And It Just So Happened…

12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” 28 Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Genesis 24:12-28 ESV

Having completed his long journey to Mesopotamia, Abraham’s servant stopped at a well in order to slack the thirst of his camels. His arrival could not have been more timely because it was in the evening, when the local women came to the well to draw water. Sensing the sovereign nature of his timing, the servant offered up a quick prayer to Yahweh, asking for His divine assistance.

“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. – Genesis 24:12 ESV

Moses provides little insight into the background of this unnamed servant of Abraham. Other than his prayer, there is nothing in the passage that would indicate that he was a worshiper of Yahweh. In fact, in his prayer, he addresses “Jehovah Elohim” as the his master’s God. This seems to indicate that the servant worshiped his own god but, since this trip was involved Abraham’s son, he was going to rely upon Abraham’s God. And the servant offers a rather specific proposal to assure himself of God’s involvement in the matter.

“Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” – Genesis 24:13-14 ESV

One can almost sense that this man was unaccustomed to interacting with Abraham’s God. He has no experience in these kinds of matters and seems unsure as to how he will know which of the women gathered at the well might be the right one for Isaac. Rather than taking the time to interview each and every woman, his plan provide a fool-proof method of determining the exact woman Abraham’s God had preordained.

This man was convinced that God had already predetermined the identity of Isaac’s future wife and she would be found at this well. And Moses points out that before the servant had finished his prayer, a young woman appeared carrying a water jar on her shoulder. But she was not just any woman. “She was the daughter of Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife, Milcah” (Genesis 24:15 NLT). This was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.

This servant had traveled hundreds of miles and managed to find the very well used by Abraham’s extended family. And one of the first women to show up just happened to be Abraham’s grandniece. Then Moses adds a few other pertinent details that provide further proof that this was a God-ordained moment.

Rebekah was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. – Genesis 24:16 NLT

This woman was the perfect candidate. She was the right age, still unmarried, and easy on the eyes. It appears that this young girl was the first to arrive at the well and fill her water jug. So, the servant made a beeline to her and set his plan in motion.

Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.” – Genesis 24:17 NLT

The test had begun. You can almost hear the servant’s heart beating in his chest as he anxiously waited for her to respond. This was way too easy. Could she really be the one?

Moses deliberately draws out the details of the story, creating in his readers a sense of anxious anticipation. Upon hearing the stranger’s request, Rebekah lowered her jar and offered the man a drink. This fulfilled the first part of the servant’s test. But what would happen next? Would she offer to water the camels as well? Much to his reader’s delight and the servant’s relief, Rebekah responded, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking” (Genesis 24:19 NLT).

Regrettably, Moses tells us nothing about the servant’s reaction. He simply states that “she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels” (Genesis 24:20 NLT). But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture the wide-eyed wonder on the face of the servant as he watched this miracle take place right in front of him. This girl wasn’t just agreeable, she was enthusiastic, and her actions revealed a great deal about her character. Abraham’s servant must have been beside himself with excitement was he took it all in. His task had been fulfilled at the very first well he came to and with the first woman he met.

You can almost sense the smile on the face of Moses as he wrote the words: “The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission” (Genesis 24:21 NLT). It was too overwhelming to believe. But eventually, the servant came to his senses, and recognized that Rebekah was very one he had been sent to find. And he immediately reached into his bag and pulled out the gifts he had been given to present to Isaac’s future bride. But little did Rebekah know that these gifts were anything more than a token of appreciation for her generosity and hospitality.

Recognizing his need to know more about this young girl, the servant inquired as to the identity of her father. And, once again, the servant must have been blown away by her answer. She was the daughter of Abraham’s nephew. In other words, she was family. But unaware of who the servant was, she graciously offered him a place to stay for the evening.

The servant was blown away by the miraculous nature of the entire encounter. And he couldn’t help but drop to his knees in reverence and awe for the power of his master’s God.

The man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. “Praise the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham,” he said. “The Lord has shown unfailing love and faithfulness to my master, for he has led me straight to my master’s relatives.” – Genesis 24:26-27 NLT

As the servant worshiped Yahweh, Rebekah ran home to inform her family about their guest and all that had happened at the well. There is no way to know if she was aware of the servant’s intentions or his relationship to Abraham. It could be that Rebekah was simply excited to tell her family about the generous stranger who rewarded her with expensive gifts. But, whatever the case, Moses has set the scene for what will take place next.

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.

And the Lord Did As He Had Promised

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7 ESV

Moses opens this epic chapter with the simple, yet profound words, “the Lord visited Sarah.” After all that has transpired in the preceding chapters, they come across as rather anticlimactic. This is the moment for which Abraham and Sarah have long-awaited and about which they had their fair share of doubts. God had repeatedly promised that Sarah would bear a son, and now the time had come. The long wait was over. The promise was to be fulfilled. And while Moses’ words may lack an air of excitement, they display a strong sense of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. And three separate times in the first two verses, Moses emphasizes the faithfulness of God.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said

…the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised

And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son…of which God had spoken to him

That simple statement, “and Sarah conceived” is (excuse the pun) pregnant with meaning. God had done the impossible. He had performed a miracle by creating life in Sarah’s lifeless womb. The odds had been against Sarah. When Moses first introduced her in chapter 11, he had declared her unfortunate condition.

Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. – Genesis 11:30 ESV

Yet, in the very next chapter, God had issued His call to Abraham and announced His promise to produce through him and Sarah a great nation. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 at the time. And 25 years later, God had reconfirmed His promise to Abraham.

Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” – Genesis 17:17 NLT

So, now Sarah’s barrenness was complicated by the curse of fruitlessness that accompanies old age.

Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. – Genesis 18:11 NLT

And Sarah seemed to believe that her long struggle with infertility had been God’s doing.

So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

Yet, at just the right moment, according to God’s sovereign plan, Sarah conceived and bore a son. Against all odds and contrary to everything we know about human anatomy and physiology, a 90-year-old barren woman became impregnated by her 100-year-old husband and carried that baby for nine months. And Moses makes it clear that this pregnancy was the work of God. He had done what He had promised to do and He had done it according to His divine timeline. The 25-year delay had been a part of the plan. At no point along the way had God been exasperated by Sarah’s inability to get pregnant. He had not made a mistake in choosing Abraham. Sarah’s barrenness had not been an oversight on God’s part. Even when Sarah and Abraham kept attempting to come up with alternate plans to fulfill God’s promise, He kept reiterating His intentions to use the two of them.

God displayed His power and confirmed His covenant faithfulness through the miracle of Sarah’s pregnancy and her baby’s eventual birth. A year earlier, God had predicted that this moment would come and He had even provided a name for the son who would be born to Abraham and Sarah.

“Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:19 ESV

When Sarah had heard this promise from God, she had reacted with disbelief and scorn, saying, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT). And God had calmly and patiently responded, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14 NLT).

Now, God had answered His own question with an irrefutable demonstration of His power that should have clearly ended all speculation regarding His faithfulness. Sarah’s barrenness proved to be no problem for God. Yes, it had caused Sarah great pain and left her questioning the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God. It had frustrated Abraham, causing him to consider and, at times, implement other strategies for becoming the father of a multitude of nations. Both Sarah and Abraham wanted what God had promised, but her barrenness seemed to be an insurmountable barrier to achieving their desire. And a quarter-century of waiting only made matters worse.

