told that their long-awaited Messiah had come. The time for the nation’s restoration and renewal had finally arrived. But it would be dramatically different than what they had expected. Rather than deliverance from Roman oppression, Jesus had come to offer them freedom from their captivity to sin and the God-ordained death sentence that hung over their heads. But Jesus knew that the disciples would find plenty of unreceptive ears and unrepentant hearts. That’s why He warned them, “I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town!” (Matthew 10:15 NET). 

The disciples were going to have the perplexing experience of performing miracles while encountering stubborn disbelief. The messengers would find themselves rejected just like their Master. And this unexpected reaction by the Jewish people would leave the disciples further confused. How would Jesus ever restore the fortunes of Israel if His own people refused to believe that He was the Messiah? And what hope did the disciples have if their Master and His message of the kingdom was falling on deaf and disbelieving ears?

But these men had much to learn, and they would have even more questions regarding the kingdom of God and their role in it as the days progressed.

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

Believing and Belonging

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

One of the keys to understanding this rather abrupt and bizarre statement from Jesus regarding His family is to consider the context provided by the other gospel authors. An examination of Matthew’s gospel reveals that there was an important encounter that had taken place between Jesus and the religious leaders that Luke chose to leave out of his account. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. This man’s miraculous restoration by Jesus was met with amazement from those who witnessed it, except for the Pharisees. These men accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alluded to the fact that He would die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Luke describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His parables concerning the soils and the lamps. But an examination of the other Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. News of His recent activities would have done little to validate the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. It seems certain that Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and had heard the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the accusations leveled against Her son by the Pharisees, including that He was demon-possessed and a pawn of Satan. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But Mark records, that upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be. That is why Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21 ESV).

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with God.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, or educational achievements, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. And that included His own relatives. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

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

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

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

Unprecedented Faith

1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 ESV

After Jesus had completed His teaching, He made His way back into the nearby village of Capernaum, accompanied by His disciples. And Luke records that the very first encounter Jesus had involved an “enemy” of the Jews – a Roman centurion. Just minutes after commanding His disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 ESV), Jesus was going to illustrate exactly what He meant.

A centurion was a noncommissioned officer in the Roman army who commanded a force of at least 100 men (centuria). Normally, the Jews would have considered the presence of a cohort of Roman soldiers in their community as an invasion of their personal space and a painful reminder of their subjugation to Rome. But in this case, Jesus was approached by the local elders of the village who asked Him to come to the aid of this centurion. It seems that this Roman officer had won over the people of Capernaum with his kindness and generosity. He had actually funded the construction of the local synagogue, convincing the community of his love for the Jewish nation. The elders refer to him as a man “worthy” (axios) to have Jesus come to his aid.

This exchange brings to mind a portion of the lesson that Jesus had just taught His disciples. In regards to loving their enemies, Jesus had added, “if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33 ESV). Without even knowing it, these Jewish elders were demonstrating exactly what Jesus had been talking about. They had been approached by this generous centurion, who asked them to speak to Jesus on his behalf. His servant, who meant a great deal to him, was on the verge of death and he was hoping that Jesus might heal him. So, the elders, who had benefited greatly from this man’s generosity, were more than willing to take his request to Jesus. They wanted to stay on good terms with their gracious benefactor. But Jesus had described to His disciples a totally different kind of love. It was to be non-reciprocal and one-directional, not expecting anything in return.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35 ESV

Yet, Jesus agreed to the elders’ request and accompanied them to the centurion’s home. But as they came within sight of the house, Jesus received a surprising message from the centurion.

Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. – Luke 6:6-7 ESV

The elders had described him as worthy (axios), yet the centurion declared that he was not worthy (hikanos). This man refers to himself as unfit or insufficient to be in the presence of someone like Jesus. He was ashamed at the thought of Jesus entering his home, so he simply asked that Jesus heal his servant from a distance. Two things jump out in this exchange. The first is the man’s amazing humility. The second is his faith. And Jesus was impressed by both.

When Jesus heard the centurion’s rationale for believing in His authority to heal, He was amazed. This Roman officer used his own experience as a leader of men to explain his belief that Jesus could simply command and His will would be done.

