Our Sinless, Suffering Savior

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 ESV

One of the truly fascinating things about studying Scripture is how the Spirit of God constantly reveals new insights that had previously been hidden from view. So often, we can find ourselves reading through a passage and focusing on a portion that seems particularly relevant to our current circumstances. Then, at a later date, we read the same passage and discover something we had overlooked. For instance, I had never noticed the statement made by Luke in chapter 21, verse 37.

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. – Luke 21:37 NLT

I had assumed that Jesus returned each evening to the nearby village of Bethany where Lazarus and his two sisters resided. I had never noticed that Jesus and His disciples had actually been camping out on the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern walls of Jerusalem.

But on this night, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was located on the Mount of Olives. Once there, He instructed His disciples to pray, then He took Peter, James, and John and found a more isolated spot where He informed them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NLT). According to Matthew, Jesus was “anguished and distressed” (Matthew 26:37 NLT). As the moment of His suffering and death drew nearer, Jesus could feel the intensity and immensity of the burden He was about to bear. The scene as described by the gospel writers paints an image of increasing isolation as Jesus moves from the company of the 11 to the more intimate companions of Peter, James, and John. And then, it ends with Jesus in completely isolated and alone, except for the presence of His Heavenly Father.

…he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed… – Luke 22:41 ESV

From 11 to three to one. Jesus was entering a period marked by extreme sorrow and pain, and none of His disciples could fathom its weight or empathize with His suffering. Matthew describes Jesus as bowing down “with his face to the ground” (Matthew 26:39 NLT). Mark provides an added detail that describes the intensity of Jesus’ actions.

he fell on the ground – Mark 14:35 ESV

Jesus was emotionally vested in the moment. His entire being was experiencing the full brunt of the responsibility given to Him by His Father. In this seminal moment of Jesus’ life, we are given a vivid portrait of both His divinity and humanity. He was fully God and fully human, and nowhere does this unique union of two essences become more evident than in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Son of God, Jesus declares His intention to faithfully fulfill the will of His Father. But as the Son of Man, Jesus displays His humanity and a natural aversion to the intense suffering He is about to undergo. He openly and honestly shares His heart with the Father.

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus was not an automaton, preprogrammed to mechanically adhere to a predetermined set of instructions. He was not simply going through the motions. And we tend to forget that, as a man, Jesus would endure all the intense pain, heartache, physical and emotional trauma that any other man would feel who was forced to endure scourging and crucifixion. And yet, He was prepared to do it on His own initiative and not because He was being forced to do so.

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

At one time, Jesus had described Himself as “the good shepherd” and added that “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT). And He made it perfectly clear that His sacrifice was voluntary and not coerced.

“I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:15 NLT

Jesus did not have a death wish. As a human, He knew that the pain ahead would be excruciating. Yet, as God, He knew it was also inescapable. His human nature was revolted at the prospect of death by crucifixion. He knew it would be like nothing He had ever experienced before or ever again. And, in allowing Himself to endure such a devastatingly cruel form of execution, Jesus was making Himself one with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

One of the things we fail to recognize is that the mental, emotional, and psychological suffering Jesus endured prior to the cross is what makes Him an empathetic and understanding Savior. He understands our pain because He has endured it. He knows the reality of the fear and apprehension that so often grips our lives because He experienced it. He is intimately familiar with those moments when our will stands in direct opposition to God’s. But what He models for us is a complete reliance upon and submission to His Father’s sovereign will for His life.

“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus’ death on the cross was not performance art. He was not pretending to bleed. He wasn’t putting on a well-rehearsed show that appeared real but was really all an act. No, the pain was intense. The beatings took their toll. The nails pierced through real flesh, severing real veins, and spilling real human blood. His muscles were cramped. His breath grew labored. His sight became blurred from the sweat, the blood, and the unrelenting pain. And yet, knowing all of this long before it happened, Jesus was willing to endure it – all for us.

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

Luke provides us with insight into the intensity of Jesus’ prayer time. This was not a “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” kind of prayer. It was so emotionally exhausting and draining that “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43 NLT). But even this divinely ordained respite failed to make the rest of Jesus’ prayer time any less difficult. If anything, it seems to have renewed and re-energized Jesus’ efforts.

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. – Luke 22:44 NLT

It is impossible to know the exact meaning behind this reference to sweat falling like drops of blood. Suffice it to say, this was an intensely emotional experience for Jesus. Every aspect of His being was engaged and impacted by this moment. Yet, both Mark and Matthew record that while Jesus was pouring out His heart and exhausting every last vestige of emotional energy, the disciples were fast asleep (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37). Luke seems to cut them some slack by indicating that they were “exhausted from grief” (Luke 22:45 NLT).

It’s interesting to consider that Jesus was grieved, yet He faced it by asking that His Heavenly Father’s will be done. He knew that His sorrow was real, but that it took a backseat to the divine plan for mankind’s redemption. But the disciples faced their sorrow through escape. They sought relief from their grief by sleep rather than prayer. In a sense, they sought their own will. Instead of facing the unappealing prospect of suffering by submitting to God’s will, they chose the temporary prospect of sleep.

So, Jesus woke them and warned, “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (Luke 22:46 NLT). What Luke chooses to leave out of his narrative is that Jesus directed this statement to Peter, one of the three whom He had chosen to accompany Him further into the garden. And Jesus made this statement the first time He found Peter, James, and John asleep. 

He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

This was the same man who had boldly declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33 ESV). And yet, Jesus knew that it would only be a matter of time before Peter would deny even knowing Him. What Peter needed was divine help, not sleep. What Peter should have been doing was praying. But he was about to learn the truth behind Jesus’ words: The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

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 Glimpse of His Glory

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. – Luke 9:28-36 ESV

Verse 27 of chapter 9 provides a link or bridge between Jesus’ teachings regarding the cost of discipleship and Luke’s account of the transfiguration.

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:27 ESV

Jesus made this rather cryptic statement immediately after declaring, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26 ESV). And this had followed close behind Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for refusing to accept God’s will concerning Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then had balked at the idea of Jesus dire pronouncement that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He had actually rebuked Jesus for saying such things.

The discussions recorded in chapter 9 reveal the growing tension among Jesus’ disciples as they try to reconcile their understanding of His identity as the Messiah with His speech and actions. They were confused by all His talk of suffering and death because it made no sense. When they heard Him tell the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV), they had been stunned.

Jesus knew His disciples well, so He was fully aware of their apprehensions and fears. It’s likely that some of them were having second thoughts about their decision to follow Him. His arguments with the religious leaders had become embarrassing. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about Jesus and His followers. People pointed fingers at them. The disciples must have cringed every time someone said Jesus was crazy or possessed of a demon. His habit of speaking in parables left many confused, including them. So, when Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 ESV), it was a not-so-subtle reference to their doubts and fears.

