The Twelve

12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. Luke 6:12-19 ESV

Luke was the author of the gospel that bears his name as well as the book of Acts. Both were written to an individual named Theophilus, a close acquaintance of Luke’s. These two works were intended to provide Theophilus with a complete chronicle of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, while also describing what happened to the disciples after Jesus returned to His Father’s side.

He prefaced the book of Acts with a note of explanation, informing Theophilus of the connection between the two works.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. – Acts 1:1-2 ESV

Luke went on to record Jesus’ last words to His disciples just before He departed.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

The rest of the book of Acts provides a detailed history of what happened after the disciples returned to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit came just as Jesus had promised and the disciples were dramatically and permanently transformed by His indwelling presence and power.

As one reads Luke’s gospel account, it becomes apparent that he had a two-part series in mind from the beginning. He had likely been conducting first-person interviews with the disciples and other followers of Jesus. He had spent countless hours chronicling the events of Jesus’ life, all the way to His death in Jerusalem. But for Luke, that was not the end of the story, it was only the beginning. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension paved the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church – the Body of Christ.

So, in his gospel, Luke shows a keen interest in how Jesus chose His disciples because he knew these men would play a vital role in the future of the ministry. Luke is the only gospel author who states that Jesus called His disciples apostles. The term “apostle” means “sent ones” and Luke uses it six times in his gospel and 28 times in the book of Acts. These men would become the means by which Jesus carried on His ministry even after His departure. Jesus would commission them to carry the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

But how did these particular men end up with this weighty responsibility? What were their qualifications? Why did were they chosen to carry on the work of Jesus? Luke attempts to answer these questions as he recounts Jesus’ selection of the twelve. And he begins by explaining that Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the men who would become His apostles. Luke has made it clear that Jesus had many followers. He was constantly surrounded by large crowds and there were many who had begun to believe that He was the long-awaited Messiah. But after His all-night conversation with His Heavenly Father, Jesus called His followers to join Him on the mountain top.

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. – Mark 3:13-15 ESV

Jesus set apart these men from among all the others, and they would become His inner circle. He would spend the next three years pouring into their lives and preparing them for the future ministry they would inherit when His work was done.

It should not be overlooked that Jesus went to a mountain top in order to receive direction from His Heavenly Father. And immediately after this encounter, He called the men who would become His apostles and began to teach them. This entire scene is reminiscent of Moses’ ascent to the top of Mount Sinai where He received the Law from God and then took it down to the valley, where he taught it to the people. Jesus was the new Moses, imparting the commands of God to the people so that they might live in keeping with His will and in a way that would honor His name. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Moses.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV

Jesus descended from the mountain accompanied by His 12 disciples and began to teach the large crowd that had gathered.

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon – Luke 6:17 ESV

Despite His confrontations with the religious leaders, Jesus’ reputation continued to spread. While the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin were busy trying to figure out how to eliminate Jesus, the people were flocking from all over Israel to see and hear Him. And Luke records that the audience consisted of two groups: “A great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people.” In other words, those who came were made up of the convinced and the curious. There were some who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and others who had come to see if all the rumors about His miracles were true. And, as always, there were those who came to be healed. For them, the debate over whether Jesus was the Messiah was secondary and superfluous. Their interest in Him was far more personal and practical. The diseased and demon-possessed had traveled all the way to Galilee in the hopes of receiving healing from Jesus. And they were not disappointed. Luke reports that even “those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured” (Luke 6:18 ESV).

For the first time, the 12 men whom Jesus had chosen, found themselves in the center of all the interest surrounding Him. They were crushed by the crowds pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus. Luke provides a somewhat benign description of the scene: “Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone” (Luke 6:19 NLT). But it seems likely that the newly appointed disciples found all of this to be a bit overwhelming. They were no longer spectators, standing on the outside and observing Jesus from a distance. They found themselves in the eye of the storm and probably wondering what they had gotten themselves into. An odd mixture of excitement, fear, and wonder must have filled their minds as they viewed the chaotic scene taking place around them.

This was just the beginning. These 12 men had no idea what was coming next or what the following three years would contain. But suddenly, Jesus turned His attention from those who clamored for healing and addressed the men He had chosen to be His apostles. And what He had to say to them would be like nothing they had ever heard before. As mind-blowing as His miracles had been, they were about to be blown away by the content of His message.