“…say the word, and let my servant be healed.” – Luke 6:7 ESV

It’s clear that this man had heard about Jesus and was fully aware of the miracles He had performed. Perhaps he had been on the hillside that day as Jesus spoke. The arrival of “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV), would have warranted the presence of Roman troops. And it’s likely that this centurion had personally witnessed the miracles that Jesus had performed just prior to His sermon on the mount.

a great multitude…came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. – Luke 6:17-19 ESV

The centurion was convinced that Jesus had the power and authority to heal his servant, and Jesus marveled at the man’s demonstration of unwavering faith. Turning to the crowd, Jesus declared, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV). Because the crowd to whom Jesus spoke would have been comprised primarily of Jews, they would have found this statement particularly offensive. Jesus was commending a Gentile and, to make matters worse, an officer in the Roman army. And as if to add insult to injury, Jesus was declaring that this man’s faith was superior to that of any Jew He had encountered, including His own disciples. And Matthew adds a second statement from Jesus that Luke chose to omit.

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV

Since Luke had written his gospel to his Gentile friend, Theophilus, he did not feel compelled to include the second half of Jesus’ address to the Jews. But it reveals an important aspect of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the global nature of His redemptive plan for mankind. As Messiah, He would not just deliver the house of Jacob, but He would be a blessing to all the nations of the world, just as God had promised Abraham. Entrance into the Kingdom of God would not be based on ethnicity or the ability to prove one’s Hebrew lineage. It would be based on faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. And this centurion had displayed a remarkable degree of faith in the power and authority of Jesus. Far greater than anything Jesus had seen to date. And responded to the centurion with a message that confirmed and commended his faith.

“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:13 ESV

And Luke adds that “when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well” (Luke 7:10 ESV). The centurion’s faith had been rewarded. His servant had been healed. And the disciples of Jesus were left to wonder about all that they had seen happen. His words must have rung in their ears for some time: “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT). And to hear Jesus state that the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness must have left them stunned and confused. None of this made sense to them. It all went against their preconceived understanding of the coming Kingdom of God. This was not what they had been expecting. All that Jesus said and did seemed to contradict their long-standing hopes, dreams, and desires. But little did they realize that the longer they followed Jesus, their confusion would only increase. Yet, in time, they would grow to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40 ESV). The next three years would prove to be a mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting experience for the disciples. 

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

Lord of the Sabbath

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:1-11 ESV

Repressive and restrictive rules and regulations had become the mainstay of the prevailing religious system of the Jews, and its gatekeepers were the scribes and Pharisees who were closely evaluating the actions of Jesus. To these men, Jesus was a loose cannon, a renegade Rabbi from the small town of Nazareth who was teaching heresy and guilty of blasphemy. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker but they were slowly gathering evidence that would prove His blatant disregard for their laws and His unacceptable association with moral reprobates and social outcasts. In their minds, Jesus was a troublemaker who refused to follow the rules and was leading the common people astray with His blasphemous offers of forgiveness for sins and the tantalizing promise of a coming kingdom.

The religious leaders had already confronted Jesus about His choice of dinner companions.

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” – Luke 5:30 ESV

They deemed Jesus as a poor judge of character. He willingly associated with the dregs of society, the very sinners who the religious leaders believed were preventing Israel from experiencing the full blessings of God. And His disciples were no better. These men were, for the most part, nothing but uneducated Galilean fishermen who were gluttonous and ignorant of the laws concerning prayer and fasting. And they had been more than willing to point out this apparent flaw in Jesus’ followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

But what these men failed to realize was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not subject to their manmade laws and decrees. As the Creator-God, He had authority over all things. The apostle John described the basis for Jesus’ exemption from the Pharisees’ repressive rules.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

And the apostle Paul would go on to explain the overarching nature of Jesus’ divine authority over everyone and everything.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