And that is why Jesus quickly added, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1 NLT). He was not done providing His disciples with further proof of His identity and mission. He was about to confirm Peter’s earlier confession with incontrovertible evidence that He truly was the Messiah. A handful of His disciples were going to get a glimpse behind the curtain, providing them with front-row seats to a spectacular display of Jesus’ glory. Rather than the plainly-clad, thoroughly-human Rabbi they saw every day, they were going to see the glorified Son of God.

Luke’s buildup to this remarkable event is somewhat disappointing. He simply states that about eight days later, Jesus took three of His disciples “and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:28-29 ESV). Not exactly a riveting description of what must have been a momentous and life-changing experience for Peter, James, and John. Mark simply states that Jesus was transfigured before them. The Greek word is metamorphoō, and it means “to change into another form, to transform.”

Jesus’ appearance was suddenly and radically changed. We’re not told how it happened, or long it took for the transformation to take place. But Mark does give us a brief description of the final result: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). This imagery brings to mind John’s description of Jesus in the opening of his gospel.

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

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

The fact that John was one of the three disciples who were privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus helps to explain the nature of his description of Jesus as light.

And both Luke and Mark’s accounts of the transfiguration seem to provide a subtle link to another spectacular event where God’s glory was put on full display. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

The gospel authors seem to be tying the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses on Mount Sinai to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to them like a dazzling light, like a consuming fire. And accompanying Jesus was Moses himself along with the prophet Elijah.

Just imagine this spectacular scene. The three disciples are looking on in stunned silence as they witness Jesus, ablaze with glory, talking with two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. We’re not told how the disciples recognized these two men, whom they had never seen before. It could be that as the disciples overheard the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, their names were mentioned, or some clue was given as to their identity. Luke provides a bit more detail concerning the content of their discussion with Jesus.

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. – Luke 9:30-31 NLT

Peter, James, and John were given the privilege of listening in as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His “exodus.” The Greek word Luke used is exodos, and it means “departing.” There were no two people better qualified to discuss the topic of departing than Moses and Elijah. Moses had led the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. But He also had “departed” this life in a rather extraordinary manner.

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho…So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. The Lord buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. – Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-7 NLT

When Moses’ work was done and his life’s days were finished, his burial service was conducted by God Himself.

And the account of Elijah’s “exodus” from this life is no less spectacular. The book of 2 Kings records that Elijah was walking along with his successor, Elisha, when something remarkable took place.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 NLT

These two “experts” had personal “exodus” experience and were sharing their insights with Jesus. They discussed with Him the events that would surround His coming exodus from this world. And their words would have supported all that Jesus had told the disciples. They discussed the very events Jesus had predicted would happen in Jerusalem and that Peter had rebuked Him for sharing. And that’s when Peter spoke up. He couldn’t remain silent any longer.

As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” – Luke 9:33 NLT

Nervous excitement got the better of him. And whether he realized it or not, Peter stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. In a desire to prolong the moment, Peter suggested that he, James, and John build three small shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to live in. The Greek word he used is skēnē, which translates into “tabernacle.” It was almost as if Peter wanted to set up three little temples or holy structures to house these three extraordinary individuals. We can only speculate what was going through Peter’s mind, but it could be that he viewed the appearance of Elijah and Moses as the sign that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth.

The prophet Malachi had recorded the following promise of God:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Malachi 4:5 ESV

And Moses had predicted that God would raise up another prophet like him.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

And God gave Moses further insight into the role of this coming prophet.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The final words in God’s prophecy are particularly pertinent to what happens next. Peter had expressed his misguided desire to prolong this holy convocation on the mountain top. But God interrupts his little speech and declares, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

In essence, God was telling Peter to shut up and listen to what Jesus was trying to tell him. He had no business rebuking Jesus. There was no need for Peter to build tabernacles. He simply needed to listen.

And just as quickly as it had all started, it was suddenly over. The glory diminished, Elijah and Moses vanished, and the three disciples found themselves standing alone with Jesus. The two Old Testament prophets had made their exodus from the scene. Now, all that was left was for Jesus to face His own exodus from this world. He still had to face the reality of the cross. In a very short period of time, Jesus would find Himself alone. There would be no Elijah or Moses to comfort Him. His disciples would abandon Him. And rather than being cloaked in glory, Jesus would be mockingly draped in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He would be ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. And later, He would make His exodus from this life. All according to the sovereign will of His Heavenly Father.

God would have Peter remember: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19 NLT). And it seems that Peter and his companions took God seriously because “they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36 ESV). This once-in-a-lifetime experience had improved their hearing and increased their receptivity. From that moment forward they couldn’t help but see Jesus in a different light.

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

Only Believe

49 While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” 51 And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. 52 And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. 56 And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened. – Luke 8:49-56 ESV

It is easy to get caught up in reading Luke’s description of the woman’s miraculous healing and forget all about Jairus. This poor man had been forced to bide his time and wait for Jesus to finish His conversation with the woman. There’s little doubt that his faith was bolstered by what he had witnessed, but it must have been difficult for him to hide his frustration at the unexpected delay. From his fatherly perspective, he would have seen his daughter’s circumstance as more pressing and immediate. The woman had lived with her chronic condition for 12 years and she could have waited a bit longer. After all, his daughter was dying.

But the chronology of these two events is critical. The woman’s decision to touch Jesus’ garment had caused what appeared to be an unexpected delay that appears to have compromised Jesus’ plans and placed Him in a difficult situation. While He had been dealing with the woman, the young girl had died. And Luke records that the news of her death came abruptly and bluntly.

While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” – Luke 8:49 NLT

The delay had proved costly. Yes, the woman had received healing from her debilitating medical condition, but it had been at the expense of the young girl’s life. And it seems that Luke wanted his readers to wrestle with the conflicting emotions this sad scene stirred up. Immediately, one is forced to question what would have happened had the woman not touched the edge of Jesus’ garment. What if she had not been able to force her way through the crowd and make contact with Jesus? There would have been no delay and the young girl might still be alive. What kind of thoughts must have been going through the mind of Jairus as he was forced to process this devasting news? Was he angry with Jesus? Did he blame the woman?

Neither Luke nor Mark provides us with answers to any of these questions. Both Gospel writers simply mention that Jesus overheard the messengers delivering the fateful news to Jairus. But rather than expressing His sorrow over Jairus’ loss or apologizing for the untimely delay, Jesus tells the grieving father, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50 NLT).

Let the weight of this statement sink in. Jairus has just been told that his 12-year-old daughter has died. And the one man who he believed could have healed her is telling him not to fear. In a sense, Jesus is encouraging Jairus not to allow this news to frighten or upset him. Instead, he is to replace his fear with faith. He is to believe.

