Nothing Satisfies Like God

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 ESV

As the king of Israel, Solomon had the God-given responsibility to perform the role of a judge on behalf of his people. That required him to take his place each day at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, where he would hear and try the cases brought before him. This would have exposed him to all kinds of unethical, immoral, and unjust actions, perpetrated by one human being against another. And it is likely that Solomon witnessed many examples of injustice, as the poor and oppressed brought their cases to him, hoping for some form of protection and righteous representation.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon recorded the words of the mother of King Lemuel, reminding her son of his God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and to protect the rights of those who suffer at the hands of others.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

As King, Solomon must have seen his fair share of abuses and injustices, and no matter how many times he might have judged rightly and justly, the next day would reveal yet another case of the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. He had seen it all, which is what led him to say, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV).

He had a front-row seat to the feature film that is human life. He had watched the tears of the oppressed, as they stood before him helpless and hopeless, with no one to plead their case or protect their lives from the powerful and ruthless. The oppressors had money and authority on their side. It was a mismatch, with the oppressed usually getting the short end of the stick. And for Solomon, it boiled down to a simple, yet sad conclusion: The poor are better off dead because then they no longer have to suffer anymore. And the only thing more preferable would be to have never lived at all because you would never have to experience the pain and suffering that comes with life under the sun.

It seems that Solomon, in his daily dealings with the injustices of life, saw a pattern. The oppressors were people who were motivated by greed and a desire for wealth. They were addicted to acquiring and retaining and would do anything to get what they wanted, even if it required the oppression of others. And, as far as Solomon could tell, the driving force behind their actions was nothing but normal, run-of-the-mill envy.

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.– Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the following words in the letter that bears his name and they seem to describe the kind of civil cases Solomon was forced to judge.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

And for Solomon, it all added up to yet another example of the futility of life. “But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT).

The poor get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful and end up with nothing to show for it but tears and greater poverty. The rich get richer, but their lives end up empty, and their lust for more remains unquenched. Enough is never enough. More never satisfies. It’s a dead-end street with no outlet. So, what should be the proper response?

Is accumulating wrong? Are hard work and a drive to have more inherently sinful? Well, if you fold your hands and do nothing, you may keep from hurting others, but you’ll ultimately destroy yourself. So, Solomon seems to conclude that the answer is somewhere in the middle. You have to make a compromise. Do something, but be willing to be content with less.

Better to have one handful with quietness
    than two handfuls with hard work
    and chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 4:6 NLT

After sharing his objective observations regarding the suffering of others, Solomon seems to turn his focus inward. He takes a look at his own life as judge and king. The next section of verses seems to be a personal reflection, outlining Solomon’s assessment of his own life. The book of Ecclesiastes was written when Solomon was at the latter stages of his life and reign. He was older and facing the realization that his life was not ending well. His kingdom was full of the idols to false gods that he had erected on behalf of his many pagan wives. Over his life, Solomon had accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines, all in direct violation of the law of God.

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

And if there’s any doubt whether Solomon’s disobedience had impacted his life, the book of 1 Kings clears it all up.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-5 NLT

In Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon paints the picture of a man lacking companionship. He describes this individual as “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 ESV). He is alone and lonely, and this is likely Solomon’s assessment of his own life. Yes, he was the king of Israel and was surrounded by thousands of servants, slaves, concubines, wives, and administrative personnel. And yet, he couldn’t escape his sense of isolation. He was isolated and understood just how lonely life can be at the top.

Solomon writes in the third person, describing an anonymous individual who “works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT). And Solomon’s own personal experience requires him to conclude: “It is all so meaningless and depressing.”

Solomon knew what it felt like to be alone. Despite the crowd of individuals who filled his royal palace, he lacked true companionship. He had no one to walk alongside him and to be there for him when he fell. Even with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he knew the lonely feeling that comes with sleeping alone and unloved. Solomon recognized that friendship and companionship are vital to human flourishing and longed to experience both.

The final four verses of this chapter appear to be blatantly autobiographical. In them, Solomon describes himself as “a foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice”, and compares himself to “a poor and wise youth” (Ecclesiastes 4:13 ESV). At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was young and had yet to accomplish anything. He was poor in the sense that he had not accomplished or accumulated anything on his own. Everything he possessed had been given to him by his father. Yet he had wisdom. And by the end of his life, he had accumulated wealth beyond measure but lacked the ability to take wise counsel.

Solomon seems to compare his life to that of his father. It was David who had been in “prison” – living as a fugitive, constantly pursued by his predecessor, King Saul. But David had moved from prison to the palace, from living in caves to sitting on the throne. And Solomon would become the “youth who was to stand in the king’s place” (Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV).

Solomon succeeded his father on the throne, and while he ruled over a great land, and enjoyed the subjection and adoration of the people, he sadly concludes that “those who come later will not rejoice in him” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). In other words, his 15-minutes of fame would one day end. Another generation would rise up who would no longer recognize or remember him as king. With that thought in mind, Solomon can’t help but come to the same pessimistic conclusion he has reached before: “Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). 

Even the man at the top, who has everything going for him, including money, power, and influence, will one day find himself rejected and replaced. He is no better off than the poor person seeking justice at the gate or the lonely person desperately in need of companionship. It is lonely at the top, and there is no position or any amount of power or possessions that can remove the futility of a life lived under the sun, but without God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Lessons for Leaders

1 These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.
As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth,
    so the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Take away the dross from the silver,
    and the smith has material for a vessel;
take away the wicked from the presence of the king,
    and his throne will be established in righteousness.
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
    or stand in the place of the great,
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
    than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

What your eyes have seen
    do not hastily bring into court,
for what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
    and do not reveal another’s secret,
10 lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
    and your ill repute have no end. – Proverbs 25:1-10 ESV

Chapter 25 begins a new and somewhat controversial section of the book of Proverbs. The opening line identifies what follows as a group of proverbs compiled by “the men of Hezekiah king of Judah.”