But as Jesus walked the earth, He appeared to these religious leaders as nothing more than a man who was violating their precious precepts and encouraging the uneducated peasants to do the same. He was threatening their way of life by diminishing their control over the people. Without rules, society would devolve into anarchy and chaos. These men had made a god out of the Mosaic Law. The righteous rules and regulations prescribed by God and handed down by Moses had become more important than the Law-Giver. Their strict adherence to the law had replaced their affection for God. And Jesus would later declare these very same men to be nothing more than pious-looking pretenders whose religious zeal was misplaced and whose love for God had been replaced by their lust for power and control.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

At the heart of their monolithic legal system was the Sabbath and the seemingly endless list of rules they had developed to regulate its observance. So, it was not long before Jesus found Himself at odds with the religious leaders over His lack of protocol concerning this holy day. Luke records that Jesus and His disciples were making their way through a field of grain on the Sabbath. As they did so, “his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1 ESV). According to Deuteronomy 23:25, the Mosaic Law provided a waiver that allowed anyone to pluck grain by hand.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand… – Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV

But as Luke reveals, the disciples were being watched by the Pharisees, who immediately deemed their actions as a violation of their laws concerning the Sabbath. According to their strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the disciples were guilty of harvesting, reaping, and meal preparation, which were all prohibited on the Sabbath. With legalistic zeal, they immediately confronted Jesus and His disciples, pointing out their seeming disregard for the Law.

“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” – Luke 6:3 ESV

Rather than explain the actions of His disciples, Jesus took these men to the Scriptures. He reminded them of a story involving the great king, David. The book of 1st Samuel records an incident in which David ate bread that had been dedicated to the Lord. David was the anointed king of Israel, but he and his men were on the run from the current occupant of the throne: King Saul. When they arrived at Nob, David convinced the priest to give his men the bread of the Presence, holy bread that was unlawful for them to eat. In doing so, David violated the ceremonial law but because he was the Lord’s anointed, his actions did not violate God’s moral law. Human need took precedence over the ceremonial law. Jesus would later use this same logic to justify His healing of a man on the Sabbath. He would ask the Pharisees, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” (Luke 14:5 NLT).

The Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ question because to do so would have shot a hole in the logic behind their entire legal system. They cared more for their rules than they did for the people for whom they were responsible to God. And Jesus was not about to follow their lead.

According to Jesus, what David did was acceptable to God and, therefore, the behavior of His disciples was as well. Then He added a statement that must have left the Pharisees apoplectic with rage.

“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:5 ESV

Jesus was clearly stating His divinity and authority. He was declaring His divine right to authorize the behavior of His disciples –even if it violated the Sabbath law – which it did not. As God, Jesus was the author of the Law, and He had not come to abolish or violate the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Luke follows up this story with a second occasion in which the Pharisees confront Jesus for His violation of Sabbath law. This time it involves Jesus’ decision to heal on the Sabbath, thereby doing “work” and willingly breaking the law. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on the Sabbath and in the local synagogue. And Jesus was fully aware that the entire scene was a setup, knowing that the Pharisees were waiting “to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And He did not disappoint them. Jesus purposefully called forward a man who had a withered hand and had him stand in front of the congregation gathered in the synagogue. In a sense, this man became a prop in Jesus’ lesson on the Sabbath law. With the man standing in front of Him, Jesus directed a question at the Pharisees and scribes:

“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 ESV

There was no response. The religious leaders knew that they were caught between a rock and a hard place. If they said it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath, they would come across as uncaring and unloving. If they answered in the affirmative, they would be validating the behavior of Jesus. So, they remained silent.

Luke records that Jesus looked at each of them, waiting for a response. This delay must have felt like an eternity to these men, as all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on them. But Jesus finally broke the silence by turning His attention to the man with the withered hand and stating, “Stretch out your hand” (Luke 6:10 ESV). And as soon as the man complied, his hand was immediately and miraculously restored.

But rather than responding with awe and amazement at Jesus’ supernatural display of power, the religious leaders became incensed. Luke reports that they “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV). They had just witnessed living proof that Jesus was indeed Lord of the Sabbath, but they were furious because Jesus had made them look like fools. He had made a mockery of their ceremonial laws and further enhanced His reputation among the people – and all at their expense.