But Jairus had believed. He had come to Jesus, kneeled at His feet, and begged Him to help his dying daughter. Mark records the man’s impassioned plea.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

He had believed that Jesus could do something about her condition. But now, it was too late. She was dead. And Jairus must have struggled to control his frustration and anger at this callous-sounding comment from Jesus. The time for believing was gone.

This whole scene is similar to one recorded by John in his gospel. He tells of another delay that resulted in death. Jesus had been called to the home of His dear friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent Jesus a message informing Him that Lazarus was ill. But upon hearing this news, Jesus delayed His departure for two days, then informed His disciples, “Lazarus has died,  and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, He was informed that the body of Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. And Martha, the sister of Lazarus, expressed her disappointment and frustration with Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

And Mary would echo her feelings.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

But go back and look at what Jesus had told His disciples.

“…for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” – John 11:15 ESV

Jesus had delayed His departure on purpose. The two days had been more than enough time for Lazarus to die and to be buried. Jesus had purposefully created what appeared to be a completely hopeless scenario that even His disciples would have seen as beyond His power to remedy. But Jesus had allowed it so that they might believe. He wasn’t surprised by the news of Lazarus’ death. He wasn’t even concerned that, after four days, the body of Lazarus would have already begun to decay. He stepped up to the tomb, commanded the stone to be rolled away, and confidently shouted, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John records, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV). And the words that Jesus spoke to Martha just before this incredible event took place must have been ringing in her ears.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” – John 11:40 ESV

So, when Jesus told Jairus, Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”, He meant it. Because Jesus knew what He was about to do. And if Jairus would only continue to believe, he too would see the glory of God.

Jesus accompanied the grieving father to his home and invited Peter, James, and John to join them. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a scene of great sorrow. “The house was filled with people weeping and wailing” (Luke 8:52 NLT). The mourning process had already begun. The funeral preparations were well underway. But Jesus interrupted the proceedings with a shocking pronouncement.

Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep. – Luke 8:52 NLT

His words must have come across as either painfully callous and insensitive or simply misinformed. In either case, the people responded with derisive laughter. But Jesus, ignoring their reaction, had them removed from the scene. Then, accompanied by the deceased girl’s parents and His three disciples, Jesus entered her room. As Jairus and his wife wept and the disciples looked on in disbelief, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and spoke to her.

Child, arise.” – Luke 8:54 ESV

And according to Mark’s account, the transformation was instantaneous.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. – Mark 5:42 ESV

She went from being fully dead to being fully alive – in an instant. And her amazing transformation was almost as though she had simply been awakened from asleep. For Jesus, restoring the dead girl to life had been no more difficult than waking up someone from sleep. It’s no coincidence that Jesus used the waking-sleeping analogy in both of these death-to-life scenarios. Even when Jesus had known that Lazarus had died, He had told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV).

Death was no obstacle for Jesus, the Son of God. As John put it in his gospel account, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And Jesus would later refer to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). As the Son of God, Jesus was the author of all life. He was the giver of life. And He would soon prove Himself to be the conqueror of death.

These two events, the healing of the woman and the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were meant to encourage His disciples to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be. As impressed as they had been with His calming of the storm and His exorcism of the demons, this final miracle must have left the disciples in complete shock. Luke records that Jairus and his wife were amazed by this unprecedented display of supernatural power. But they were not alone. The three disciples who had accompanied Jesus into the room were blown away as well. Peter, James, and John couldn’t believe their eyes. They had just witnessed Jesus do the impossible. And they must have been chomping at the bit to tell their companions what they had just seen. But before they could rush out the door and spread the news of this amazing miracle, Jesus threw cold water on their enthusiasm. They heard Him prohibit the girl’s parents from disclosing the nature of this miracle to anyone.

Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened. – Luke 8:56 LT

At first blush, this command seems odd. Why wouldn’t Jesus want the news of the girl’s miraculous death-to-life experience to get out? If He was trying to convince everyone that He was the Messiah, wouldn’t this incredible display of divine power seal the deal? But it is important to remember that Jesus was on a divine timeline. His mission was on a tightly orchestrated schedule that was all part of God’s preordained plan. Jesus was also a student of human nature. He knew that if news of this particular miracle got out, the people would attempt to make Him their king. Their rationale would be that anyone with that kind of power would have no problem overcoming the Romans. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come. He had more ministry to accomplish and much more training to complete with His disciples.

And this amazing miracle was meant to provide His disciples with undeniable proof of His power and authority, but to also clarify the nature of His mission. He had not come to be their king. At least, not yet. He had not come to destroy the Romans and restore the political fortunes of Israel. No, He came to restore the spiritually dead to new life. And that was the message He had communicated to Martha just before He restored her brother to life.

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

The young girl and Lazarus would both end up dying – again. Their new lives were temporary, not permanent. And they would both need to experience the new birth that Jesus described to Nicodemus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [from above]  he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

The real resurrection from death to life is yet to come. And it provides not only new life but life eternal – a never-ending, uninterrupted existence with God the Father and His Son.

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 Counter-Cultural Commitment

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26 ESV

There are some biblical scholars who have noted the discrepancies between Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and what Luke describes in chapter six of his gospel. Based on this, they have titled Luke’s version as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” One of the reasons for this is the location. Luke clearly states that Jesus came down from the mountain and “stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17 ESV), while Matthew indicates that Jesus delivered His message while “on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). But then there is also an obvious difference in the content of the message. Luke records that Jesus’ sermon contained four beatitudes and an equal number of woes, while Matthew’s account has Him delivering nine beatitudes and no woes at all. Yet it does not seem necessary to conclude that these were two separate sermons delivered on two different occasions. Once again, each gospel author had a primary purpose behind his effort to chronicle the words and the works of Jesus. As a result, they chose to include or exclude different details in an effort to support their thesis and to better communicate with their particular audience.

Luke’s mention of Jesus standing on “a level place” could simply mean that Jesus found a more stable place from which to deliver His message. The Greek word is pedinos, and it derives from a root word that means “foot.” In a sense, the word pedinos refers to a place that is “easy on the feet.” Jesus was about to give a lengthy message and wanted to find a comfortable place from which to deliver it. So, He found a relatively level spot on the mountainside from which to address the crowd.