But at just the right moment, according to God’s sovereign timeline, the Creator spoke into the darkness of Sarah’s despair and brought about life. And with that life, a light broke into the darkness that permeated Abraham’s world. It would be through this child that God would fulfill His promise to Abraham.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 ESV

God had clearly promised to do something significant through the offspring of Abraham. He had added, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). This boy was destined for great things. And while he would bring great joy and comfort to Abraham and Sarah, he would become the hope of the nations. Through Isaac would come another son, whose birth would also come about through miraculous means. Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah would predict the coming of this child.

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

And Isaiah would go on to describe the circumstances in which this child would be born.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil. – Isaiah 9:2-3 ESV

The birth of Isaac brought great joy and hope to Abraham and Sarah. And in a similar, yet even more significant way, the birth of this future offspring of Abraham would bring joy to the entire world.

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

At the moment of Isaac’s miraculous birth, the 90-year-old Sarah and her 100-year-old husband found themselves basking in the joy of that momentous and long-awaited occasion. Sarah’s derisive and scornful laughter had been transformed into joyful hilarity at the sight of her miracle baby. As she held her bundle of joy in her arms, she exclaimed, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” (Genesis 21:6-7 NLT). And the grin on Abraham’s face must have stretched from ear to ear.

What a sense of relief and gratitude this elderly couple must have felt. And you can sense Abraham’s thankfulness in the way he faithfully subjected his newborn son to the God-ordained rite of circumcision.

Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. – Genesis 21:4 ESV

God had done His part, now it was Abraham’s turn. In circumcising Isaac, Abraham was dedicating his son to God. This rite was meant to be a sign of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham’s descendants.

“This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you.” – Genesis 17:10-11 NLT

And God had made it clear that all those who remained uncircumcised would have no part in His future blessings.

“All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” – Genesis 17:13-14 NLT

Abraham wasn’t taking any chances. He wasn’t about to curse his newborn son to a lifetime of alienation from God. He had waited too long for this moment and he knew that Isaac was the key to all that God had promised.

“I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!” – Genesis 17:6 NLT

And though Abraham had no way to comprehend the significance of this promise, the gospel of Matthew provides the future fulfillment to which it pointed.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1 ESV

Isaac would be a means to an end. He would be the conduit through which God would bring the ultimate blessing to the nations: Jesus Christ.

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.

A Barren Faith

1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.” 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Genesis 20:1-18 ESV

With the opening of chapter 20, Moses returns the focus of his narrative to Abraham. And, despite God’s repeated acts of faithfulness and His assurances that Sarah will bear Abraham a child, we find Abraham has reverted to his old ways. This story bears a striking resemblance to the one found in chapter 12. In the early days of his time in Canaan, a famine plagued the land. So, this prompted Abraham to seek refuge in Egypt. But when he arrived in the land of the Pharoahs, he feared that Sarah’s beauty would attract the interest of the Egyptians, so he came up with a plan.

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:11-13 ESV

Abraham’s fears were justified because the Pharaoh himself found Sarah attractive, and he offered Abraham a bride price to make her a part of his harem. But while Abraham’s plan had been successful in sparing his own life, he had put Sarah in a very uncomfortable predicament. And it was only by the grace of God that she was spared humiliation at the hands of Pharaoh. The Almighty intervened and delivered Sarah back to Abraham. It had been a close call, but a valuable lesson was learned. Or so you would think.

Fast forward to chapter 20 and we find Abraham reliving one of his least flattering moments. He has journeyed from Hebron to Gerar and, once again, he has decided to spread the rumor among the inhabitants that Sarah is his sister. As before, he is telling a half-truth. Sarah is Abraham’s half-sister. But she is also his wife and the woman through whom God has promised to deliver a son. Yet, everywhere Abraham went, he declared of Sarah, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2 ESV). It seems likely that the motivation behind this charade was the same as it had been in Egypt. Abraham was out to protect his own skin. Because he was a stranger entering into potentially hostile territory, he feared that his wife’s beauty would attract the interest of the locals. If they discovered she was Abraham’s wife, they might decide to kill Abraham so that they might have a legal claim on her as a widow. Even in the pagan cultures of Canaan, marriage was a respected institution.

But what is amazing to consider is that Sarah is 90-years-old. We would find it difficult to imagine that anyone would find a woman of that age particularly attractive. But Sarah must have been striking, even at her advanced age, because the story goes on to say that Abimelech, the king of Gerar, took Sarah. The woman whom God had chosen to bear the offspring of Abraham was now relegated to the role of a concubine in the harem of a pagan king. Abraham’s plan had backfired again, producing a potentially devastating outcome.

Yet, just as before, God intervened. He came to Sarah’s rescue and turned Abraham’s ill-conceived and ill-fated ploy into a blessing instead of a curse. Nothing was going to prevent God’s sovereign plan from taking place.

Abimelech, oblivious to the truth concerning Sarah, received a disturbing vision from God, in which he was told, “you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife” (Genesis 20:3 ESV). As proof of God’s providence and His divine protection of Sarah, Moses reveals that Abimelech had not laid a hand on her. And the panicked king pleads his innocence before God.

“Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” – Genesis 20:4-5 ESV

How could he have known that Sarah was Abraham’s wife? He had been lied to and, therefore, had done nothing wrong. He had not intended to take another man’s wife.

This entire exchange is fascinating because, as a pagan, Abimelech would have had no prior knowledge of Yahweh, the God of Abraham. This was likely his first encounter with the Almighty, but he knew that he was dealing with a divine being of great power. And God let Abimelech know just how omnipotent and omniscient He was. He revealed to the frightened monarch that He was fully aware of what had happened and had actually prevented Abimelech from doing any harm to Sarah.

“Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. – Genesis 20:6 NLT

Abraham had lied. Abimelech had lusted. But God had the last say. He was in full control of the entire situation and had been divinely orchestrating the outcome. A fearful and faithless Abraham and a lustful and godless king would not prevent God from accomplishing His plan. This story illustrates the truth of the proverb: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). This same thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

If anyone is guilty in this story, it is Abraham. He knew that God had promised to give him a son through Sarah, and he should have understood that God would not allow anything to prevent that promise from being fulfilled. No harm was going to come to Abraham or Sarah. But Abraham was still having a difficult time believing that God was powerful enough to pull off this unlikely miracle. God had set the date for Sarah’s delivery and even provided a name for the son she would bear, but Abraham was still operating in fear and displaying a lack of faith. But God continued to display patience to Abraham, and even referred to him as His prophet. He commanded Abimelech to do the right thing and return Sarah to her husband.

“Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.” – Genesis 20:7 NLT

As soon as Abimelech woke up from his disturbing nightmare, he shared the Lord’s message with his servants. Then he ordered Abraham to be brought into his presence and proceeded to vent his well-justified frustration.

“What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done!  Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?” – Genesis 20:9-10 NLT

Abimelech was livid and rightfully so. Abraham’s deception had almost resulted in the annihilation of Abimelech and his people. This man’s little half-truth could have resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. But, rather than apologize, Abraham attempted to justify his actions and even blamed his behavior on his circumstances.

“I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. When God called me to leave my father’s home and to travel from place to place, I told her, ‘Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.’” – Genesis 20:11-13 NLT

Abraham reveals that this strategy had been in place since the very beginning. He had implemented it in Egypt and had continued to use it wherever he went. This seems to be an admission that Abraham had been lying about Sarah the entire time he had been in Canaan. He had displayed a habit of deception that had been motivated by doubt and fear. Only on two occasions did Abraham’s lie produce negative consequences. But even those “close calls” did not stop him from relying on deceit rather than trusting in God.