Jesus had displayed His power and authority over disease, demons, and even the Sabbath. But the religious leaders were convinced that He was a menace to society who showed them no respect and had no regard for their sacred traditions. By the time they made their way back to Jerusalem with the latest reports of Jesus’ exploits, their superiors would have already made their decision to eliminate this growing threat to the nation.

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

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

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

Men on Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unlikely and Unholy Alliance

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 18:28-32 ESV

John has chosen to give an abbreviated version of Jesus’ trial before the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps it was because he understood this charade to be anything but a fair trial. Jesus had been brought before these self-righteous religious leaders for questioning but they had already made up their minds concerning His guilt. In his gospel account, Matthew records that all the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. And while Jesus was being interrogated by Annas, the members of the Sanhedrin were busy plotting how they could falsely accuse Jesus.

the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. – Matthew 26:59 NLT

But according to Jewish law, they were required to have two witnesses with corroborating testimonies.

Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60-61 NLT

When they demanded that Jesus answer these charges, He remained silent. And it was not until the high priest demanded, “tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT), that Jesus spoke.

“You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Matthew 26:64 NLT

In a rather melodramatic display of shock and awe, the high priest tore his own robe and cried out, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Matthew 26:65-66 NLT). And the council-turned-mob shouted in unison, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 NLT).

Their verbal declaration of Jesus’ guilt was followed by physical abuse as they began to beat him with their fists and spit in His face. And as they slapped the face of the Son of God, they mocked Him saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” (Matthew 26:68 NLT).

They had their official charge of blasphemy, which was a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 24:16). They had their two witnesses. Now, all they needed was the assistance of the Roman government to see that Jesus’ death was carried out. According to Roman law, the Jews were prohibited from carrying out any form of a death sentence. But it was going to be unlikely that the Romans would execute Jesus based on a violation of some obscure religious law. So, the high priest and his companions knew they would have to drum up additional charges that portrayed Jesus as a threat to the Roman government.

Interestingly enough, John records none of this. Perhaps he considered the whole affair a travesty of justice and not worth the time and effort to document. Whatever his reasons, John picks up the story in the morning as they transferred Jesus to the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor over the region.

In a subtle statement cloaked in irony, John records that Jesus’ “accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover” (John 18:28 NLT). Unwilling to risk becoming ceremonially unclean by entering the un-kosher home of a Gentile, these pious hypocrites chose to remain outside. There were the same men who had gone out of their way to solicit false witnesses so they could draw up fabricated charges against Jesus. Their self-righteous display of moral superiority was a sham and their actions gave proof of the veracity of Jesus’ earlier statements concerning them.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

These men were little more than actors in a play. In fact, the Greek term, “hypocrite” with which Jesus described them was commonly used to refer to an actor or stage player. To be a hypocrite is to portray yourself falsely, putting on an outward act meant to conceal your true nature or identity. And as these men stood outside the offices of the Roman governor, they pompously displayed their commitment to moral purity as they prepared to betray the sinless Lamb of God and condemn Him to an undeserved death. His face still red and swollen from their repeated slaps and beatings, Jesus, the innocent Son of God was handed over to the Romans by men who were spiritual pretenders, full of pretense and dissimulation.

When Pilate demanded to know what charges they were bringing against Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders responded somewhat sarcastically, “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” (John 18:30 NLT). It wasn’t that they lacked any charges to level against Jesus, it was that they wanted Pilate to know just how serious they were. According to their description of Jesus, He was kakopoios – an evildoer. Luke records that they accused Jesus of trying to foment an insurrection against the Romans.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

But, once again, John leaves out these details.

Pilate, out of frustration over the early morning disturbance and the lack of an official charge against Jesus, demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He had heard nothing that deemed this matter worthy of a Roman trial. And in an effort to drive home the seriousness of their intentions, the Jews reminded Pilate that they were forbidden by Roman law to carry out capital punishment. They had deemed Jesus worthy of death and they would not be satisfied until Pilate acquiesced and accommodated their wishes.

It is at this point in the narrative that John adds the note: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 18:32 ESV). This is similar to what he wrote when Jesus had declared, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). John had added the aside, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV).