But Matthew and Luke are in agreement when they mention that Jesus focused His attention on His disciples. Matthew records that as soon as Jesus sat down, “his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus “lifted up his eyes on his disciples” (Luke 6:20 ESV) and began to speak to them. What He was about to say was primarily directed at His disciples, the twelve men He had just chosen to be His apostles. But there was a large crowd that had gathered to hear Him speak and His words would have relevance for them as well. It is important to recall that the audience contained two types of people: “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV). There were those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and those who were there out of curiosity. Even since John the Baptist had begun his ministry in the wilderness of Judea, news had spread about the possibility of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Rumors had spread about the arrival of the Messiah. And as the news got out about Jesus’ miracles, more and more people were drawn to see if this Rabbi from Nazareth was the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus begins His message with the provocative statement: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 ESV). Right off the bat, He addresses the issue of the kingdom. But He does so in a way that must have left everyone in the audience baffled and surprised. He associated the Kindom of God with the poor, something no self-respecting Jew would have done. To their way of thinking, to be poor was a curse. It was a sign of God’s displeasure. But Jesus says that they are actually “blessed” (makarios). The Greek word conveys the idea of being fortunate or well off because of the favor of God. But to the Jews, the blessings of God were always associated with abundance and riches, not poverty and deprivation.

To those who were living in poverty, this message would have been encouraging and confusing at the same time. It made no sense. It went against everything they believed and understood about God. But what they probably failed to grasp was that Jesus was talking about a different kind of poverty. Matthew describes Jesus addressing “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). Jesus seems to have been focusing on spiritual poverty or humility. He is describing the individual who understands his or her total reliance upon God for all their needs. They are submissive and obedient, willing to place their hope and trust in the gracious hands of their loving and merciful God. And Jesus countered this mindset by pronouncing a woe on all those who viewed themselves as rich or self-sufficient.

“…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24 ESV

Years later, the apostle John would record in the book of Revelation the words that he heard Jesus speak to the church in Laodicea. Jesus accused them of spiritual pride and arrogance, a condition that had left them with a lukewarm faith that Jesus found repugnant:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that the Kingdom of God was reserved for those who recognized their spiritual poverty and their need for a Savior. There was no place in God’s kingdom for the prideful, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Next, Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21 ESV), and He counters it with “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Once again, Jesus is speaking in spiritual and not physical terms. But His words concerning hunger and blessedness would have been just as confusing to His audience as His mention of the blessing of poverty. Physical hunger was an everyday reality for many in Israel. The exorbitant taxes of the Roman government made it difficult for the average Israelite to make ends meet. So, where was the blessing in that. But Matthew reveals that Jesus was focusing on a specific kind of hunger.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6 ESV

As Jesus had told Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). And as Jesus would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:4 ESV). According to Jesus, there was more to life than food and drink. The Kingdom of God was reserved for those who placed a higher priority on doing the will of God than on their own physical needs. His disciples were going to learn that deprivation and hunger would be part of their everyday experience as His followers. They would occasionally go without meals. They would sleep in uncomfortable conditions, endure many hardships, face trials, and find themselves despised by the religious leaders of israel. But in the end, they would find satisfaction in following Jesus.

And Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV). Which He counters with, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Jesus wanted His disciples to know that life was going to be difficult on this side of heaven. His coming was not going to usher in an earthly utopia where Rome was defeated and Israel once again enjoyed a renewed period of peace and prosperity. The days ahead would be filled with trials, difficulties, and sorrow. But the future would be filled with joy and laughter. The days ahead would require great sacrifice, but the future reward was well worth it. But for all those who wanted to focus on living their best life now, to enjoy heaven on earth, Jesus warns that the future will be a time of weeping and mourning.

Finally, Jesus tells His disciples, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22 ESV). But He also warns them, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26 ESV).

These men were going to learn that following Jesus was a costly endeavor. There were hoping for immediate reward, in the form of positions of power and responsibility in His earthly kingdom. But they would soon discover that their alignment with Jesus was going to be anything but an earthly promotion. They would be hated, reviled, and slandered because of their association with Jesus. And the day would come when they had to watch their friend, teacher, and Messiah die on a cross as punishment for His crime of being the King of the Jews. If they were looking for the praise of men they had signed up for the wrong team. Their mission would face constant opposition. Their efforts would be ridiculed and their words would be rejected. But Jesus assures them that they will find favor with God and a place in His Kingdom.

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

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

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

The Unwise, the Powerless, and the Despised

1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. Luke 5:1-11 ESV

When comparing the four gospel accounts it becomes readily apparent that there are minor discrepancies that some have labeled as errors or contradictions. But these differences are simply evidence of each author’s attempt to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry from his own personal perspective. Even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, each man was allowed to craft the narrative so that it effectively supported his primary thesis. This entailed the decision to add and omit specific details concerning Jesus’ life. In some cases, the authors took the liberty to rearrange the chronological order of some events in order to accentuate a key aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry.

In chapter five of Luke’s gospel, he opens with the words, “on one occasion.” He then tells the story of when Jesus addressed the growing crowds on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee by speaking from a boat belonging to Simon Peter. The Greek word Luke used is ginomai, which means “it came to pass” or ”it happened that.” At first glance, it would appear that Luke is placing this event after the one in which Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Yet in Mark’s gospel, he reverses the order. But Luke is not contradicting Marks’ account, he is simply rearranging the sequence of events to better support his primary point: The power and authority of Jesus.

Luke has been highlighting the words of Jesus and the impact they had on those who heard Him speak. As Jesus made His way through Galilee, speaking in the synagogues on the Sabbath, the crowds had begun to grow in size. And as the people heard Him teach and watched Him heal the sick and cast out demons, they grew increasingly more amazed.

“What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!” – Luke 4:36 NLT

The rumors concerning Jesus began to spread, and each time He arrived in a new town, the size of the crowd would be larger than ever before. So, Luke recounts one such occasion, when Jesus was in the town of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Luke reports that “the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1 ESV), so Jesus was forced to use a nearby fishing boat as an impromptu speaking platform. It just so happened that the owner of the boat was a man named Simon Peter, the brother of Andrew. By arranging the story in this order, Luke is explaining to his readers how Jesus ended up as a guest in Simon’s home, where He healed the fisherman’s mother-in-law.

But Luke’s primary point was to stress the power behind the words of Jesus. After Jesus had finished addressing the crowd from the safety of Simon’s boat, He commanded Simon to go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish” (Luke 5:4 NLT). It’s important to note that Simon was a seasoned fisherman and this command from an unknown itinerant rabbi would have sounded absurd. Yet, Simon addressed Jesus as “Master,” a term that reveals his deep respect for Jesus as a teacher.

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” Luke 5:5 NLT

Simon explained his reticence but obeyed. His compliance reveals that he must have known something about Jesus’ reputation and was willing to do as ordered. And he was not disappointed.