Yet, despite Abraham’s revealing admission, God chose to bless him. Not only did God return Sarah unharmed, but He also directed Abimelech to give Abraham “some of his sheep and goats, cattle, and male and female servants” (Genesis 20:14 NLT). Not only that, he offered Abraham his choice of land in Gerar and provided him with 1,000 pieces of silver as a form of compensation for the indignity shown to Sarah.

This pagan king showed great discernment and integrity. And his behavior stands in stark contrast to the “righteous prophet” of Yahweh. As a prophet of God, Abraham should have been a source of light in the darkness of Gerar, but instead, he had almost brought down the wrath of God on the unsuspecting citizens of that community.

Verses 17-18 reveal an interesting detail about this story. It appears that God had struck all the women of Gerar with barrenness. When Abimelech had taken Sarah as his concubine, he had inadvertently and unknowingly doomed his city to a future of fruitlessness. The disability that had plagued Sarah her entire adult life was visited upon the women of Gerar. Moses makes it clear that “the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife” (Genesis 20:18 ESV). And it wasn’t until the doubtful and deceptive Abraham prayed for them, that God lifted the curse.

Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. – Genesis 20:17 ESV

Think about the irony of that moment. The man who had continually doubted God’s ability to provide him a son through his barren wife was praying for God to heal the barren women of Gerar. And God heard and answered that prayer. What a powerful lesson this must have been for Abraham and Sarah. God has just rejuvenated the wombs of an entire city of barren women. So, could He not do the same for Sarah? And, as the next chapter will reveal, that is exactly what God was preparing to do.

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.

Nothing Is Too Hard For God

1 And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” Genesis 18:1-15 ESV

This next encounter between God and Abraham took place not long after Abraham had been given a new name from God, as well as instructions to institute the rite of circumcision. Abraham had also received a divine confirmation that Sarah, his wife, would bear him a son, and God had been very specific about the timing.

“I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:21 ESV

When God made this commitment to Abraham, Sarah had been nowhere in sight. And there seems to be no indication that Abraham ever shared this good news with his barren wife. In fact, when Abraham had heard this promise from God, he had laughed to himself in disbelief.

“How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old? – Genesis 17:17 NLT

But rather than punish Abraham for his doubt and disbelief, God simply restated His intentions for Sarah to give birth to a son, and He even provided a name for this miracle baby: Isaac. Yet, not long after Abraham received God’s promise of an heir, and after he and the male members of his household had healed from their circumcisions, God visited him again.

Abraham was still living in the region of Hebron, by the oaks of Mamre. This was the spot where he had settled after he and his nephew Lot had parted ways (Genesis 13:14-18). On that occasion, Abraham had attempted to settle a dispute between himself and Lot by allowing his nephew to choose any of the land of Canaan for himself. As a result, Lot had chosen the well-watered Jordan Valley. But despite Abraham’s generous offer to Lot, God had assured him that all the land would be his.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession.” – Genesis 13:14-15 NLT

In gratitude, Abraham had built an altar, so that he might call on the name of Yahweh. And this very spot would be where Abraham received yet another divine visit and further confirmation concerning God’s intentions to provide him an heir through Sarah.

This time, God appears to Abraham in the form of a theophany, a visible manifestation of His presence, but in human form. As Abraham sat by the door of his tent, he looked up and saw three men in the distance. Due to the isolated nature of his location, visitors would have been a few and far between. And there must have been something that led Abraham to believe that these men were dignitaries of some kind. It is difficult to assess whether Abraham immediately understood this to be a divine manifestation or whether he assumed these to be three men of importance passing through his land. But either way, Abraham went out of his way to welcome them and offer them food and shelter.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.” – Genesis 18:3-5 NLT

What makes this passage so fascinating is the way the conversation is recorded by Moses. It is clear that there are three men. And as Abraham converses with them, it appears as if all three speak in unison. When Abraham offered to provide them with water and food, the text reads, “So they said, ‘Do as you have said’” (Genesis 18:5 ESV). A few verses later, Moses records another question that seems to come from all three men: “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife’” (Genesis 18:9 ESV). And yet, in the very next verse, Moses records a statement that he attributes to the Lord.

The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” – Genesis 18:9 ESV

It seems that this trio of visitors was made up of the Angel of the Lord and two other angelic beings. There are many who believe this Angel of the Lord was actually a Christophany, a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ. But there is no way to prove this with any certainty. But Moses seems to be indicating that all three of these visitors spoke on behalf of God and had full authority to act as His agents. At what point Abraham discerned their divine status is difficult to ascertain.

After greeting his guests and offering them his hospitality, Abraham entered his tent and ordered Sarah to prepare food. Then he instructed one of his servants to slaughter and cook a calf. When the food was ready, Abraham served his guests but did not join them. He treated them with utmost dignity and honor, refusing even to recline at the table with them. But as he stood nearby watching them eat, Abraham was probably a bit surprised when they asked the whereabouts of Sarah. He must have been shocked that these strangers knew his wife’s name. But he simply replied that she was in the tent. At this point, Abraham heard those very familiar words, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). It was probably at this point that Abraham recognized the divine nature of his visitors. Those were the very same words God had spoken to him just days earlier.

So, why was God making a special point to reiterate this promise yet again? The rest of the verse provides the answer.

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. – Genesis 18:10 NLT

Sarah was eavesdropping. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her and she couldn’t resist the temptation to hear what was going on between her husband and these three visiting dignitaries. But what she overheard left her incredulous. She had no idea who these men were, but she found the content of their news to be not only highly improbably but totally impossible. And Moses records why.

Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. – Genesis 18:11 NLT

It seems apparent that Abraham had not shared with Sarah the previous promise he had received from God. Perhaps he knew her well enough to know that she would not take the news well. For Sarah, who had waited decades to experience the joy of childbirth, any promise that she might finally bear a son would ring hollow and be nothing more than another painful reminder of her helpless and hopeless condition. So, when she heard the words spoken outside the folds of her tent, she mirrored the response of her own husband. She treated this too-good-to-be-true news with disbelief and scorn.

“How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” – Genesis 18:12 NLT

Sarah was 90-years-old and her body was well beyond the point of being able to conceive a child. Over the years, she and Abraham had faithfully attempted to get pregnant, but with no success. It was painfully clear that she was barren and incapable of ever having a child. That was the reason behind her decision to give her maidservant to Abraham as a surrogate or stand-in. She had hoped that this might be an acceptable workaround to God’s seemingly failed promise to provide Abraham with an heir.

But here was God restating His commitment to do things His way – despite Sarah’s well-reasoned doubts and the seemingly impossible odds that were stacked against her and Abraham. They were old, but God was powerful. The outlook looked grim, but God was great. The prospect of Sarah becoming pregnant appeared impossible, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). And that is exactly what God communicated to Sarah as she hid behind the folds of her tent and cowered behind fears and doubts of her heart.

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord.” – Genesis 18:13-14 NLT

Notice that the Lord addressed Abraham and not Sarah. God had overheard her response, but He addressed His question to her husband. It is almost as if God was holding Abraham responsible for his wife’s incredulity and insolence. He had failed to pass on God’s earlier promise and had left his wife struggling with doubt and disbelief. Abraham’s confidence in God’s word had not been strong enough to convince him to tackle his wife’s lingering apprehension and uncertainty.

Like Adam, who stood by and watched his wife succumb to the temptation of the serpent in the garden, Abraham had allowed his wife to wallow in her pity and self-doubt. Rather than encouraging her to trust in the faithfulness of God, he had withheld the promise of God, and her resentment and refusal to believe withered like her womb. Her faith had become as impotent as her body. She had allowed her doubts to turn to disbelief and her disbelief, if left unchecked, would eventually turn to disobedience. And God was holding Abraham, her husband, responsible.