Several times in his gospel, John reports that the Jews had intended to stone Jesus, but had failed to do so (John 8:59; 10:31). According to God’s divine plan, stoning would not be the means by which Jesus would die. He would be “lifted up” on a cross. And for that to happen, Jesus would have to be condemned by the Roman government. Crucifixion was the official form of capital punishment used by the Romans. And God had ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by the Jews and officially executed by the Romans. And just days after Jesus ascension, the apostle Peter would address a crowd of Jews, declaring the sovereign will of God behind all that took place during Jesus’ final days.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.” – Acts 2:22-23 NLT

And sometime later, Peter would pray a powerful prayer of thanks to God, expressing the gratitude of the believers for all that God had accomplished through the sacrificial death of His Son on their behalf. And all that God had done had been in spite of the efforts of the Gentiles and the Jews who had joined forces against the Son of God.

“Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. – Acts 4:27-28 NLT

What a remarkable thing to consider that all the forces of Rome and Israel were aligning themselves to stand against Jesus the Savior of the world. The Jews were the chosen people of God and the Romans were the most powerful nation on earth, and they were sworn enemies. But these two unlikely partners were linking arms in order to put to death the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And all according to the sovereign will of Almighty God. They would be instruments in His all-powerful hands, unwittingly performing His will and accomplishing His divine strategy for the redemption of men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

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 Case of Contrasts

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. John 10:22-31 ESV

Sometime after His lesson on the Good Shepherd, during the annual celebration of the Feast of Dedication, Jesus returned to the temple complex. But this time He made His way to Solomon’s Colonnade, an area located on the east side of the Court of the Gentiles. This roofed, but open-sided “porch” was reserved for the Gentiles, who were prohibited from entering the temple proper.

Jesus’ decision to mingle with the Gentiles is significant. Earlier, when He had described Himself to the Jews as the Good Shepherd, He had told them, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV). Jesus was informing them that His offer of eternal life was not reserved for the Jews alone. There were those outside the flock of Israel who would hear His voice and willingly received the gift of salvation He had come to make available. This was the same message He had conveyed to the Samaritan woman.

“the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:21-23 ESV

The Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, but a believer in Yahweh, had raised the issue of whether the Samaritans or the Jews worshiped God in the right place. The Samaritans worshiped Him at Mount Gerizim, while the Jews viewed the temple in Jerusalem as the proper place of worship. But Jesus informed her that this argument was about to become irrelevant. With His coming, the means and the method of worship would change. It would have little to do with the right place, and everything to do with worshiping God in the right way. And He was that way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

Whether you were a Jew or a Samaritan, the only way you could truly worship God would be through faith in His Son. And Jesus’ offer of salvation would be available to all, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

So, in Solomon’s Colonnade, surrounded by Gentiles, Jesus finds Himself accosted by the Jewish leaders once again. They somewhat sarcastically ask Him: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 ESV). They want to hear Jesus openly declare Himself to be the Messiah. But they chose an interesting place to have Him do it. They are standing within the Court of the Gentiles and it has not escaped them that Jesus has chosen to associate Himself with non-Jews. Perhaps they were goading Him to announce Himself as the Jewish Messiah in this particular setting because it would make Him look like a fool.

It’s impossible for us to know the motivation behind their actions, but it seems clear that Jesus was fully aware of what they were up to. He responds to their question by returning to His discussion of the sheep and the shepherd.

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” – John 10:25-26 ESV

Jesus had not hidden anything from them. He had repeatedly declared Himself to be the Son of God, sent from heaven to offer the gift of eternal life to all who would believe in Him. But these men had refused to believe. Why? Because they were not among His sheep. They were Jews but they were not included in His flock. When He spoke, they did not recognize His voice.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:27-28 ESV

Again, don’t miss the context. Jesus has willingly placed Himself in the company of Gentiles, on the one day of the year when the Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication or what is now known as Hanukkah. This was a feast that was begun in the intertestamental period in order to celebrate the Maccabean revolt that drove the Syrians (the Gentiles) out of Israel. The temple had to be cleansed and rededicated because Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian King, had desecrated it by sacrificing swine on the temple altar as a tribute to the god Zeus. This pagan king further humiliated the Jews by forcing them to offer sacrifices to the Syrian gods and to eat the flesh of pigs. It was a spiritual low point for the people of Israel, and the Jewish historian Josephus describes the joy the people experienced by celebrating their release from Syrian oppression.