…this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! – Luke 5:6 NLT

The catch was so large that Simon feared his boat would sink because of the weight of the fish-filled net. He and his brother Andrew were forced to call their business partners, James and John, to come to his aid. All four of these men were blown away by this experience. In all their years of fishing on the Sea of Galilee, they had never seen anything like this. It was clearly a miracle and Simon immediately recognized that Jesus was far more than just another rabbi. He fell to his knees in deep humiliation and reverence, shouting, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man” (Luke 5:8 NLT). It’s unclear why Simon felt the immediate need to confess his sinfulness, but it seems obvious that he recognized Jesus to be a holy man. This rough fisherman was struck by the miraculous power of Jesus’ words. And it seems apparent that Simon had experienced some doubt when Jesus had first commanded Him to “go out where it is deeper.” Now, he was convinced that Jesus was someone special, a holy man of God who had the ability to perform divinely empowered miracles.

Struck by his own unworthiness to be in the presence of such a godly man, Simon asked Jesus to “depart.” But little did he knew that his experience with Jesus was just beginning. And while this miracle had left Simon on his knees in awe and humiliation, in time he would learn the true identity of this relatively unknown rabbi from Nazareth.

In response to Simon’s plea that He depart, Jesus simply stated, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” (Luke 5:10 NLT). Jesus informed Simon that his life was about to change forever. Everything he had come to know was about to be radically and unalterably transformed. And the experience had such an impact on Simon, Andrews, James, and John, that “as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus” (Luke 5:11 NLT).

Don’t miss that Simon and his companions left behind the largest catch of fish they had ever experienced. But Jesus left behind the crowd of people standing on the shoreline. This was not about miracles and masses of people. It was not about nets filled with fish or shorelines filled with curious crowds. Jesus was calling the men who would walk with Him for the next three years and carry on His ministry after He was gone. The Master was choosing His disciples and preparing the way for the future of His Kingdom. And Simon, Andrew, James, and John would become four of the 12 men whom God had set apart as the future ambassadors for the Kingdom of Heaven.

As the apostle Paul would later write, these four men became the vanguard for a host of individuals who would form the unlikely and undeserving citizens of Christ’s future Kingdom.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

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

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

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

The Impeccable Timing of God

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 ESV

Chapter one ends with the note: “the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80 ESV). In a single sentence, Luke compresses the timeline of John’s life, taking the reader from his birth to the early days of his earthly ministry. In the space of 23 words, Luke has taken John from the womb to the wilderness. The one appointed to herald the arrival of the Messiah is now positioned to perform his God-ordained role. It appears that, at an early age, John left the confines of his family home and relocated to the wilderness of Judah, where he lived an ascetic lifestyle. Matthew records that John lived a simple and somewhat spartan life.

Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:4 NLT

When the angel Gabriel had announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, he had added the command that they were to deny him access to “wine or strong drink” (Luke 1:15). He would be Spirit-filled (Luke 1:15) and his entire life would be dedicated to one purpose: To prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Matthew records that, when John was questioned as to his identity, he responded:

“I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 NLT 

He was quoting directly from Isaiah 40:3, where, centuries earlier, the prophet had recorded his Spirit-inspired prophecy concerning John’s future earthly ministry.

A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God. – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

The messenger was in place. Now John turns his attention to the birth of the Messiah. To do so, he begins by setting up the historical setting into which the Son of God would be born. As we have seen before, Luke puts a high priority on time and timing. He goes out of his way to convey that the birth of the Messiah took place at a particular time and in a very specific place, according to the perfectly timed will of God.

He begins chapter two with the mention of two important individuals, which helps to place the birth of Jesus within a historical context.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. – Luke 2:1-2 NLT

The first man mentioned in this passage is Augustus Caesar, who served as the emperor of Rome from 63 BC to AD 14. His birth name was Gaius Octavius, and he was the nephew of Julius Caesar. His uncle eventually adopted him and appointed him to be his successor. Upon Julius’ death, Gaius Octavius found his path to the throne blocked by others who aspired to the position. But eventually, he consolidated his power and secured his role as the first Roman emperor.

Another interesting and pertinent note regarding Augustus Caesar was his reputation as a divine being. In 42 BC, the Roman Senate had officially declared his uncle, Julius Caesar, to be divine, giving him the title of divus Iulius (“the divine Julius”). When he became the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar would assume the title of divi filius (“son of the god”). And it is no coincidence that Jesus, the true Son of God, was born during the reign of this man-appointed god.

The other individual Luke mentions is Quirinius, who is said to have been the governor of Syria. There has been much debate about this statement because, at the time Jesus was born, Herod the Great was governor. Some argue that this is evidence of a biblical error. But the easier and more likely explanation is that Luke is referring to two different censuses that were taken. Historically, we know that Quirinius served as governor on two different occasions (3-2 BC and AD 6-7). Herod had served as governor until 4 BC. The first census went out during his governorship, which places the birth of Jesus sometime around late 5 or early 4 BC

The phrase, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” can better be translated as “This was the first registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Luke is differentiating between two different censuses.  During the governorship of Herod, Augustus Caesar issued his first census, which required that Joseph return to his ancestral town of Bethlehem in order to be registered for taxation purposes. Augustus Caesar would later issue another decree which called for a second census. This took place somewhere around AD 6 and 7. It is mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts (Acts 5:37). The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions this second census and links it to an uprising led by Judas of Galilee. Luke is simply trying to provide “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) that gives an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

This decree, issued by the Roman Emperor, required that each Jew be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3 ESV). As stated earlier, this census was for taxation purposes. Since land was one of the greatest assets any Jew possessed, they were required to return to their hometown in order to assess the value of their inherited property. Since Joseph was of “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), he returned to the small town of Bethlehem, where his ancestor, David, had been born.

Once again, Luke is emphasizing the role that timing played in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Had not the emperor issued his decree when he did, Joseph would not have made the trip to Bethlehem, especially with a pregnant wife. But he was required by law to travel from Nazareth in Galilee all the way to Bethlehem in Judah. This would have been a 90-mile trek that took as many as four days to make. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan and so that the prophetic promises found in Scripture might be fulfilled. Centuries earlier, the prophet Micah had recorded that the Messiah would be born in the small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 NLT

And Luke announces that while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to give birth. This was all part of God’s impeccable timing. Luke wants the reader to know that every aspect of this story was divinely preordained and happened according to plan. There was no chance involved. Nothing was left to fate. From Caesar’s decree to Joseph’s lineage, it was all part of God’s sovereign will. And Luke ends this section by stating that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 ESV).