Sarah, still believing that she was hidden from view within the confines of her tent, denied the accusation that she had laughed. She refused to acknowledge her doubt and disbelief. But the all-knowing, all-seeing God refuted her claim and declared, “No, but you did laugh” (Genesis 18:15 ESV). God knew and He understood. He was well aware of Sarah’s physical disability and fully cognizant of the paralyzing disbelief it had produced. Her infertility had produced incredulity. But God wanted her to know that neither her barrenness nor her disbelief would prove too difficult for Him to overcome.

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.

The Real Dirt on Adam

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:4-7 ESV

In the opening chapter, Moses revealed that God made the first man and woman.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

But it’s not until chapter two that he tells how God created them. As we saw in yesterday’s post, God spoke the rest of the creation into existence. Repeatedly, Moses wrote, “God said…and it was so.” But that was not the case when it came to God’s creation of man.

…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

The Hebrew word יָצַר (yatsar) means “to form” or “to fashion,” and it was often used in the context of a potter using his hands to form a lump of clay into a particular shape. The intended connection between God forming man and a potter fashioning clay can be seen in the similarity between יָצַר (yatsar) and the Hebrew word for “potter” – יוֹצֵר [yotser].

Moses’ description of God’s creation of man adds another intended pottery reference. He states that God formed man, אָדָם (‘āḏām), from the dust, עָפָר (ʿāp̄ār), of the ground אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ). Verse 7 could be translated, “And Yahweh God formed the man, soil, from the ground.” The first man’s name, Adam, has direct links to the soil from which he was made. Like a potter, God took common, lifeless clay and fashioned it into the form of a man. In a sense, He used the same process that mankind would later use to fashion their false gods. But rather than making a lifeless idol to be worshiped, God was creating a living human being whose sole purpose would be to worship Him.

God made the man, but something was missing. The ‘āḏām had form but no ability to function. He remained lifeless and useless ‘ăḏāmâ until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). This important distinction helps to set man apart from the rest of the creative order. God took the time to personally create man’s form. Moses describes God as taking a “hands-on” approach to forming the one creature who would represent the pinnacle of His creation. This living being would be different from all others. He would bear God’s image and contain the “breath” of God.

Once the breath of God entered the lifeless clay form of man, life was generated, along with the attributes of understanding and conscience.

But there is a spirit within people,
    the breath of the Almighty within them,
    that makes them intelligent. – Job 32:8 NLT

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts. – Proverbs 20:27 ESV

The essential role of God’s breath in the creation of man should not be overlooked. No other creature came into being through this unique life-giving action. And it brings to mind a similar scene portrayed in the book of Ezekiel. The prophet of God was given a vision of a valley filled with bones. Ezekiel describes the bones as being scattered all over the valley floor and dried out – as if they had been there for some time. But God spoke to the prophet.

“Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” – Ezekiel 37:3 NLT

Don’t miss the image being conveyed. The bones, which represented former human life, were slowly turning back to dust. They were lifeless and without form and covered the ground all around Ezekiel’s feet. And addresses Ezekiel as “son of man (‘āḏām), a reminder of his descent from the first ‘āḏām, who was made from the dust of the ground. God questions Ezekiel’s faith in His creative power, and the prophet responds,  “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that” (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT).

Ezekiel hedged his bets and made no commitment. This was all out of his area of expertise. But God gave his prophet a faith-stretching assignment.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 37:4-6 NLT

God commanded Ezekiel to address the bones, declaring to them God’s intentions to revive them. God was going to reform and refashion them, returning each scattered bone to its proper place in a particular body and covering them with organs, muscles, sinews, and skin. But the key to their restoration to life would be the breath of God.

And Ezekiel describes the somewhat macabre scene that took place.

Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Ezekiel 37:7-8 NLT

The valley was now filled with a host of fully formed human beings, but they still lacked one thing: Life. So, God commanded Ezekiel to speak to the bones one more time.

“Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” – Ezekiel 37:9 NLT

And when Ezekiel faithfully followed God’s command, something truly incredible took place.

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. – Ezekiel 37:10 NLT

This entire scene was intended as an object lesson for Ezekiel. He had just been given a visual metaphor for the spiritual state of God’s chosen people.

“Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ – Ezekiel 37:11 NLT

They were hopeless and helpless because they were missing the life-giving breath of God. Their ongoing rebellion and refusal to live in obedience to God had left them lifeless and as useless as dry bones scattered all over a valley floor. And even when God miraculously recreated them into fully formed human beings, they were missing the one thing they needed to go from being ‘ăḏāmâ to ‘āḏām. They needed the breath of God. And God promised them that the day would come when He would restore them back to spiritual life by revitalizing them by His Spirit.

“I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” – Ezekiel 37:14 NLT

The first man, while formed by the hand of God Himself, remained nothing but dirt. He was a lifeless and completely useless icon of God’s creative capabilities because He lacked the one thing that would allow him to not only bear God’s image but put it into action. By breathing life into Adam, God transformed ordinary clay into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB). God had great plans for Adam and fashioned him in such a way that he would be able to accomplish all his divinely ordained responsibilities. But the primary ingredient that would make possible man’s fulfillment of God’s kingdom mandate was the breath of God. And the apostle Peter reminds us that all those who place their faith in Jesus receive the same life-giving, mission-empowering Spirit that gave God gave to Adam.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We, like Adam, have all we need to accomplish all that God has called us to do. We have been given life and the Spirit-enabled ability to live in obedience to the will of our Creator. It is the Spirit of God that makes obedience to the will of God possible. And even Ezekiel was given a promise from God that guaranteed the future transformation of the disobedient people of Israel.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God made man in His likeness. But it would be the Spirit of God that transformed lifeless clay into a vessel of honor, capable of bringing glory to its Creator and pouring out His blessings on the rest of the creation. Without the Spirit of God, humanity remains as lifeless and useless as a valley filled with dry bones. And without the breath of God, ‘āḏām would have remained nothing but ‘ăḏāmâ.

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.

He Is Risen!

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12 ESV

According to Luke, a group of women had “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee” (Luke 23:55 NLT), had watched Joseph and Nicodemus as they buried His body. Because the Sabbath was about to begin, they went away “and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 NLT), with the intention of returning once the Sabbath was over.

Early on Sunday morning, the women returned to the garden and the tomb of Jesus. Luke reveals that the group was made up of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of James, and a few other unnamed women. In his gospel, Mark dispels any thought that they were expecting to find an empty tomb and a risen Lord. He indicates that they had “bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1 ESV). In the frenetic moments after Jesus’ death, Joseph and Nicodemus had been the only ones who had done anything to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. According to John, Nicodemus had brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight” (John 19:29 ESV) with which to anoint the body. But none of Jesus’ followers had been able to participate in this final expression of grief and honor. So, these women made their way to the tomb with that end in mind, and they had even discussed who they could get to roll away the stone so they could gain access to the body. They were fully expecting to find a dead man, not a risen Savior.

But they were in for a surprise. When they arrived at the tomb, they witnessed a life-altering, world-changing event of truly epic proportions. And their sober and somber expectations would be radically realigned by what they saw.

As they walked up to the tomb, burial spices in hand, the ground shook violently, and an angel descended from heaven. This divine emissary promptly had rolled away the massive stone that had sealed the tomb’s entrance, breaking the seal placed on it by Pilate (Matthew 27:64-66).