King Hezekiah reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah from 715-686 B.C., some 250 years after God divided Solomon’s kingdom in half. During the latter years of his life, Solomon proved to be unfaithful to God, choosing to worship the idols of his many foreign wives.

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

As a result of Solomon’s disobedience, God declared that He was going to split the kingdom of Israel in two.

“Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” – 1 Kings 11:10-13 ESV

Two and a half centuries later, Hezekiah would become the king of the southern kingdom of Judah. And he would prove to be one of the few godly kings that either the nation of Judah or the northern kingdom of Israel would ever experience.

[Hezekiah]…did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered. – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21 ESV

According to verse one, a group of officials within King Hezekiah’s court was given the task of collecting additional wise sayings attributed to King Solomon and adding them to the book of Proverbs. This addendum extends from chapter 25 all the way through chapter 29. Over the years, there has been some scholarly debate as to the historical value of these five chapters. The questions concerning their veracity revolve around whether or not they can truly be attributed to Solomon. But verse one clearly claims that they are “proverbs of Solomon.”

What sets these sayings apart is their emphasis on the king and the comparisons made between his rule and reign and that of God. It would appear that these are still wise sayings that Solomon shared with his sons, but they were compiled by Hezekiah’s sages due to their obvious application to the king and his descendants.

The very first saying sets the tone for what is to follow by making a direct comparison between God, the all-powerful divine sovereign, and human kings.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out. – Proverbs 25:2 ESV

And all throughout the next five chapters, the sayings will maintain a sharp focus on the relationship between ruling and wisdom.

Remove the wicked from the king’s court,
    and his reign will be made secure by justice. – Proverbs 25:5 NLT

Don’t demand an audience with the king
    or push for a place among the great.
It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table
    than to be sent away in public disgrace. – Proverbs 25:6-7 NLT

Know the state of your flocks,
    and put your heart into caring for your herds,
for riches don’t last forever,
    and the crown might not be passed to the next generation. – Proverbs 27:23-24 NLT

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

The men who collected these sayings seemed to have been heavily influenced by their relationship with the king. This appendix to Solomon’s collection of proverbs contains wise sayings that have direct implications for not only Hezekiah but any ruler who might ascend to the throne and rule over God’s chosen people. They viewed the man who wore the crown as a God-appointed agent who served at Yahweh’s behest and was dependent upon godly wisdom to rule effectively.

In a real sense, the king was to be a visual representation of God. He was to model his rule and reign after that of the ultimate King and use his power and authority in such a way that the people were constantly reminded of God’s ultimate sovereignty. The king was to be a representative of God, acting on His behalf, administering His will, and caring for His flock. But from the very beginning, the people had desired a king other than God. In fact, they had demanded a human king who would stand in place of God. And God made the point painfully clear when He told the prophet, Samuel:

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. – 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV

Ultimately, the people wanted a human king, a powerful man who would provide them with protection and ensure their future security. And these proverbs collected by Hezekiah’s scribes and sages were intended to remind the king that his role was that of a representative of God, not His replacement. He would need wisdom, godly counsel, and an unwavering dependence upon the Almighty if his reign was to last and be effective.

It was the king’s duty to discover the deep and hidden things of God (verse 2). The king, as the divine representative, was to reflect the otherness or transcendence of God (verse 3). By listening to God and obeying His will, the king’s ways would in some ways be incomprehensible and difficult to understand. He would operate according to a different set of rules or standards. As Solomon recorded in a previous chapter, compiled some 250 years earlier:

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord;
    he guides it wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1 ESV

It was essential that the king remain free from the influence of evil. He needed to quarantine his administration from wickedness in order to prevent contamination and potential corruption.

Remove the impurities from silver,
    and the sterling will be ready for the silversmith.
Remove the wicked from the king’s court,
    and his reign will be made secure by justice. – Proverbs 25:4-5 NLT

And the people were to treat the king with dignity and respect, affording him the same honor they would extend to God Himself.

Don’t demand an audience with the king
    or push for a place among the great.
It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table
    than to be sent away in public disgrace. – Proverbs 25:6-7 NLT

The role of the king was God-ordained and the people were to treat the one who sat on the throne as having been placed there by God. It was the prophet, Daniel, who revealed the following words to Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king of Babylon:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo that same sentiment when he wrote to the believer in Rome who were living under the rule and reign of Caesar.

…all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. – Romans 12:1-2 NLT

In reality, there is and always has been just one King, who rules over all. Human kings are mere shadows of the one true King. They reflect His sovereignty but only in a flawed and incomplete way. Which is all the more reason that human kings need godly wisdom. Left to their own capacities, they will prove insufficient for the task. And hundreds of years earlier, a newly crowned and very young king Solomon, expressed his apprehension about serving as God’s vice-regent over the nation of Israel. He recognized his insufficiency and asked God for the one thing he would need to rule well and wisely.