The Son of God had entered the world, but there was no place for Him. Rather than giving birth to the King of kings in a well-appointed palace assisted by servants and in an atmosphere of splendor, Mary was forced to deliver God incarnate in less-than-regal surroundings. There were no royal dignitaries present. The birth of the heir-apparent was not met with the cheers of adoring citizens. The humble village of Bethlehem was a far cry from the royal palace in Jerusalem. But this was the way God intended for His Son to enter the world. And the apostle Paul described the Messiah’s invasion of earth in stark but highly significant terms.

though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

As Mary and Joseph looked at their small, newborn son, they were filled with the usual awe and wonder that all parents feel at such a time. But there must have been a certain amount of fear and apprehension. What did the future hold for their Son? What would it be like raising the Son of God? And as they celebrated the joyous occasion of their son’s birth and pondered His uncertain future, the rest of the world went on as usual. They were completely unaware that anything of significance had taken place.

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

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

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









In the Fullness of Time

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66 ESV

When Mary made her trip to visit Elizabeth in Judah, her cousin would have been in the sixth month of her pregnancy (Luke 1:36). Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, then returned home (Luke 1:56). It would appear that Mary returned home to Nazareth before Elizabeth gave birth.

But not long after Mary’s departure, Elizabeth’s due date arrived and she bore a son just as the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah (Luke 1:12). For the entire nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had suffered from temporary muteness because he had failed to believe the message of the angel.

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

It appears that Zechariah’s ailment included an inability to hear as well. When his neighbors attempt to question him about the child’s name, they are forced to use hand signals, which would indicate that he was deaf as well as dumb. The Greek word Luke used to refer to Zechariah’s muteness is kōphos, and it can also be used to refer to deafness. So, for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah was forced to live in silence, unable to speak or hear anything. And this condition would have made his vocation as a priest virtually impossible to fulfill. He lived in a state of silent isolation, waiting for the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy. And no one could have been more anxious or excited about Elizabeth’s due date than Zechariah. He was looking forward to seeing the fulfillment of all his prayers, but he must have also had high hopes that the birth would bring about the restoration of his speech and hearing.

Throughout this chapter, Luke puts a great deal of emphasis on time. Gabriel told Zechariah that his words would “be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). Luke records that Zechariah left the temple and returned home “when his time of service was ended” (Luke 1:23). Then we are given time markers focused on the stages of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

for five months she kept herself hidden – Luke 1:24 ESV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth – Luke 1:26 ESV

“…behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month…” – Luke 1:36 ESV

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

Then Luke begins this section with the statement, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son” (Luke 1:57 ESV). Everything was happening according to God’s divine timeline. While Elizabeth’s pregnancy was normal, in that it lasted the usual nine months, it was supernatural and sovereignly ordained. Luke does not want his readers to forget that she was advanced in years and had suffered from barrenness. The birth of this baby was anything but normal, and the timing of all these events was meant to remind the reader that these were extraordinary and divinely sanctioned days in the history of Israel. A formerly barren woman was giving birth to a son. A young virgin girl was three months pregnant and carrying within her the Son of God. And it was all happening according to God’s preordained and perfectly timed plan.

The apostle Paul emphasized the impeccable timing behind God’s plan.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman… – Galalians 4:4 ESV

Time had reached its fulness or completeness. Each element of the plan was happening at just the right time and at the prescribed moment that God had preordained. There was no chance involved. It was all part of the perfect will of God Almighty.

Elizabeth gave birth to a son – just as Gabriel had said she would. And the new parents were surrounded by friends and neighbors who came to celebrate this joyous occasion with them. Even they recognized the hand of God behind Elizabeth’s pregnancy and delivery, and rejoiced that “the Lord had shown great mercy to her” (Luke 1:58 ESV). But they were completely ignorant of God’s plans for this newly born infant. They had no way of knowing that he would “be great before the Lord” and “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15), or that he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16 ESV). To them, he was just another healthy baby boy who would be a welcome addition to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. This faithful priest now had a son and an heir. 

And because this baby would likely be the only child born to this aging couple, the friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth fully expected them to name the boy after his father. But eight days after giving birth to her son, Elizabeth surprised her friends by informing them that his name would be John. She and Zechariah chose to reveal this news on the day scheduled for their son’s circumcision. This God-ordained rite was meant as a sign that their newborn son was dedicated or set apart to God. It was a sign of the covenant that God had made between Himself and the offspring of Abraham.

“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations…” – Genesis 17:9-12 ESV

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that their son had been graciously given to them by God and that he had a divine mission to accomplish. They were merely stewards, charged with the task of keeping God’s vessel pure and prepared for his future role: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:170 ESV). Gabriel had warned them to keep their son away from wine and strong drink. He would be filled with the Spirit of God and set apart as an instrument to accomplish God’s divine plan. And this godly couple was determined to follow the words of the angel of God. When Zechariah was questioned about their strange choice of name, he used a writing tablet to affirm his wife’s answer, scrawling the words: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63 ESV).

At that exact moment in time, God restored Zechariah’s ability to speak and hear. By obeying the word of the angel and naming his son, John, Zechariah proved his faith and was healed of his infirmity. And the first thing he did was bless God. We are not told what Zechariah said, but it seems likely that he reiterated some of what Gabriel had said regarding John’s future role. Luke indicates that “fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65 ESV).

In blessing God, Zechariah must have divulged some of what the angel Gabriel had said. This news obviously made an impact on those who were in the range of Zechariah’s voice. And the fact had not escaped them that Zechariah’s voice had been miraculously and instantaneously restored. There was something supernatural going on in their midst. But they had no way of knowing that God had just invaded time and space, sending his servant, John, so that he might one day begin his ministry of announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repentance. Three decades would pass before the baby born to Zechariah and Elizabeth launched his divinely ordained ministry. In the meantime, another baby would be born to a young virgin girl named Mary. Months, years, and decades would pass. But God was at work. He was methodically and painstakingly preparing the way for the long-awaited Messiah. And in the fullness of time, His plan of redemption would begin.

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

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

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









The King Has Come

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45 ESV

Before we look at Mary’s impromptu trip to visit Elizabeth, it’s essential that we notice an important point of contrast that Luke has established. He began his gospel account with a brief but significant mention of Herod’s kingship over Judea (Luke 1:5). But when Gabriel delivered his message to Mary that she had been chosen to bear and give birth to the Son of God, he had told her what the child’s name and mission would be.

“…you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

Her son was going to be the Messiah of Israel of whom the prophets had spoken and for whom the people of Israel had long been waiting. And when He arrived, He would become the true and rightful King of Israel.