The angel’s supernatural strength and dazzling appearance left the guards in a state of shock. Matthew describes them as becoming ‘“like dead men.” They had been tasked with preventing the followers of Jesus from stealing His body, something the Jewish religious leaders feared they would do so that they might claim He had risen from the dead. But rather than a rag-tag group of Galilean disciples, these battle-hardened soldiers were confronted by an agent of God Almighty.

The women, having witnessed this remarkable event, still made their way into the tomb and were perplexed to find it empty (Luke 24:3-4). The body was gone. Luke records that the angel who rolled away the stone was accompanied by a second angel. And these two heavenly beings confronted the women, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 ESV). But before the women could respond, the angels informed them, “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6 ESV).

They had come seeking and expecting to find a dead man. But, to their shock and surprise, they were informed that the one they sought was alive. This entire encounter must have left the women dealing with a strange mixture of elation and confusion. Could it be true? Was Jesus really alive? This news was too good to be true. But the angels didn’t give the women time to dwell on the shocking nature of their announcement. They commanded them, “go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:7 ESV).

Matthew reports that they did as they were told “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8 ESV). And as if this news was not enough to elevate their endorphin levels and raise their heart rates, their journey to tell the disciples was interrupted by a personal encounter with Jesus Himself. Matthew records that “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). This totally unexpected reunion with their formerly deceased friend and master was too much for them. All they could do was bow down and worship Him. And Jesus calmed their fears, telling them to take the news of His resurrection to His disciples and to request that they meet Him in Galilee.

When reading the various gospel accounts of this event, there seem to be contradictions. Was there one angel or two? Did Mary Magdalene arrive at the tomb on her own or with the other women? But by piecing the various gospel accounts together, you arrive at a credible chronology that provides an accurate accounting of the order of events.

First, Luke records that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome started for the tomb (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they arrived, they found the stone rolled away (Luke 24:2-9). According to John’s account, Mary Magdaline was the first to arrive at the tomb and find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples the news (John 20:1-2). It was Mary the mother of James, who arrived next and encountered the angel (Matthew 28:1-2). She ran back to tell the other women who were bringing the spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus.

In the meantime, Peter and John arrived on the scene, discovered the tomb empty, just as Mary Magdalene had said, and then departed (John 20:3-10). The disciples had evidently outrun Mary Magdalene, because she returned to the tomb, weeping, still unaware that Jesus was alive. All she knew was that the tomb was empty. But she was greeted by the two angels and then Jesus Himself (John 20:11-18), who told her to tell the disciples (John 20:17-18). According to Luke’s account, Mary the mother of James returned with the women (Luke 24:1-4), saw the two angels, and heard their message (Luke 24:5; Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:6-8). It was while they were on their way to find the disciples that these women had their encounter with the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10).

What an incredible morning! What a shocking sequence of events. None of these people had expected this to happen, even though Jesus had repeatedly told them He would rise again on the third day. He had tried to assure them that His death would be followed by His resurrection, but that part of the story had never registered with them. Until now.

He was alive. As the angel had said, “He is not here, but has risen.” The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive and well, and they were witnesses of that incredible fact. The one whom they had watched die a brutal death on the cross, just three days earlier, was fully alive. The women had touched His feet. They had heard Him speak. And He had promised to meet them in Galilee. All of this was beyond their wildest imaginations. Their sorrow had suddenly been turned to joy. Their weeping had turned to laughter. Their disappointment and disillusionment had given way to hope and happiness.

Jesus had won a stunning victory over death. He had conquered the grave. And His actions would leave His enemy, Satan, reeling from the shock of it all. The high priest and the Sanhedrin would refuse to believe it. But it was true. He was alive. And, as the apostle Paul reminds us, that irrefutable news is good news to all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NLT

A new day had dawned and things would never be the same again. As the old hymn so aptly puts it:

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

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

Eyes Wide Open

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  Luke 18:35-43 ESV

At this point in Luke’s chronology, Jesus is headed back toward Jerusalem. Jesus had already informed His disciples, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” (Luke 18:33 ESV). And now, Luke reveals that Jesus and His followers have reached the town of Jericho, located about 18 miles from Jerusalem in the southern region of Judea.

As usual, Jesus has a crowd of curious bystanders accompanying Him as he nears the city of Jericho. It seems likely that this group is made up of those who desire to be healed by Jesus, as well as those who are curious to see this famous miracle worker for themselves. News of His exploits in Galilee and the rumors concerning His identity as the Messiah have spread all throughout Galilee. So, once again, Jesus finds Himself in the unsolicited role of a celebrity.

As He nears the city of Jericho, the noise of the crowd garners the attention of a blind man who is begging by the side of the road. Before we look at what happens next, we have to deal with what appears to be the contradiction between Luke’s account of this story and those of Matthew and Mark. All three men include this encounter between Jesus and the blind man in their gospel accounts, but the details of the story are significantly different. For instance, Matthew indicates that there were two blind men, while Luke and Mark refer to only one. For some reason, Mark provides the name of the blind man while Luke does not. And while Luke seems to indicate that this story took place while Jesus was entering Jericho, Mark and Matthew describe it as taking place on His way out of the city.

This last issue seems simple enough to resolve. Luke states that Jesus’ encounter with the blind man took place “as he drew near to Jericho.” The Greek word carries the idea of proximity. In The New Living Translation, this verse reads, “As Jesus approached Jericho….”  Luke is not necessarily providing a timeline concerning Jesus’ arrival in Jericho. He is simply stating that Jesus was on a road that passed nearby the city. While in the region, Jesus could have been staying somewhere other than Jericho proper, and as He prepared to continue His journey to Jerusalem, He traveled on the road that passed by Jericho. He “drew near” in the sense that He had to pass by the city on His way to His final destination.

As to the number of blind men involved in the story, Matthew is the only gospel author who describes there being two. But this doesn’t have to be a problem. The accounts of Mark and Luke do not necessarily contradict Matthew’s telling of the story. Mark does not refute that there were two blind men, he simply focuses his attention on one, in particular, even providing us with his name. And Luke seems to follow Mark’s lead. The question is, how did Mark discover the name of this man? And the answer is revealed at the end of his account: “Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road” (Mark 10:52 NLT). Matthew indicates that, upon receiving their sight, both men followed Jesus. But perhaps Bartimaeus was the only one of the two whose gratitude and determination to become a disciple of Jesus caught the attention of the disciples. This man, Bartimaeus, received healing from Jesus and was so moved by the gesture that he chose to commit himself to follow Jesus. Evidently, the other man whom Jesus healed eventually walked away, his sight restored but still blind to the identity of his benefactor.

But if we’re not careful, we can allow these so-called contradictions to distract us from the real point of the story. As Jesus and the clamoring crowd passed by the city, the noise they made attracted the attention of the two blind men. Unable to see what was happening around them, they were forced to ask someone to explain the source of all the commotion. They were told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:37 ESV). According to Matthew, upon hearing that the Rabbi from Nazareth was nearby, both men cried out for mercy.

“Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” – Matthew 20:30 ESV

The crowd, irritated by the shouts of the two men, told them to shut up. This should not be surprising because the Jews would have viewed the blindness of these men as a sign that they had committed a serious sin against God and were suffering His judgment. They would have viewed these men as undeserving of mercy and unworthy of any attention from Jesus. But Bartimaeus and his companion would not be stifled or denied. They continued to shout and beg that Jesus would extend them mercy. They had heard of His miraculous ability to restore sight to the blind and they desperately longed for His healing touch. When their cries reached the ears of Jesus, He stopped and addressed them:

“What do you want me to do for you?” – Matthew 20:32 NLT

This seems like a rather silly question for Jesus to ask. After all, it was obvious to everyone in the crowd that these men were blind. And Jesus was fully aware of their condition and what it was they were desiring Him to do. But it is important to remember that these two men had spent their entire lives begging for handouts. They had probably spent years sitting at the very same spot asking passersby for spare change or a morsel of food. They had been forced to live off of the generosity of others. But now, they had a chance to receive something far more significant that would radically change their lives forever. So, Jesus wanted them to state their request out loud so that everyone in the crowd could hear them. And Matthew indicates that they had no problem expressing their desire.

“Lord, let our eyes be opened.” – Matthew 20:33 ESV

Bartimaeus and his fellow beggar had no problem declaring their heartfelt hope for healing. They were not interested in money or a free meal. They desperately desired to have their sight restored because they knew it would change their lives forever. But this was the first time they had the opportunity to beg for healing rather than a handout. And Jesus did not disappoint.

Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. – Matthew 20:34 ESV

Of course, Luke and Mark focus their attention on one of the men. Luke states that this one man, upon receiving his sight, “followed him, glorifying God” (Luke 18:43 ESV). Mark adds that Jesus told this man, “Go, for your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:52 NLT). These details seem to provide important clues as to Mark and Luke singling out Bartimaeus for special attention. As a result of his healing, He glorified God and Jesus indicates that it was his faith that resulted in his healing. This is similar to the account of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers. While all ten men had their leprosy miraculously removed from their bodies, only one of them gave praise to God. And Jesus pointed out the difference between his healing and that of the other nine.

Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:18-19 ESV

It’s also important to note that Luke adds another interesting detail concerning  Bartimaeus’ healing. He seems to indicate that Bartimaeus recovered his sight as a result of his faith. Jesus sensed something different in the tone of his request and pointed it out.

“Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. – Luke 18:42-43 ESV

While both men evidently followed Jesus, only Bartimaeus did so based on a belief in who Jesus was. He somehow knew that Jesus was more than just a healer. It appears that Bartimaeus believed Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God, and his praise of God was not just an expression of gratitude for restored sight, but a declaration of joy over the arrival of the anointed one of Israel.

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

No Love For God or Others

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. – Luke 14:1-6 ESV

Luke has already established that there was a great divide between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel, particularly the Pharisees. They viewed Jesus with disdain and distrust, having determined that He was a danger to their way of life. From their viewpoint, the teaching of Jesus was divisive, encouraging the people to question the status quo. His seemingly radical views regarding the law were undermining their authority and damaging the carefully crafted reputations of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These men had fooled the people into believing that they were spiritually superior, having painstakingly kept every letter of the law. But Jesus had exposed them as hypocrites and fools.

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” – Luke 11:39-40 ESV

They were all about appearances. Everything they did was meant to give the impression that they were faithful adherents to the law and, therefore, righteous before God and man. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of righteousness because He knew the true condition of their hearts. And He repeatedly exposed them for what they were.

“…you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God.” – Luke 11:42 NLT

“…you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. – Luke 11:43 NLT

“…you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.” – Luke 11:44 NLT

“…you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. – Luke 11:46 NLT

And these stinging indictments from Jesus infuriated these prideful and arrogant men, intensifying their hostility toward Him and prompting them to come up with plan for His elimination.

As Jesus was leaving, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT

Jesus had done little to win over these powerful and influential religious leaders. In fact, He had consistently exposed them as enemies of God, even describing them as the sons of Satan.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me!” – John 8:44-45 NLT

And, much to their chagrin and anger, Jesus went on to declare that they were not even children of God.  “You don’t belong to God,” he told them (John 8:47 NLT). Not only that, they had no place in the kingdom of God.

“…you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” – Luke 11:52 NLT

And yet, even after all this, Luke describes Jesus accepting an invitation to dine in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. At first glance, this seems like a rather strange decision for Jesus to make. Luke even admits that the Pharisees, “were watching him carefully” (Luke 14:1 ESV). In a sense, these men didn’t want to let Jesus out of their sight. In their effort to expose Jesus as a fraud and a violator of the law, they maintained a close watch over His every move. And it would seem that this dinner engagement was arranged to take place on the Sabbath, in the hopes that Jesus would once again break one of the many laws the Pharisees and their cohorts had made to regulate that holy day.

This whole dinner was a well-orchestrated set-up and Jesus saw through it. On seven separate occasions, Jesus had violated their Sabbath laws. Luke chapter 4 contains the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. That very same day, He had chosen to heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Luke chapter 6 records another occasion when Jesus healed someone of the Sabbath – in the synagogue. This time, it was a man who suffered from a withered hand. And in the audience that day were scribes and Pharisees who “watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And when Jesus healed the man, “they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV).

Time and time again, Jesus had purposefully chosen to violate their Sabbath laws. At one point, He even declared, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5 ESV). He knew that the Pharisees and scribes found His actions to be unacceptable and appalling. They viewed Him as a law-breaker who treated their sacrosanct religious regulations with disdain. But Jesus wanted them to wrestle with the letter of the law. He wanted them to understand God’s intentions when He gave them the law.

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

For the Pharisees, the rules and regulations took precedence. They had made strict adherence to the law the end game. But, as the Son of God, Jesus knew that His Father’s real intentions for the law were about regulating man’s love for God and love for others. That’s why, when Jesus was asked to list the greatest of the commandments, He stated, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT).

The Pharisees were missing the point. Their love of law-keeping had long ago replaced their love for God and others. And the very fact that this ruler of the Pharisees had invited a man with dropsy to his dinner reveals the sad state of his heart. Most likely, this man suffered from edema, a painful condition that caused the accumulation of fluid in the body tissue or the body cavities. Luke seems to indicate that the man was little more than a prop, a predetermined tool of the Pharisee designed to set Jesus up. Luke states, “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy” (Luke 14:2 ESV). Seemingly out of nowhere, this man showed up. And the fact that he was at the party should send up red flags. The Pharisee would have viewed this man’s condition as the result of immorality. So, it would have been very uncharacteristic for this well-respected Pharisee to invite an obvious sinner into his home on the Sabbath – unless he had an ulterior motive. And Jesus seems to have seen through the Pharisee’s intentions. He raises the very same question he had asked in the synagogue just before He healed the man with the withered hand.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” – Luke 14:3 ESV

He addressed this question to the ruler of the Pharisees and his esteemed guests, who were also Pharisees and scribes. These men were supposed to be the experts when it came to religious law, so Jesus asked them to deliver their outlook on the matter. But they remained silent. They were smart enough to know that this was a trick question. If they answered, anything they said could and would be used against them.

Since they refused to answer Jesus’ question, He took the liberty of healing the man and sending him on his way. And then Jesus turned to His host but addressed His question to everyone in the room.

Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” – Luke 14:5 ESV

Jesus puts them on the spot by making the situation more practical and personal. If any of these men had a son who had fallen into a well on the Sabbath, they would do whatever it took to rescue him. They would even do the same thing for a beast of burden. And yet, they had probably become enraged when Jesus healed the man with dropsy. In their minds, the man had no value. He was of little worth because he was a sinner. They wrongly believed that he suffered from his debilitating disease because he had committed some egregious and unforgivable sin. In fact, he had probably violated one of God’s commandments.