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:7-9 NLT

Solomon had inherited a secure and powerful kingdom. He enjoyed wealth beyond belief. But he knew that those things would not be enough. What he really needed was wisdom. He understood that. in order to be successful in his role as king, he would need an understanding heart. He would need to be like his father, David, a man after God’s own heart. The success of his reign would be directly tied to the health of his relationship with God.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

By His Stripes

1 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”

So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10 In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. 11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ 12 And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’” 14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money. 16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.” Genesis 31:1-16 ESV

Once again, Jacob finds himself with more enemies than friends, all because of his own self-serving actions. Nearly two decades earlier, Jacob had been forced to flee Beersheba because his older brother wanted to kill him for having stolen his birthright and blessing. Now, Jacob discovers that his brothers-in-law are furious because he has managed to abscond with the majority of their father’s flocks. Through a rather stranger process of selective breeding and what appears to be a healthy dose of luck, Jacob amassed a sizeable flock of speckled, spotted, and black sheep. And this unexpected transfer of wealth has left Laban’s rightful heirs furious. Their brother-in-law has cheated them out of their inheritance.

“Jacob has robbed our father of everything!” they said. “He has gained all his wealth at our father’s expense.” – Genesis 31:1 NLT

This should all sound eerily familiar. Nearly 20 years earlier, Esau had expressed his own frustration after having discovered that his twin brother, Jacob, had not only left him with no claim to their father’s inheritance but had stolen his blessing as well.

“No wonder his name is Jacob, for now he has cheated me twice. First he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” – Genesis 27:36 NLT

It’s quite obvious that Jacob never read Dale Carnegie’s classic work, How To Win Friends and Influence People. His penchant for self-promotion coupled with his uncanny talent for deception resulted in great success as well as a growing list of enemies. When Laban and his sons finally realized what Jacob had done to them, it was too late. He had robbed them blind. And recognizing their anger, Jacob knew it was time to go. He seems to have operated by the old American proverb: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But while that adage promotes brave action in the face of difficulty, for Jacob it meant “run for your life.” Things had heated up, so it was time to go – again.

But somewhere along the way, Jacob received a word from God. All the while Jacob had been building his earthly empire by less-than-honest means, the Almighty had been watching and waiting. Now, God provides His young covenant partner with divine confirmation that the time has come for him to return to Canaan.

“Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you.” – Genesis 31:3 NLT

So, Jacob called his two wives and informed them of his plan to leave Haran. He begins by recounting the many ways in which their father had taken advantage of him over the years.

“I have noticed that your father’s attitude toward me has changed. But the God of my father has been with me. You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm. – Genesis 31:5-7 NLT

Jacob is painting himself as the victim and staking out the moral high ground by claiming to have God on his side. And while all that he says is true, it still has a slightly dishonest and deceitful feel to it. Jacob positions himself as fully innocent of any wrongdoing. He insists that it never really mattered what criteria Laban established for their agreement because God would have ensured that the outcome was in Jacob’s favor.

“For if he said, ‘The speckled animals will be your wages,’ the whole flock began to produce speckled young. And when he changed his mind and said, ‘The striped animals will be your wages,’ then the whole flock produced striped young. In this way, God has taken your father’s animals and given them to me.” – Genesis 31:8-9 NLT

He wasn’t guilty of stealing Laban’s flocks. God had done it all. And, once again, while there is a ring of truth to Jacob’s claim, he appears to be using God to justify his own actions. But this is where Moses discloses an important, as-yet-unrevealed aspect of the story. It seems that Jacob had received another divine encounter in which he was given detailed instructions from God. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this conversation between Jacob and the angel of the Lord took place but Jacob indicates that it occurred sometime “during the mating season” (Genesis 31:10 NLT).

One night, as Jacob had been shepherding Laban’s flocks, he had a dream in which it seems he received the idea for breeding the speckled and spotted sheep.

“The angel said, ‘Look up, and you will see that only the streaked, speckled, and spotted males are mating with the females of your flock. For I have seen how Laban has treated you. I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel, the place where you anointed the pillar of stone and made your vow to me. Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’” – Genesis 31:12-13 NLT

This is the first time that Jacob has divulged this information. Notice that the angel doesn’t explain to Jacob how the vision will take place. Perhaps the angel had given Jacob the idea about placing the multicolored branches in the water troughs. This would provide a plausible explanation for Jacob’s actions, and portray the entire process as nothing less than a supernatural miracle orchestrated by God Himself.

So many times in Scripture, God performs His extraordinary activities on earth by using common, everyday objects. He used Moses’ shepherd’s staff to turn the water of the Nile into blood.

“Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.” – Exodus 7:17 NLT

That very same staff would be used to create a plague of frogs.

“Raise the staff in your hand over all the rivers, canals, and ponds of Egypt, and bring up frogs over all the land.” – Exodus 8:5 NLT

And when it came time for the people of Israel to return to the land of Canaan, God ordered Moses to use that same wooden staff to part the waters of the Red Sea.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16 NLT

So, it takes no stretch of the imagination to consider that God had been the one to give Jacob the idea to use the “striped” branches.

Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. – Genesis 30:28-30 NLT

God had miraculously used the “striped” branches to produce striped sheep. And, as always, God had a purpose for performing this inexplicable miracle in such an unlikely manner. It brings to mind the words of Isaiah prophesying the coming Messiah of Israel. In Isaiah 53, Moses presents the Messiah as the suffering servant, describing the gruesome death He would face as Israel’s Savior. He opens by describing the Messiah as being “like a young plant” (Isaiah 53:2 ESV).

Then Isaiah records in great detail the excruciating and humiliating suffering of this “young plant.”