The message Gabriel delivered to Mary seems to have been based on the words of Isaiah the prophet.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

Mary would have recognized the connection between Gabriel’s words and the prophetic pronouncement of Isaiah. Part of the reason for Mary’s willing acceptance of the angel’s bizarre news was that she was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and what they promised about the coming Messiah. Isaiah had also prophesied regarding the Messiah’s miraculous birth to a virgin.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

The Messiah’s very name would signify His divine mission and identity. In Hebrew, Immanuel means “God with us.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary would become pregnant with the Son of God and, with His birth, God would come to dwell with men. It would be just as John the apostle described it in the beginning of his gospel account.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

But Jesus would enter the world as King. Though His mother would be an obscure and seemingly unimportant Jewish girl, and His birthplace would be the insignificant town of Bethlehem, Jesus would arrive on the scene as the rightful heir to the throne of David. And the prophet Isaiah had predicted that fact as well.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

While Mary had been shocked by the news she received from Gabriel, she was also overjoyed because she understood the significance of all that he had told her. She had been selected to give birth to Immanuel, the Son of God. God had graciously chosen her to be the means by which the long-awaited Messiah made His entrance into the world. Israel was finally going to have a real King, not some puppet potentate who served the Romans and wasn’t even a descendant of David.

And this exciting reality drove Mary to make the arduous journey to the hill country of Judah to see her cousin Elizabeth. Gabriel had informed Mary about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.

“…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:36 ESV

Mary sensed that God’s sovereign hand was behind all that was going on, but she still had to wrestle with the fact that she was about to be an unmarried pregnant woman in a culture that would consider that condition a crime and not cause for celebration. At this point, she had to be thinking about how Joseph would react when he heard the news that she was pregnant. Would he believe her story? Or would he break off their betrothal in a fit of rage? All of these conflicting questions had to have coursed through Mary’s young mind as she made her way to Judah.

But Mary’s unsettled heart would soon find comfort in the words of Elizabeth. As soon as Mary walked into Elizabeth’s home and stated her name, another miracle of confirmation took place.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?” – Luke 1:41-43 NLT

Anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth was given divine insight into her cousin’s unique role as the mother of the Messiah. There is no way that Elizabeth could have known this information. It was clearly the inspiration of the Spirit that provided her with the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy and the unique identity of the baby in her womb.

Elizabeth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, was uttering prophetic words concerning her younger cousin. She was being provided with divine insight into Mary’s situation that could only have come from the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. And she pronounced a blessing on Mary for her willingness to believe the words of Gabriel.

“…blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:45 NLT

This was a word from God, spoken through Elizabeth. The Almighty was using Elizabeth as His vessel to communicate His pleasure with Mary’s faith. Despite the sudden and shocking nature of the news she had received, Mary had believed. Her very presence at Elizabeth’s home was proof. She had gone there to share the news with her relative, but before she even had a chance to say a word, God used Elizabeth and the baby in her womb to confirm the message and commend Mary’s faith. The baby leaped, Elizabeth blessed, and Mary was encouraged.

At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responded in joy. John, as yet unborn, had been commissioned by God to be the one to herald the coming of the Messiah. Even in his prenatal state, John took his God-given assignment seriously, rejoicing in the arrival of the King. His divinely inspired celebration in the womb served as further proof to Mary that everything Gabriel had said was true.

And Mary’s response to it all took the form of a divinely inspired song – a psalm of thanksgiving and praise.

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

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

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









The Silence Is Broken

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:5-17 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, as Luke begins his record of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he reminds his readers that there was a king ruling and reigning over the province of Judea, and this man’s name was Herod.

This is significant because Luke, like the authors of the other gospels, is going to establish Jesus as King of the Jews. But before Jesus even shows up on the scene, there is a contender or pretender for the throne. Herod was actually an Edomite, one of the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Before Jacob and Esau were born, God had given their mother a prophetic message concerning the fate of her two sons.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

After their birth, Jacob, the younger of the two, would bargain and deceive his way into stealing the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn from his older brother Esau. When the boys were older and their father Isaac was nearing death, Jacob disguised himself as his older brother and tricked the near-blind Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the oldest son.

“Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” – Genesis 27:29 ESV

This life-altering event left Esau angry and frustrated. He demanded that Isaac provide him with a blessing as well. But what he heard left him embittered and far from satisfied.

“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
    and away from the dew of heaven on high.
By your sword you shall live,
    and you shall serve your brother…” – Genesis 27:39-40 ESV

Now, centuries later, Herod, a descendant of Esau, was sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. But he was not from the tribe of Judah. Technically, he was not even a Jew. He was an Edomite. And he had gained his title by making alliances with the Romans. At one point, he had been appointed the governor of the northern province of Galilee. Herod’s father was a high-ranking official in the Hasmonean Dynasty, which had been ruling in Palestine until the arrival of the Romans. During a conflict between the Hasmoneans and the Romans, Herod chose to side with the Romans. As a result, the Roman Senate promised him the undeserved title of “King of the Jews,” if he could successfully conquer Judea, the largest Roman province that included all of Israel.

After helping to reign in the rebellious Judeans, Herod received his official title in 37 BC, and he would remain the unofficial king until 4 AD. So, as Luke begins his chronicle of the birth of the true King of the Jews, we discover that the position was occupied by a usurper. And we will quickly see that this two-king, one-title situation would prove to be a problem.

But after a brief, but important, reference to Herod, Luke introduces us to another character – a priest named Zechariah. According to 1 Chronicles, King David was the one who had organized the priesthood into 24 divisions.

David divided Aaron’s descendants into groups according to their various duties. Eleazar’s descendants were divided into sixteen groups and Ithamar’s into eight, for there were more family leaders among the descendants of Eleazar. – 1 Chronicles 24:2-4 ESV

Each group carried out its appointed duties in the house of the Lord according to the procedures established by their ancestor Aaron in obedience to the commands of the Lord, the God of Israel. – 1 Chronicles 24:19 ESV

Zechariah came from the division of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. So, this couple had strong ties to the Aaronic priesthood. And Luke lets us know that this couple lived up to their priestly heritage.

…they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. – Luke 1:6 ESV

But this godly couple had never been able to have children because Elizabeth was barren. Now, to make matters worse, they were both advanced in years. Sound familiar? It should. Because it is reminiscent of several other biblical couples who found themselves facing similar circumstances. When Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was called by God, he and his wife Sarah were advanced in years and she suffered from barrenness. Rachel, the wife of Jacob, was also barren. Yet God allowed her to give birth to a son.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph – Genesis 30:22-24 ESV

Hannah, the mother of the prophet, Samuel, also suffered from barrenness. In fact, the book of 1 Samuel records that God had closed up her womb (1 Samuel 1:5). Yet, when Hannah called out to the Lord, He answered her.

…in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” – 1 Samuel 1:20 ESV

God entered into the pain and misery of each of these women, providing them with hope even after years of desperation and despondency. He moved in the midst of their barrenness and produced fruitfulness. He brought light into the darkness of their lives, graciously blessing them with the sons for whom they had so long waited.