And from that time to the present we observe this festival, which we call the festival of Lights, giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it. – Josephus, Jewish Antiquities

At the festival of Lights, the light of the world stood among the Gentiles and declared Himself to be the Jewish Messiah. What an amazing moment, filled with seeming contradictions and contrasts. On the day when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from pagan oppression, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, stood among the Gentiles and offered the gift of eternal life – freedom from the condemnation of sin and death. He stood among the unclean, offering Himself as a way for all men, both Jew and Gentile, to be made pure before God. And Jesus described this gift of eternal life as irrevocable.

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:29-30 ESV

Those who placed their faith in Him would never experience a loss of their salvation. Their gift of freedom from sin could never be revoked. Their promise of life eternal could never be lost. But for the Jews, their temple would be desecrated and destroyed yet again. In 70 A.D., the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and completely demolish the temple, burning it to the ground.

Jesus would later foretell of this coming day.

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:1-2 NLT

The Jews put a high priority on the temple. It was there that they offered sacrifices to God. It was in the Holy of Holies that the glory of God was said to dwell above the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. The temple was their key to their continued access to God. It was through the sacrificial system, which was relegated to the temple grounds, that they could receive atonement for their sins. But the day was coming when the temple would be destroyed and, with it, the means of offering sacrifices for sin and receiving atonement from God.

And yet, here was the Messiah, the Son of God, offering Himself as the sole source of salvation from sin and death. It was as He had told Nicodemus.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18 ESV

And the reaction of the Jewish leaders speaks volumes. John says they “picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31 ESV). He was not their Christ or Messiah. They refused to believe His claim to be the Son of God. He was the Good Shepherd, but they were not His sheep. And they stood condemned. The Light of the world had come, but they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). During the celebration of the Festival of Lights, these men remained trapped in the darkness of their own sin.

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 Man Born Blind

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:1-7 ESV

As has been noted before, John does not attempt to adhere to a strict chronologically accurate timeline. He has chosen to arrange his Gospel according to a theme, selecting those stories that best illustrate and prove the point he is trying to make. Since John is most interested in establishing the deity of Jesus, the stories he has included are those that best support his premise. As a result, there are many events recorded in the Synoptic Gospels that do not appear in John’s record of Jesus’ life. And, in today’s passage, John provides the details surrounding a miracle that none of the other Gospel writers include.

But John’s placement of this particular miracle at this precise point in his narrative was not without purpose. For several chapters, he has chronicled the ongoing and quickly intensifying conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities. As the light of the world, He has entered the sin-darkened land of Israel, revealing the glory of God with words of truth concerning His ministry, mission, and identity as the Son of God. But the religious leaders have repeatedly rejected His claim to have been sent from God. They have scoffed at His offers of living water, true bread, and eternal life. And they had found his most recent statement particularly off-putting.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Who did this man think He was?  What right did He have to question the spiritual integrity of the nation’s preeminent religious scholars? They were incensed by His offer to set them free because they were slaves to no one. And, of course, they weren’t exactly flattered when He had called them sons of the devil. He had accused them of being murderers and liars, completely out of touch with God, and incapable of hearing or accepting His claim to be the Son of God. And John closed chapter eight closes with a not-so-subtle summary of their reaction to Jesus’ words.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:59 ESV

Jesus simply walked away. The light of the world departed the temple grounds, symbolically leaving the area bathed in darkness. But the story does not end there. John records that “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1 ESV). it just so happened that as Jesus left the temple and the company of the belligerent religious leaders, He came across a man who suffered from physical blindness. But don’t miss the fact that this man had been born blind. This detail is what will set this particular miracle apart. While there are other accounts of Jesus restoring people’s sight, this is the only instance in which we are told that the man had been blind since birth. In a sense, he had born into darkness. He had never seen the light of the sun. He had never experienced the joy of seeing his parents’ faces. This man had been born into a world marked by an all-pervasive darkness and he was completely incapable of doing anything about his condition.