He was pierced for our offenses,
He was crushed for our wrongdoings;
The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him,
And by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

But the Hebrew word translated as “wounds” is חַבּוּרָה (ḥabûrâ), which can also be translated as “stripes.” Now, look closely at what Isaiah is saying. The “striped” young plant would be used to bring healing and restoration to the wandering sheep.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all
To fall on Him. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

Now, look closely at verse 37 of Genesis 30.

Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. – Genesis 30:37 ESV

The Hebrew word for “fresh” can also be translated as “new.” These were tender young shoots that Jacob “striped” and placed in front of the sheep. And the result was many offspring. Now, look back at Isaiah’s prophecy.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

God performed a miracle. He guided the “wandering” Jacob and showered him with undeserved blessings. And the means by which God performed this miracle points to the future blessing that God will shower on the descendants of Jacob in the form of the “tender young shoot” – Jesus Christ. He will be “the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10 ESV). He will be “a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5 ESV). And He will come from the line of Judah, one of the 11 sons of Jacob born while he lived in Haran.

Berean Study Bible

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Living and Loving Like Christ

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:20-25 ESV

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Who and what is Peter talking about? Obviously, the “he” to which Peter refers is Jesus. But what does he mean when he says that Jesus was “foreknown?” Isn’t Jesus part of the Godhead and, therefore, a non-created being who is eternal in nature? So, in what sense was He foreknown?

The answer is found in the preceding verse, where Peter refers to Jesus as the lamb whose precious blood was shed. It was John the Baptist who, upon seeing Jesus, stated, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It was Jesus’ incarnation that had been foreknown by God. In other words, it was His assumption of humanity that God preordained, long before He spoke the universe into being. And it was in His role as a man that Jesus would serve as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The incarnation was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. The fall did not catch God off guard and force Him to implement an alternative strategy. In fact, at no point in the unfolding of the human story has God ever been surprised or forced to come up with a plan B. His Son’s invasion of earth as the sinless Lamb of God had been in place long before Adam and Eve were create or had the opportunity to sin.

And Peter drives the home the point that the preordained plan for Jesus’ incarnation was ultimately fulfilled in time and space. He actually showed up, on time, and according to plan. And Peter reminds his readers that, “in these last days he has been revealed for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Jesus, the Son of God, became a man living, breathing man and made Himself known and knowable. The apostle John put it this way:

…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 1:29 ESV

Yet, as Peter stated earlier, his readers had never had the privilege of seeing Jesus with their own eyes.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. – 1 Peter 1:8 NLT

But it was Jesus’ preordained and predetermined incarnation that made possible His death, burial, and resurrection. Had Jesus not taken on human flesh, He could not have lived a fully obedient life and fulfilled the requirement of a sinless sacrifice. It was only as the unblemished Lamb that Jesus could offer His life as an acceptable payment for the sins of mankind. And His resurrection was proof that God the Father was fully satisfied with His sacrifice. That lead Peter to announce:

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. – 1 Peter 1:21 NLT

The apostle Paul echoed Peter’s sentiments when he wrote:

being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Both Peter and Paul stressed the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, there would be no hope of forgiveness for sin or any chance of being restored to a right relationship with God. It was Paul who repeatedly warned the believers in Corinth of the vital nature of the resurrection.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV

And Peter reminds his readers that because Jesus was raised from the dead, their sins truly were forgiven.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth – 1 Peter 1:22 NLT

Having never seen the resurrected Lord themselves, they still placed their faith and hope in the reality of His resurrection. They believed the truth concerning His sacrificial death and the miraculous news of His restoration to life.

This is where Peter takes the inexplicable doctrine of the resurrection and makes it practical. Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed their transformation, and their transformation was expected to result in tangible manifestations of love for one another. They were expected to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). Their new lives in Christ were expected to bear fruit. The “seed” had been planted and the expectation was for that seed to produce fruit. This statement from Peter is reminiscent of the words of Jesus.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. – John 12:24 NLT

God had spoken His plan of redemption into existence long before He created the sun, moon, stars, the earth, or any living thing that lives on it. His Word concerning mankind’s salvation had included the death of the Seed – His Son. But with Jesus’ resurrection, He became the first of many who would experience newness of life. Or as Paul put it in one of his sermons recorded in the book of Acts: “…the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:23 NLT).

This new life should produce a new way of living. Those who have placed their faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ have received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God. And the Spirit provides them with a radical new capacity to live and love like Jesus did.

Peter seems to be attempting to refocus their attention from their sufferings in this earthly life to the joys of eternal life in Christ. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, their lives were to be marked by joy, hope, and love. Even the trials and difficulties of this life were powerless to thwart the preordained will of God. Earthly troubles were incapable of thwarting God’s sovereign plan of redemption or robbing believers of “the gracious salvation that will come…when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT).

Peter reminded them of the fleeting nature of this life.

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
   But the word of the Lord remains forever.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25 NLT

The trials of life will one day end, and those who perpetrated them will pass away as well. But the word of the Lord remains forever. His promise of eternal life will never end. The resurrection of Jesus remains historically true and eternally significant. And, as followers of Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s promises will all be fulfilled.

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

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Limited Expectations

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-27 ESV

Luke opened his gospel by clearly confessing that he had not been the first to chronicle the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. He even admitted that he investigated those other resources as part of the extensive research he did for his own writing project. 