It is not insignificant that Zechariah’s Hebrew name means “Yahweh remembers.” God was going to remember Elizabeth but, more importantly, He was going to remember His people, Israel. For 400 years, the nation of Israel had lived in a time of silence, with no prophetic messengers having been sent by God. The last words of the very last prophet had been declared four centuries earlier when Malachi closed out the book that bears his name.

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

God was about to remember and fulfill that promise, and it would begin with an elderly priest and his barren wife. On the particular day of the year when Zechariah’s priestly division was scheduled to serve in the Temple, his name was “chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9 ESV). Everything about this scenario shouts the sovereignty and providential will of God. He was orchestrating every aspect of this scene.

While performing his priestly duties at the altar of incense inside the Temple, Zechariah was suddenly joined by an angel. The appearance of this unexpected visitor left Zechariah in a state of fear. But the angel assured the frightened priest that all was well. He simply had an important message to deliver.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. – Luke 1:13 ESV

It’s likely that Zechariah had been praying for his wife’s barren condition for some time. But the text seems to indicate that he had been taking advantage of his access to the Temple and the altar of incense to offer up a special prayer of intercession. And the angel informed him that God had heard his prayer and the answer was on its way. She would give birth to a son whose name would be John. And Zechariah must have chuckled to himself when he heard the angel exclaim, “You will have great joy and gladness” (Luke 1:14 NLT). Of course, he would. This was a prayer he had been praying for years, and now God was answering it. God was remembering him and Hannah. And when John was born, Zechariah would be beside himself with joy and gladness.

But the angel added that John’s birth would be a source of joy for a great many people.

“…and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord.” – Luke 1:15 NLT

And the angel explains why this boy’s birth will have such an impact on so many.

“…he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.” – Luke 1:16-17 NLT

This birth, while a direct answer to Zechariah’s prayer, was going to be a fulfillment of God’s promise to send “Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). This would be no ordinary baby. He would be a prophet sent from God with a message regarding the coming Savior of the world. The deafening silence of the last 400 years would be broken at last. God uses this miraculous messenger to declare the pending arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. John would do so under the influence of the Holy Spirit. But to ensure that His messenger would remain pure and undefiled, God commanded Zechariah to raise his son as a Nazirite. He was to abstain from the consumption of any form of wine or strong drink. His role would be too important to risk the influence of alcohol. He would be filled with the Spirit instead. 

John was going to be the preparer of the way. His job would be to declare the coming of the chosen one of God. John would serve as a herald, with a singular task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17 ESV).

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

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

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









He Is Faithful

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 ESV

As Jesus was standing before the Sanhedrin undergoing interrogation by the high priest, Peter had remained in the courtyard, attempting to keep himself warm by the fire while also keeping his identity hidden from the servants and guards who had participated in the arrest of Jesus. Peter and John had been the only disciples to follow Jesus after His arrest in the garden. All the others had fled into the night. Yet Peter was anything but brave. And as the night wore on, his fear began to get the best of him. He so wanted to stand by his Master and honor his commitment to defend Him to the end. But in the darkness of the courtyard, surrounded by armed guards and servants of the high priest, Peter felt alone and afraid. He had no way of knowing what was happening inside the walls of Caiaphas’ residence, but it seems likely that servants of the high priest were bringing regular reports of the proceedings to those waiting in the courtyard. The normally-impulsive Peter, who had drawn his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, now cowered in the darkness, wondering how everything had gone so wrong.

His mind must have been flooded with memories as he thought back over the last 3-1/2 years of his life with Jesus. He could vividly recall the day when he and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the sea of Galilee, and Jesus had called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV). That had proved to be a life-changing moment for them. They had left their nets behind and become disciples of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the following years, they had seen Him perform inexplicable miracles, deliver powerful messages, and provide convincing proof that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. But now, Peter’s hopes of a new King and a renewed Kingdom of Israel were on the verge of collapse. Jesus was standing before the Jewish high council with His hands bound and His Messianic claims fully rejected by these powerful religious leaders. And all Peter could do was wonder about what might have been.

But suddenly, Peter’s contemplation was interrupted by a voice. A young servant girl, recognizing Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, pointed to him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67 ESV). His cover was blown. And in a state of fear, Peter responded, “I neither know nor understand what you mean” (Mark 14:68 ESV). He pleaded ignorance. In essence, he claimed not to know what she was talking about. Hoping to avoid any further interaction with the girl, Peter made his way to the exit, and as soon as he did, the rooster crowed for the first time.

But the girl, more convinced than ever that Peter was a disciple of Jesus persisted with her claim.

“This man is one of them.” – Mark 14:69 ESV

And you can almost feel the growing sense of panic taking over Peter. He feels trapped. The walls were closing in. And Matthew records that Peter not only denied the girl’s words, but he swore an oath, saying, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72 ESV). And then the rest of the crowd began to join in the chorus of accusations, shouting, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mark 14:70 ESV). Suddenly, all eyes were focused on him. And, under normal circumstances, Peter would have enjoyed being the center of attention. But not on this night. So, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak’” (Mark 14:71 ESV). And the rooster crowed a second and final time.

That naturally occurring sound must have pierced Peter’s ears like an air-raid siren, providing a jarring and unwelcome reminder of what Jesus has said earlier.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

Totally unaware of the significance of his words, Peter had denied Jesus three separate times and, in so doing, had unwittingly fulfilled the Lord’s prediction. And as he considered the weight of his actions, Peter “broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72 ESV). He was devastated. This man, who took such pride in his faithfulness and who had guaranteed his steadfastness to the end, had caved under pressure. In the garden, he had slept while Jesus grieved and prayed. In the courtyard, he had lied while Jesus was tried and condemned.

From this point forward, Peter disappears from the scene, and he will not reappear until Jesus has resurrected from the dead. With his actions in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter became the representative for all the disciples. This man, who at one point had boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had just denied even knowing Him. But other than John, Peter had been the only one of the disciples who even bothered to show up that night at the high priest’s house. They had all abandoned Jesus, leaving Him to suffer the pain and agony of the cross alone. Each of them would go into hiding. And it seems that only John would be brave enough to make a personal appearance at the crucifixion of Jesus.

But these men were not failures. They were simply sinners in need of a Savior. And Jesus was preparing to offer His life as their atoning sacrifice so that they might receive the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. He would die so that they might live. He would remain faithful to His mission despite their unfaithfulness. He would keep His commitment to His Father’s will so that they might receive power from on high. Peter walked away, defeated and discouraged. He had lost the battle with fear. But Jesus was about to win the victory over sin and death and restore hope to all who, like Peter, find themselves wallowing in hopelessness and despair.

Peter himself would later write these powerfully encouraging words:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Peter 2:13 NLT

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

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

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