But the question Jesus posed to his dinner companions was intended to expose their ignorance of God’s laws. Even Moses had recorded the heart behind the law when he wrote:

“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help. – Exodus 23:4-5 NLT

Jesus knew that the Pharisees despised the man He had just healed. They saw him as the enemy. They hated him because they viewed him as a sinner and a violator of their precious laws. And they were unwilling to do anything that might make this man’s life remotely easier and more bearable. In fact, Jesus would later indict them for their hypocritical adherence to the law while ignoring the plight of those for whom the law was intended to help.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:2-4 NLT

The Pharisees were at a loss as to how to respond to Jesus’ question. So, they refused to answer and their silence condemned them. They had just demonstrated that they had no love for God because they showed no love for those whom God had made. Their disdain for the man with dropsy was only exceeded by their disgust for the one who had just healed him. They continued to see Jesus as a lawbreaker and troublemaker. And, in their minds, the man who had just experienced healing remained just as guilty and worthy of condemnation as before. The miraculous change in his physical health had done nothing to alter his spiritual condition. Or so they thought. They just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and that He had come to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19 NLT).

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

Unchanged and Unrepentant

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. – Luke 13:10-17 ESV

In this chapter, Luke has organized a series of the events surrounding Jesus’ life that each supports the overarching theme of repentance and judgment that Jesus had begun to discuss with the crowd. Luke opened chapter 13 with the foreboding words of Jesus:

“…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” – Luke 13:3 NLT

What Jesus was trying to tell His audience was that death was the inevitable outcome for all people. But not just physical death. As the apostle Paul would later express it: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But Paul had not come up with this idea on his own. It was not the product of Paul’s overactive theological imagination, but rather, it was the succinct summary of the biblical narrative concerning mankind and sin. Paul was borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures, reaching all the way back to the book of Genesis where God commanded Adam and Eve:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

Disobedience would bring death. But God was describing far more than physical death. Because when the first couple decided to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, they did not experience an immediate loss of life. They continued to live but soon found themselves separated from God, cast out of the garden and from His presence. On the day they ate of the tree, their fellowship with God ended. Sin created an impenetrable barrier between them and the One who had made them. Rather than enjoying intimate communication with God in the garden, they were cast out and cursed to experience life with the constant presence of pain, suffering, disease, and, ultimately, physical death.

Paul also drew from the wisdom of Solomon:

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but he who pursues evil will die. – Proverbs 11:19 ESV

There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death. – Proverbs 12:28 ESV

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus alluded to the fruitlessness of Israel. They had not taken the path of righteousness. But instead, had pursued the path that leads to death. As a result, God, the owner of the vineyard had declared, “I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down” (Luke 13:7 ESV). But in the story, Jesus portrayed Himself as the faithful gardener who begs the owner for more time to cultivate and care for the fruitless tree. If at the end of the following season, the tree remained barren, the owner could cut it down.

Jesus was calling all to repent but knew that many would not. There were those who followed Him who would never accept Him as their Messiah. He didn’t fit the bill. He failed to measure up to their preconceived ideas concerning the anointed one of God. Jesus had not shown up on a white horse leading a victorious army in His wake. Yes, He had performed amazing miracles that demonstrated great power with authority, but He had shown no signs that He was capable of defeating the Romans. And, at the end of the day, that is what most people wanted to see Him do. They had been looking for a sign from heaven much like the prophet Zechariah had described.

Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Zechariah 14:3-5 NLT

But Jesus didn’t show up the way they were expecting. That’s why Paul wrote:

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

And one of the primary groups of people that demanded a sign from heaven was the Pharisees. Mark records how they came to Jesus “and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Mark 8:11 NLT). They were looking for a sign that would demonstrate His Messianic power and authority. These men didn’t realize it, but they were the barren fig tree to which Jesus referred in His parable. They were to poster boys of fruitlessness, having long ago replaced loving obedience to God with legalistic adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Jesus had confronted them for their misguided obsession with rules. 

“…why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?” – Matthew 15:3 NLT

And He was far from done.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

These hypocritical rule-keepers and sign-seekers were always lurking in the crowds that followed Jesus. And as Luke reveals in chapter 13, as Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were not far behind. As Jesus was teaching, “he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11 NLT). This woman suffered from a debilitating disease that both physical and spiritual in nature. Somehow, the demon that possessed her had done physical damage to her body. For 18 long years, she had suffered from a severe disfigurement that was most likely accompanied by severe pain. On top of that, she had to deal with the ever-present reality of the demonic spirit that lived within her.

According to Jewish thought, this woman’s suffering was most likely a result of sin. She must have committed a truly egregious sin to deserve such a horrific punishment from God. Her very presence in the synagogue that day would have offended most of those in the room. In their minds, she was obviously unrepentant and unclean. But Luke records that Jesus saw the woman and called out to her. And what He said would have left the crowd shocked and confused.

“Woman, you are freed from your disability.” – Luke 13:12 ESV

There was no small talk. Jesus didn’t ask for her name or her back story. He simply declared her freedom from her pain and suffering. Then, He reached out and touched her.

he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. – Luke 13:13 ESV

At the touch of His hand, the woman’s 18-year disability was replaced with full health. She was able to stand up straight, completely free from the demon who had long possessed her. She was whole physically and spiritually. And Luke reports that she glorified God. There was no doubt in her mind that she had seen a sign from heaven and she was more than willing to give God the glory He was due. She may not have immediately understood who Jesus was, but she fully recognized that the Almighty had worked through Him.

But while this grateful woman glorified God, the ruler of the synagogue voiced his shock and indignation. Luke makes it clear that this man’s anger was directed at Jesus, but his words were directed at the crowd within the synagogue. And what he says seems to reveal that there were others in the room who had come to be healed by Jesus.

“There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” – Luke13:14 NLT

Don’t miss what this man said. He knew he couldn’t refute that a miracle had taken place. But rather than glorify God, he not-so-subtly chastised Jesus for violating the laws concerning the Sabbath. By healing the woman, Jesus has broken their man-made rules concerning the performance of work on the Sabbath. This synagogue leader, like the Pharisees who sat in the room looking on, was steeped in the traditions of Judaism which had taken God’s prohibition against work on the Sabbath and turned it into a lengthy list of legalist, nit-picking rules that made the Sabbath anything but a day of rest.

And Jesus answered the man but directed His ire at the rest of the religious leaders who had been sitting silently in the shadows watching all that had happened.

“You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? – Luke 13:15 NLT

Jesus knew the Pharisees were gloating over what they believed to be His obvious breach of religious protocol. They viewed Him as a law-breaker and someone completely out of touch with the traditions of the elders. But Jesus saw them as those who “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT). They were hypocrites because they stacked the deck, creating convenient loopholes for themselves while holding the common people to unattainable standards that left them weary and burdened by guilt.

These men were spiritually barren, completely devoid of the fruit of righteousness. They were completely incapable of rejoicing in this woman’s healing. They were blind to the obvious presence of God in their midst. And rather than glory in the goodness of God, they gloated over their superior spirituality. But Jesus exposed them for what they truly were: Barren trees lacking in fruit. And He confronts them for the lack of mercy, grace, and love.

“This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” – Luke 13:16 NLT

They would rather have seen her remain bound by a demon and crippled by disease than have their precious rules broken. They loved their laws more than they loved God. And if it had been left up to them, their obsession with legalism would have ultimately left this woman bound by Satan.

But more than three years earlier, Jesus had appeared in another synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. And He had read from the scroll of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And when He had finished, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This woman had been a recipient of the Lord’s favor. She had been set free. But the Pharisees remained enslaved to their laws, blinded by their pride and arrogance, and impoverished by their false sense of spiritual superiority. And while they were shame by Jesus’ words, they remained unchanged and unrepentant.