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. – Luke 1:1-3 NLT

Luke, a physician by trade, appears to have been a stickler for details. He went to great lengths to locate and interview those who had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry, including many of the disciples. But it seems that his detective work uncovered some whose stories had not been included by the other gospel authors. Luke’s goal all along had been to write an accurate and detailed account that disclosed as much about the life of Jesus as was humanly possible. And in his research, he ran across the testimonies of two disciples of Jesus whose recounting of their post-resurrection encounter with their former Rabbi and friend just begged to be included in his gospel account.

When Luke interviewed these two individuals, they shared with him the remarkable story of their unexpected encounter with the risen Messiah. On the same Sunday when the women had come to the tomb of Jesus and discovered it to be empty, these two disciples had been traveling from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, located just seven miles away. They had to have been emotionally drained as they discussed the events of the last 3-4 days. It had all begun with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Like all of Jesus’ followers, they had been devastated by this unexpected end to their hopes and dreams. They had believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah who would usher in His earthly kingdom and restore Israel to glory. But instead, He had suffered a brutal death at the hands of the Romans. It’s likely that these two individuals had taken part in the raucous and celebratory triumphal entry that marked Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem earlier the previous week. They had heard the shouts of “Hosanna!” and had watched as the crowds threw down their cloaks and declared, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV).

But now, they were walking away from the city of Jerusalem, their minds filled with confusion and questions. They were having a difficult time reconciling all that had happened. The death of Jesus had left them completely devoid of hope. The one whom they had believed to be the rightful king of Israel was dead. Their dreams of Him ushering in the end times by restoring David’s dynasty and fulfilling all the Messianic prophecies had been crushed. But these two men had been in the room when the women showed up and made the mind-blowing announcement that Jesus was alive.

“…some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive!” – Luke 24:22-23 NLT

It seems a bit strange that these disciples were on their way out of Jerusalem when they had heard reports that Jesus had been spotted in the city. But it could be that they were acting on the report of the women, who had delivered the following message from Jesus.

“…go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” – Mark 167 NLT

Perhaps they were going to make a stop in their home village of Emmaus and then head on to Galilee. But as they walked along the way, they couldn’t help but discuss all that had happened. It was all a mind-bending blur of confusion and contradictions. There is no indication as to the exact content of their discussion, but it seems clear that they were wrestling with doubt and disbelief. Was Jesus truly alive or were the women simply delusional? How could anyone have survived such a brutal death?

And as they were busy debating and discussing the events of the last three days, a stranger suddenly appeared alongside them. Noting the intensity of their conversation, the stranger asked them what they were talking about. And Luke reports that they “stopped short, sadness written across their faces” (Luke 24:17 NLT). This statement suggests that they were anything but hopeful. The womens’ report that Jesus was alive had failed to convince them. And this stranger’s apparent ignorance of all that had happened in Jerusalem surprised them. 

Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” – Luke 24:18 NLT

With His identity somehow hidden from them, Jesus played the part of the innocent and uninformed stranger perfectly. He asked them, “What things?” (Luke 24:19 NLT). And this led them to disclose not only the events of the last three days but the state of their own hearts.

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” – Luke 24:19-21 NLT

Notice their use of the past tense. He was a prophet. He was a mighty teacher. We had hoped he was the Messiah. They make no mention of the news they had received from the women. For whatever reason, they can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus might be alive. All the evidence pointed to a very different and disappointing outcome. They had hoped Him to be the Messiah but obviously, He wasn’t.

They admitted that some of their fellow disciples had run to the tomb and found it to be empty, just as the women had declared. But they were having a difficult time accepting the possibility that Jesus had somehow survived His crucifixion. There was absolutely no way He could be alive. And yet, the irony of it all was that Jesus was standing right in front of them. Blinded by their doubt, they had failed to recognize their Lord and Savior walking right beside them as they gloomily made their way to Emmaus. Then Jesus spoke.

“You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

Jesus didn’t scold them for failing to believe the testimony of the women. He rebuked them for refusing to believe the word of the prophets. These good, God-fearing Jews had completely missed the predictions of Messiah’s suffering and sacrificial death. Like all their fellow Jews, they had focused all their attention on the conquering Messiah, the warrior-king who would bring the Kingdom of God to earth and re-establish Israel as a superpower in the region once again.

All throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus had attempted to open the eyes of His disciples so that they might understand the true nature of His coming kingdom. It would not come as they expected. And His reign would not appear in the form they so greatly desired. He had not come to establish an earthly kingdom and bring heaven to earth – at least not yet. For centuries, the Jewish people had read the Hebrew Scriptures through a distorted lens that blurred the truth regarding the Messiah and His coming kingdom. They had made the Messiah’s arrival all about themselves. He would be the Jewish Messiah who would bring victory to the Jewish people. But Jesus had come to fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

And the apostle Paul would later explain the significance of that promise.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:8, 17 ESV

So, Jesus, His identity still hidden from the two disciples, “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). The “offspring” of Abraham gave these two descendants of Abraham an Old Testament survey class that revealed God’s sovereign will concerning the Messiah. This must have been a mind-altering experience for these two men as they received a masters-level lecture on all that the prophets had written about the coming of the Messiah. It was a paradigm-shifting, mind-bending revelation that would radically transform their myopic view of the 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

A Different King of King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers and Jeers

28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” – Luke 19:28-40 ESV

As Jesus departed Jericho, He continued His journey to the city of Jerusalem. The King was preparing to enter the royal City of David, just as the disciples had hoped He would do. Despite all Jesus’ warnings about the fate that awaited Him in the capital city, His disciples were still expecting Him to fulfill what they believed to be His messianic role. According to their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was destined to inherit the throne of His forefather, King David. The prophets had foretold of a day when the Anointed One would come who would usher in a new age marked by Israel’s return to power and dominance. So, for the 12 disciples, this was an exciting time filled with eager anticipation. Jesus’ dire warnings concerning His arrest, trials, and execution were far from their minds.