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

Enemy Intel

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. Luke 4:31-37ESV

After having escaped the wrath of his disbelieving neighbors in Nazareth, Jesus made His way to Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As before, Jesus was invited to address the congregation at the local synagogue on the Sabbath. And, once again, those who heard Him speak “were astonished at his teaching” (Luke 4:32 ESV). Evidently, Jesus spoke with a sense of power and authority that was like nothing they had ever heard before. Luke does not divulge the content of Jesus’ teaching, but it seems likely that it would have been similar to what He had shared in Nazareth. It would have been natural for Jesus to read from the Torah, which contained the first five books of the Old Testament. But in most synagogues in the 1st-Century, it was also a common practice to read from the books of the Law and the Prophets. That’s why Jesus read from the book of Isaiah in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. This practice is mentioned in the book of Acts.

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” – Acts 13:13-15 ESV

Later on in his gospel, Luke records the interaction between the recently resurrected Jesus and two of His followers, who were traveling on the road to Emmaus. These two dejected disciples had been discussing the crucifixion of Jesus when He suddenly appeared by their side as they walked. They did not immediately recognize Him, but as Jesus walked alongside them, He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). And later on, when they realized that they had been talking with the risen Lord, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NLT).

So, as Jesus opened up the Scriptures on that Sabbath day in Capernaum, He may have used the Word of God to reveal His identity to them. But whatever Jesus said, Luke reports that “his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32 ESV). The Greek word he used to describe the teaching of Jesus is exousia, which can also be translated as “one who possesses authority.” Jesus didn’t simply read Scripture and then share His opinion, He spoke with a sense of right and privilege, as the Son of God who was Himself the incarnate Word of God.

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

While the majority of His audience were amazed by His teaching, there was one individual who made the connection between His words and His identity. Luke reports that “there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon” (Luke 4:33 ESV). And in the midst of Jesus’ teaching, the demon within this man suddenly interrupted the proceedings by causing him to shout, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34 ESV).

One of the first questions we should ask is why this man was in the synagogue, to begin with? If the people of Capernaum knew He was demon-possessed, he would have been considered unclean and unfit for entrance into this place of worship. Perhaps they were unaware of his condition, or it could that he entered the room unexpectedly while everyone was listening to Jesus speak. But regardless of how the man got there, the demon within him immediately recognized who Jesus was and revealed an awareness of why He had come. Evidently, the demon spoke on behalf of his companions, who had also taken up residence within this poor man.

While the rest of the audience recognized that Jesus spoke with authority, the demons understood the exact nature of that authority, and they feared the worst. The primary demon expressed their concern that Jesus had come to destroy them. They understood Him to be “the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34 ESV), the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. And the demons seemed to be aware that Jesus possessed a power and authority that was greater than their own. Not only could He dispossess them, but He could also destroy them.

But before the demon could say anything more, Jesus shouted, “Be silent and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35 ESV). And at the word of Jesus, the demons were cast out, causing the man to collapse on the floor, exhausted but completely unharmed. And all those who witnessed this encounter were left slack-jawed and amazed. They whispered among themselves, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV).

They had just witnessed the authority of Jesus on full display and were left thoroughly blown away by the experience. They had never seen anything like this before. But what they didn’t fully realize was that Jesus had just demonstrated His Messianic power and proven His right to rule and reign. He had authority over both the natural and spiritual realms. Even the demons were subject to His word.

And with this miracle, Jesus gave evidence that His claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was true. When He had read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, He had boldly proclaimed, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). And one of the things Jesus had claimed He had been anointed by the Spirit of God to do was to “proclaim liberty to the captives” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed(Luke 4:18 ESV). And the man who stood in the synagogue that day was now demon-free thanks to the Holy One of God.

And, as one would expect, “The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region” (Luke 4:37 NLT). The rumors spread. His reputation grew. And the interest in this rabbi from Nazareth increased with each passing day. But apart from the confession of the demon, most people were still unsure of just who Jesus was and what He had come to do. They were impressed with His power, amazed by His words, and curious about His identity, but not quite ready to deem Him the Holy One of God.