This man was about to become a visible symbol for the plight of all humanity. He had been born with his debilitating condition. It was not as if he had once had sight and then lost it. He had never had the capacity to see. And he would have remained in darkness had he not encountered Jesus, the light of the world.

For the Jews, physical blindness was closely associated with sin. Because of the egregious nature of this particular disorder, most Jews assumed that it was a form of divine punishment for sin. That is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). In their minds, it wasn’t a matter of whether sin had been involved, it was a case of who was the guilty party. Since the man was born blind, the logical conclusion would be that his parents were responsible for his pitiable condition.

It seems quite evident that the disciples made no connection between this man’s condition and the spiritual state of the religious leaders who had just tried to stone their master. To them, this was just another blind man, one of many anonymous sufferers that filled the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. Their only interest in this man was as a point of theological discussion. But Jesus reveals that this man’s condition and his appearance at that moment in time was all God-ordained.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

This simple statement carries a powerful punch, revealing the sovereign hand of God over every detail of human existence. This man’s very existence had been orchestrated by the will of God Almighty. And his encounter with the Son of God had been providentially prearranged. He had been placed in the path of Jesus, not so that his sight be could be restored, but so that the power of God could be revealed. Jesus was about to give this man something he had never possessed: The ability to see. He had been born into darkness, but he was about to have his eyes opened for the very first time in his life.

Jesus took the opportunity to address His disciples, reminding them that time was of the essence. His days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. And in the time remaining, they would need to keep their attention focused on “the light of the world.”  While so many of Jesus’ conversations had been with the religious leaders, His words had been directed at His disciples. They had been His primary audience, and everything He had said had been for their benefit.

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 NLT

They didn’t yet realize it, but Jesus’ days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. They would not always have the luxury of His company. And He wanted them to take advantage of every single moment they had in “the light” of His presence because the night was coming.

As usual, Jesus did not explain His words. He left the disciples to wrestle with the meaning of His comments and turned His attention to the blind man. And every single action taken by Jesus is filled with powerful symbolism and meaning. John describes Him as spitting on the ground and making mud from the dirt and His own saliva. Then Jesus took the mud and spread it over the blind man’s eyes. When finished, He instructed the blind man to somehow make his way to the Pool of Siloam, where he was supposed to wash away the mud.

This entire scene was meant to instruct the disciples. Jesus had just told them, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Now, He has shown them an example of the task they had been assigned by God. They didn’t understand it yet, but they had been chosen by God and been given the responsibility of opening the eyes of the blind. And Jesus was giving them a physical demonstration of the spiritual transformation that He had come to bring to those born into the darkness of sin.

John provides no explanation regarding Jesus’ actions. We are not told why He chose to mix His saliva with dirt and apply it to the man’s eyes. His instructions for the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam come with no commentary. But all of it had to have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Yet, the blind man never utters a word. He simply stands there, blindly oblivious to what Jesus is doing, but faithfully willing to do whatever this unidentified and unseen man told him to do. When Jesus told him to wash in the pool, the man obeyed. And John describes what happened next.

So the man went and washed and came back seeing! – John 9:7 NLT

This man’s life had just been radically transformed by an encounter with the Son of God. Born into darkness, he was suddenly able to see for the very first time in his life. As amazed as this man must have been at the transformation he experienced, it was the disciples whom Jesus intended to impress with His actions. His healing of the man born blind was meant to be a powerful demonstration of the Father’s power and a sign of their future ministry and mission.

At one point the disciples of John the Baptist had approached Jesus with a question from their master.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 NLT). And Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6 NLT). Jesus was informing John that everything He did was in keeping with His Father’s will. The evidence for His identity was clearly visible in the things that He did. Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

In a real sense, Jesus’ healing of the blind man was designed to open the eyes of His own disciples. The light of the world was illuminating the darkness of their own understanding, helping them to grasp the reality of who He was and what He had come to do. But their lesson 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