But Jesus was well aware of all that awaited Him in Jerusalem, and His emotions must have been conflicted as He considered all that was taking place around Him. He could sense the excitement of His disciples as they drew closer to the city. There was a festive mood on the roads and in the villages surrounding Jerusalem because of all the pilgrims who were making their way to the city in order to celebrate Passover. Joy filled the air as Jews from all over Israel made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this much-revered holy week.

But all the excitement was tempered by an underlying sense of doom. For Jesus this trip had a two-fold purpose: He would celebrate the Feast of Passover with His disciples one last time and He would present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of mankind. It would be a time marked by joy and great sadness. There would be feasting and suffering, celebration and sacrifice, and cries of “Hosanna!” and “crucify Him!”

And while there were those anxious to see if Jesus would make an appearance, others were on the lookout for the Rabbi from Nazareth for much more clandestine reasons.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. – John 11:55-57 ESV

Not long before Jesus began His trip to Jerusalem, He had performed yet another miracle in the city of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. It was there that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. And that particular miracle had created quite a stir among the people, causing many to believe in Him. But the religious leaders remained vehemently opposed to Jesus. They saw Him not as a Messiah to be worshiped, but as a radical to be exterminated. The apostle John attempts to explain the growing hatred these men held for Jesus.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. – John 11:45-53 ESV

We know from John’s gospel account that just six days before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had returned to Bethany, where He shared a meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the man He had raised from the dead. Ever since his miraculous restoration, Lazarus had become a celebrity. John tells us that “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 ESV). But while Lazarus had become famous among the people, he had become infamous to the religious leaders. 

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

So, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was filled with mixed emotions. There were cheering crowds who welcome Him as they would a king. And His 12 disciples were most likely elated at the reaction of the crowds. It would have been a good omen to them. Maybe this would be the day when Jesus declared Himself king of Israel. Perhaps Jesus would see the positive response of the people and give up all His talk about being mocked, flogged, and crucified.

But while the throng of people crowding the streets contained many who believed in Jesus, it seems that their belief was limited in scope. Yes, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But when asked about the identity of Jesus, they simply responded, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.

They had high hopes. In their hearts, they wanted to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but they could not bring themselves to buy into His identity as the Son of God. In their minds, He was Jesus from Nazareth, most likely a prophet sent by God, and a man who possessed indisputable, supernatural powers. And the fervor of these “believers” was contagious, causing others to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. But the religious leaders remained filled with contempt and were anxious to capture Jesus before His presence and popularity stirred up any more trouble.

And it’s interesting to note that Jesus did not enter the city silently and clandestinely. He most certainly knew what the Pharisees and scribes were up to. He had already predicted His own betrayal and arrest. So, why did He choose to enter in such a blatantly conspicuous way? Jesus was providing His disciples with proof of His Messianic role by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming king of Israel. Every one of the instructions He gave His disciples was intended to reveal and confirm His true identity to them. Even His request that they retrieve a donkey and its colt was evidence that He was the Messiah. It fulfilled the words of the prophet, Zechariah, recorded hundreds of years earlier.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zecharaiah 9:9 ESV

Everything that happened from this point forward was proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God had promised would come. And the people, either knowingly or ignorantly, confirmed His identity, when they shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). Both Mark and Matthew record that the crowds added the triumphant word, “Hosanna.” 

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” – Mark 11:9-10 ESV

The word “hosanna” literally means “save us now.” Their designation of Jesus as the Son of David was a Messianic title. They were declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and King of Israel. But did they really believe what they were saying? Were their cheers and words of declaration the result of true belief or wishful thinking?

Luke records that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke the crowds for what they were saying, but Jesus simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 11:40 ESV). This was a God-ordained event, designed to give further proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be.

God was using the crowds to declare the glory of His Son. And, as Jesus stated, God could have chosen inanimate rocks to do the job instead. The glorification of His Son had begun and nothing was going to prevent that from happening. Yet, as Matthew records in his gospel account, the majority of the people who placed palm branches before Jesus and declared Him to be the Son of David would later cry out for His crucifixion.

Emotions were running high that day in Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that the city was “stirred up” because of Jesus. The Greek word he used is seiō, and it means “to be agitated, shaken, or rocked.” The arrival of Jesus was like an earthquake, shaking the entire city to its core. And, as we will see, Jesus was not done yet. This was not going to be a quiet or covert period of His life. Things were building up to a dramatic climax. The tension was mounting. His entire earthly ministry had been pointing to this moment, and the spiritual battle that began with His temptation in the wilderness three years earlier was coming to a final, decisive conclusion.

The event recorded in this passage is often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry.” And while His entry into Jerusalem was accompanied by cheering crowds and outward signs of acceptance and adulation, there was something sinister going on behind the scenes. The adoring multitude with their smiling faces would soon dissipate and disperse. The warm welcome would not last because a battle of epic proportions was about to take place. This entire scene serves as the preface for a spiritual confrontation that will rock the world. The Son of God is about to go to war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

From the moment Jesus took on human flesh and came in the form of an innocent baby, Satan had been trying to eliminate this threat to his earthly dominion and rule. All the spiritual forces of evil were aligning themselves against Jesus, in one final attempt to thwart the will of God. But Jesus’ battle with Satan would not involve demons and angels wielding swords and spears. It would entail Jesus sacrificing His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would defeat the enemy by offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the Satan-inspired rebellion against God. His death would be viewed as a defeat by His disappointed disciples. But the King would prove to be victorious over sin and death when He was raised back to life.