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

Feed My Sheep

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. – Luke 9:7-17 ESV

While the disciples were traveling about Galilee “preaching the gospel and healing everywhere,” news had reached Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee and Perea, of all that Jesus had been doing within his jurisdiction. Herod was the Roman-appointed ruler over the northern regions of Israel. In his gospel account, Mark refers to Herod as a king, but Herod was not a descendant of David and was not recognized by most Jews as the official king of Israel. He was little more than a puppet king who served at the discretion of the Roman emperor.

Herod was a particularly wicked man who coveted power and would do anything to solidify and maintain his lofty position. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, who ruled over Israel when Jesus was born. At the death of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and his brother, Philip, were appointed by the Romans to rule over a portion of their father’s former lands. In a sense, these two brothers became competitors, with each vying for the favor of Caesar and hoping to expand and solidify their power and influence. The Jewish historian, Josephus records how Herod Antipas fell in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Herod ended up divorcing his own wife and convinced Herodias to leave Philip and marry him instead. This kind of behavior by a “king” of Israel was unacceptable and John the Baptist had publicly called out Herod for this and other indiscretions.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

John the Baptist had publicly accused Herod of violating God’s laws concerning divorce and remarriage.

“It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” – Matthew 14:4 NLT

But his outspoken criticism of this powerful man resulted in his imprisonment. Herod had heard enough from John and decided to have him silenced by locking him away. As a result of John’s public condemnation of her immoral relationship with Herod, Herodias convinced her husband to have John executed. But while Herod gave in to his wife’s wishes and had John the Baptist beheaded, the decision must have haunted him for some time. When he heard all the rumors concerning Jesus, he began to question whether John had returned from the dead.

“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” – Mark 6:26 NLT

This statement is filled with fear and foreboding. Herod must have had nightmares about what he had done to John. He had ordered the execution of a man who had simply spoken the truth. Herod had been a convert to Judaism and knew that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. All that John had said had been true. And yet, due to his own pride and arrogance, Herod had made a rash vow and unintentionally sealed the fate of this innocent man. Now, he was having to live with the consequences.

But Herod’s curiosity concerning Jesus reached an all-time peak. He was intrigued by all the rumors and even stated, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:9 ESV). Who was this man performing miracles and preaching about a kingdom? Could He really be the Messiah of Israel? Had He come to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem? Perhaps Herod had recalled the story of how his father, Herod the Great, had ordered the execution of all the male children under two years of age in the region around Bethlehem. This heinous act by his father had been an ill-fated attempt to kill the one child that had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-18). And now, some three decades later, Herod Antipas was hearing rumors that this baby had grown to be a man and was gaining a reputation and a following in his domain. It could be that Herod feared that if Jesus was the king of the Jews his father tried to have killed, he might seek revenge. But whatever the case, Herod was conflicted, confused, and curious. And little did this pseudo-sovereign know that he would end up playing a significant role in the life of Jesus as the story unfolds.

But while Herod was wrestling over the identity of Jesus, the disciples returned from their short-term mission trip. Jesus had sent them in pairs to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and to validate their message, He had given them the power to perform miracles. Luke provides no hints as to the length of their mission, but simply states, “When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done.” (Luke 9:10 NLT). 

This rather anticlimactic description of their return leaves a lot to the imagination. There is no sense of excitement. We are told nothing about their exploits. But we can assume that these men must have had stories to tell and were anxious to regale one another with their experiences. So, when the 12 disciples returned from their missionary journey, it is likely that they shared stories about casting out demons and healing the sick. Recognizing that these men were excited yet worn out from their journey, Jesus led them to a remote place where they might get some much-needed rest. But isolation and alone time were difficult commodities to come by for Jesus and His disciples. Everywhere they went, they found themselves encountering and accosted by large crowds. And this time would be no different.

Luke indicates that Jesus led the disciples to the town of Bethsaida, but the crowds followed them there. The weary disciples were probably frustrated by this turn of events. They had just returned from a long and arduous trip and were looking forward to some much-need R&R. But it was not to be. And Mark records that Jesus “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11 ESV). Mark indicates that Jesus saw the crowd and “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV).

This statement sets up a subtle contrast between Jesus and His disciples that will become more obvious as the story unfolds. Jesus was moved by the helpless and hopeless state of the people. The very fact that they kept following Him revealed their desperate desire for leadership and direction. There were people in the crowd who were hurting emotionally and physically. Others were poor and needy, lacking the resources to meet the basic necessities of life.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did for these people exactly what He had commanded the disciples to do on their recent missionary excursion. And yet, there is no mention that the disciples participated in the teaching of the people or in doing any acts of healing. It is almost as if they were taking the day off. They had done their part and now it was time to relax. And one can almost sense their eagerness to bring this long day to a close by what they said to Jesus.

“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” – Luke 9:12 ESV

There is not much compassion in those words. The disciples were ready for the crowds to disperse so they could finally get the rest they so richly deserved. Their feigned concern for the well-being of the people was nothing more than a way of getting rid of them. Yet Jesus, always aware of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those around Him, simply stated, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13 ESV).

The ludicrous nature of this command is easy to miss because we have no idea how large the crowd was. It is not until later in the story that Luke reveals the actually size of the crowd. But the disciples could see the problem with their own eyes. As they heard Jesus speak those words, the disciples were staring at literally thousands of men, women, and children. And don’t forget that when Jesus had sent these men on their missionary journey, He had told them “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money” (Luke 9:3 ESV).

They had just returned and would have had no resources with which to fulfill the command of Jesus. And you can sense their confusion and frustration in their response.

We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people. – Luke 9:13 ESV

They were tapped out emotionally, physically, and financially. They lacked the resources and the energy to deal with this problem. These same men who had personally experienced the power of God by healing the sick and casting out demons were at a loss as to how to solve this pressing problem

Don’t miss what happened next. As the disciples watched, Jesus instructed the disciples to organize the crowd into groups of 50 or less. And when their work was complete, “Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people” (Luke 9:16 NLT).

The disciples played the role of waiters, distributing the food to the various groups of people. And as Jesus broke the bread and the fish, the disciples would return and find yet more food to hand out. And, as if to stress the truly miraculous nature of this scene, Luke reports “there were about five thousand men” (Luke 9:14 ESV).

And even that large number is a bit misleading. It is safe to assume that many of those men were married and their families were made up of at least one or two children. So, it would be safe to assume that the actual number of people fed that day was likely twice what Luke reported. It could have easily been as many as 10,000. And yet, as Luke makes clear, “They all ate as much as they wanted” (Luke 9:17 NLT). No one went hungry. Not a single person went without or failed to receive as much as they desired. And that included the disciples.

But the truly amazing fact is that when the crowd had dispersed, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftovers. They had shown up that day with no food, but each man walked away with a basket filled to the brim with bread and fish.

These men, who had lacked compassion for the people, had been given a once-in-a-lifetime lesson on God’s power to provide for the needs of the helpless and hopeless. When Jesus had looked on the crowd, He had seen sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). But the disciples had simply seen a problem for which they had no solution. And sadly, they lacked any desire to come up with one. In spite of their success at casting out demons, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, these men had failed to learn the most important lesson of all: That with God, all things are possible. The man with whom they had linked their lives was God in human flesh and fully capable of meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of mankind. Yes, He could provide bread, but He had come to be the bread of life. He could fill stomachs, but He had come to satisfy mankind’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. And as these men walked away with the baskets brimming with bread and fish, their hearts and minds were still lacking a full assurance of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

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