None of this was apparent to the disciples as they fetched the donkey and reveled in the shouts of the crowd. They were oblivious to what was about to happen. But in time, they would see the battle lines being drawn and the forces of evil aligning themselves against Jesus. It was the calm before the storm.

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 Stage is Set

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. 1 Kings 1:5-10 ESV

The author of 1st Kings has established that David is old and nearing the end of his life. And, because he is king, his imminent death sets the stage for the selection of his successor to the throne of Israel. Under normal circumstances, the line of succession would fall to the eldest son. But in David’s case, things were a bit more complex because of his many wives and the number of sons they bore to him. Let’s just as that David had a complicated family situation.

His oldest son was Amnon, but he was dead. He had been murdered by his half-brother, Absalom, for the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar. When David had done nothing to punish Amnon for his crime, Absalom had taken matters into his own hands. Daniel was the second son of David, but he likely died early because, other than the record of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3, he is never mentioned again. That leaves Absalom and Adonijah as the next two in line for the throne. But Absalom was also dead. After launching what appeared to be a successful coup for his father’s throne, Absalom was killed in battle against David’s forces (2 Samuel 18). This left Adonijah as next in line for ascension to the throne.

But God had other plans. David had been given clear instructions from God regarding his heir, and it was not going to be Adonijah. Even before Solomon had been born, God had visited David and given him a message concerning the identity of the son who would continue the Davidic dynasty.

“Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

In a sense, Solomon had been a gift from God after David had been forced to suffer the loss of the son born through his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). That child had been the byproduct of David’s immoral affair with a married woman. And to complicate matters further, when David had discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he had tried to cover up his indiscretion. When that failed, he ordered Bathsheba’s husband’s death and then took his widow to be one of his wives.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

And this complicated and confusing background sets the stage for what happens in the opening chapter of 1st Kings. As the next-oldest living son, Adonijah assumed that he was the rightful heir to the throne, and he began to prepare for the transition of power.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. – 1 Kings 1:5 ESV

It seems that Adonijah had taken notes from the playbook of his older brother Absalom. This arrogant display of pomp and circumstance was exactly what Absalom had done as part of his successful strategy to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 15:1). Adonijah believed he was entitled to be the next king of Israel, and it seems that he was used to getting his way. The author reveals that Adonijah had been spoiled by his father.

Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” – 1 Kings 1:6 NLT

Whether Adonijah knew of God’s plan for Solomon to be David’s successor is unclear. But it is readily apparent that Adonijah was determined to do whatever was necessary to see that he was the next king. He began by building a network of important relationships with individuals of power and influence.

Adonijah took Joab son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest into his confidence, and they agreed to help him become king. – 1 Kings 1:7 NLT

This ambitious young man was building strategic alliances that he hoped would prove helpful in his quest for Israel’s throne. But he faced significant opposition. There were those who remained loyal to David and who would see to it that the wishes of the king were fulfilled. It is likely that they were already aware of God’s plan for Solomon to be the next king of Israel.

All of this is painfully reminiscent of Absalom’s actions when he began his carefully orchestrated coup to supplant his father as king. Adonijah was not willing to wait for David’s death. He was going to take the throne by force if necessary. But to ensure that he had all the support he would need, Adonijah planned a banquet in the nearby city of En-rogel. He had a carefully crafted invitation list that included all of his brothers and half-brothers, except for Solomon. He also extended invitations to all the royal officials through the land of Judah. Adonijah made a covenant commitment with his guests at this elaborate feast, sealing their agreement to assist him in his coup d’état with blood sacrifices. 

This opening chapter of the book lays the foundation for all that is to come. David is dying. He is weak and incapable of caring for himself. God has established a plan for his succession. But the nation is already showing signs of discord and dissension. Sadly, another one of David’s sons is leading an open rebellion against his own father and creating a potentially deadly situation that could end in bloodshed and division. You can almost feel the sense of foreboding coming off the pages as the author sets the stage for all that is to follow. Israel’s nation is about to enter a new era, one that will be marked by a slow and steady spiral toward unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. With David’s death, the man after God’s own heart, the people of Israel will find themselves suffering under a succession of shepherds whose spiritual integrity will slowly decline, leaving the nation in a progressively weakened state.

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

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

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

Delivered to Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Divine Hearing Aid

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:1-20 ESV

For whatever reason, Luke records this event as taking place before Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up to see Him. Matthew and Mark place the telling of this parable after their arrival. This is not an example of a contradiction in the Bible, as much as it is an example of the gospel authors arranging the events of Jesus’ life in order to drive home the point they are attempting to make. Each of them places a different emphasis on the various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry because they are chronicling the story from their own personal perspective and with a specific audience in mind.

But all three authors of the Synoptic Gospels include this parable. Over the centuries, it has been referred to by many names, including the parable of the seeds, the parable of the sower, and the parable of the soils. But regardless of what you call it, this parable is a classic example of a teaching style that was common in Jesus’ day. Parables were extended metaphors that attempted to communicate difficult truths through the use of comparison. Jesus utilized this teaching method frequently, especially when addressing large crowds. But as we will see illustrated in this passage, Jesus would often take time to explain the meaning of the parable to His 12 disciples.

Matthew records that Jesus told this parable on the same day His mother and brothers had come to see Him.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables… – Matthew 13:1-3 ESV

It is important to remember what Jesus had said earlier that same day.

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:49-50 ESV

The next scene reveals Jesus sitting in a boat just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as a large crowd gathers on the shoreline to hear what He has to say. Mark indicates that Jesus began “teaching them many things in parables.” As usual, His audience would have included all types of people, including His faithful followers, the simply curious, those hoping to be healed, and the ever-present Pharisees and scribes. It is likely that HIs mother, Mary, and his half-brothers were also in attendance that day. The diversity of His audience will become increasingly more important as the parable unfolds.

Jesus told a story about a farmer who went out to sow. This imagery would have been very familiar to His audience because they lived in an agrarian culture where this scene was commonplace and uneventful. But in His story, Jesus describes the farmer’s valuable seeds falling onto four different surfaces: A well-worn path, rocky ground, a thorn-infested patch of land, and finally, a field that had been properly prepared for seeds.

The mostly rural audience to whom Jesus addressed this parable would have immediately guessed the outcome of the story. You didn’t have to be a farmer to understand that many of the seeds had been scattered in places that would prove to be inhospitable and unfruitful. Those seeds would have been wasted. And Jesus confirms this conclusion by describing the seeds as being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, and choked out by thorns. In a few cases, the seeds took root but failed to produce fruit.

This story would have resonated among people who were heavily taxed by the Romans and who saw poverty and deprivation all around them. For many of them, just making ends meet was a daily struggle, and the thought of valuable seeds being sown so carelessly would have gotten their attention. It’s likely that the people began to draw their own conclusions as to the meaning of the story. They were familiar with the use of parables and would have known that there was some hidden lesson to be learned. Some probably assumed that Jesus was pointing out the carelessness of the farmer. His haphazard scattering of the seeds was meant to illustrate the need for good stewardship. Others might have focused their attention on the seeds themselves, noting that some of the seeds were quickly consumed, while others sprouted, but failed to produce fruit. Maybe Jesus was illustrating the need for good works. The farmer had intended for all the seeds to produce fruit, but most did not. And in the works-based environment of Judaism, it would have been easy for some in the crowd to assume that Jesus was promoting the need for the faithful observance of the law.

And Jesus makes no effort to explain His story, but simply concludes it by stating, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9 ESV). The NET Bible provides a bit more forceful rendering of Jesus’ words: “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!

This wasn’t just a story. It was an important lesson that was to have real-life implications. So, Jesus warned them that hearing what He had to say would not be enough. He expected them to listen and learn. His lesson behind His story was meant to be apprehended and then applied.

But the people were confused. Mark indicates that some of Jesus’ followers approached Him asking for an explanation.

those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. – Mark 4:10 ESV

Matthew adds that the 12 disciples had a more specific question for Jesus.

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” – Matthew 13:10 ESV

And Jesus revealed to His closest followers the purpose behind His use of parables.

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” – Mark 4:11 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was revealing that the 12 disciples had been set apart by God to receive knowledge that was unavailable and inaccessible to everyone else. They were being given the privilege of knowing divine truths concerning the kingdom of God of which the scribes and Pharisees were ignorant. The religious leaders of Israel were famous for their knowledge of the Mosaic Law and their encyclopedic understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. But they were ignorant of what God was doing. Jesus would later say of these men:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” – John 5:39-40 ESV

And even these learned men were unable to grasp the meaning of the parable Jesus told. Jesus said it was hidden from them. He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10, explaining that it is God who chooses to reveal hidden truths and, according to His sovereign will, He sometimes blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of some so that they might not turn and be forgiven.

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” – Mark 4:12 ESV

What Jesus was saying was that the ability to hear and understand the deep truths concerning the kingdom of God comes from the Father. He alone can open the eyes and ears of the spiritually blind and deaf to perceive the truth. The scribes and Pharisees spent years studying the Scriptures but were oblivious to the truths revealed in them. Despite their knowledge, they were ignorant of what God was doing in their midst. And unless God opened their eyes, they would remain blind to the truth regarding Jesus. Unless God opened their ears, they would hear but never understand the message of the gospel.

In the Gospel of John, we have a record of Jesus’ powerful words concerning the inability of men to understand the ways of God.

“The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” – John 6:63-64 NLT

And He went on to reveal man’s complete reliance upon God for salvation.

“That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” – John 6:65 NLT

Which brings us back to the parable. Jesus knew that His disciples had not yet grasped its meaning, so He explained. The seed represented the word or the message He had come to proclaim. And don’t forget what that message was. Mark described it this way:

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

It was the good news of the King and His Kingdom. The Messiah had come. But while John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed that message near and far, it had fallen on deaf ears. There were many who had heard it and begun to believe that Jesus might be the long-awaited Messiah, but they had begun to have their doubts. Their initial faith got choked out by the cares and concerns of this world. There were others who heard the word and simply refused to believe at all. They rejected it wholeheartedly. Insert the scribes and Pharisees here. Then there were others who heard it but allowed the threat of ex-communication by the religious leaders to drive them away.

But Jesus describes the fourth group: “the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20 ESV). They are those, like the 12 disciples, whom God has chosen to understand the truth concerning the King and His Kingdom. The Word concerning the Son of God has fallen on them and taken root and, in time, it will produce much fruit. But their ability to hear and accept the Word of God concerning the Son of God is the result of the Spirit of God. Because “the Spirit alone gives eternal life” (John 6:63 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