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

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

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

Rejected By His Own

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:14-30 ESV

Unlike the first Adam who, along with his wife, fell prey to the temptations of Satan and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, Jesus resisted the tantalizing offers of the enemy. In doing so, Jesus proved that He was far more than just another man on a mission from God. He was the God-man, the incarnate Son of God. He was the Davidic heir who, as King of the Jews, had come to do battle with Satan and end his monopolistic rule over the earth. Jesus, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, successfully repulsed Satan’s repeated attempts to distract Him from His mission. Satan was fully aware that Jesus was the Son of God, and he used that knowledge in crafting his plan of attack. The enemy attempted to get Jesus to compromise His God-ordained orders through self-gratification, self-exaltation, and self-glorification. But Jesus refused. He stood firm in His commitment to the Father’s will and walked away victorious over the enemy. But the battle was far from over.

Still empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, Jesus made His way from the wilderness of Judea to the region of Galilee. Luke reports that, as Jesus passed through the towns and villages in the region, He taught in their synagogues. But Luke provides few details about what Jesus said or did on those occasions. In his gospel account, Matthew sheds a bit more light on Jesus’ actions and the impact He had on the people living in Galilee.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

News began to spread and the crowds began to grow. Jesus was developing a reputation and a following. And there’s little doubt that a big part of His attraction was the miracles He performed. But there was also a growing interest in His message. As Matthew records, Jesus was continually proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus had begun His ministry by echoing the words of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

When John the Baptist had declared that very same message, he had been in the region of Judea near the Jordan River, and Matthew records that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (Matthew 3:5 ESV). But now, Jesus had moved further north, where the people had not yet heard the news of the coming kingdom. Yet, as He began to proclaim the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, the people of Galilee knew exactly what He was talking about. They too had longed for its coming for generations. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had been praying for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, and now the news of His arrival began to spread. Reports of Jesus’ amazing miracles made their way from village to village. And the people began to question whether this stranger named Jesus might be the Messiah the prophets had talked about.

Eventually, Jesus made His way back to Nazareth, the town in which He was raised. News of His return would have been accompanied by the rumors of all that had happened in the surrounding towns and villages. For the people of Nazareth, all of this would have been a shock. They knew Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph. In all the years they had known Jesus, they had been given no reason to believe that He was someone special, let alone the potential Messiah of Israel.

Yet, upon His return, Jesus did what He had done in every town He had visited: He spoke in their synagogue. It’s likely that the local synagogue ruler invited Jesus to speak because he had heard the rumors about Him addressing the synagogues in other towns in the region. It was not uncommon for traveling rabbis or teachers to speak in the local synagogue. But when Jesus stood up to speak, He chose to read from the scroll of Isaiah, and He chose a particular passage: Isaiah 62:1-12.

“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

This was a well-known Messianic passage, and the crowd in the synagogue would have been quite familiar with it. They would have noticed that Jesus had left out an important part of the passage: “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2b). As Jews, their concept of the Messiah was one of deliverance and vengeance. When the Anointed One of God showed up, He would set the people of Israel free from their oppression by delivering a fateful blow to the Gentiles who ruled over them. They were expecting a King who would defeat the pagan enemies of Israel and re-establish the primacy and superiority of Israel on earth.

But Jesus stopped where He did for a reason and, rolling up the scroll, He took His seat in the synagogue. And Luke reports that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:20 ESV). They were waiting for some explanation. What was He going to say? Why had He read that particular passage? And Jesus didn’t leave them waiting long. He calmly stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). You can almost hear the audible gasp that came from the people as they heard Him utter those words. He was claiming to be the Messiah. This would have been a bold and shocking claim for anyone to make, especially someone they had known all their lives. But Luke reports that “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV). Yet Matthew paints a slightly less favorable response.

When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Matthew 13:54-57 NLT

Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He knew He would have a difficult time convincing His own hometown of His identity as the Messiah. He responded to them by saying, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:23-24 NLT).

In a way, Jesus was using Nazareth as a symbol for the entire nation of Israel. As the apostle John wrote, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Here He was in His own hometown, and they refused to accept Him as who He was: Their Messiah and Savior. Which led Jesus to make a profound and somewhat surprising statement that left His audience offended. 

“Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:25-27 NLT

Don’t miss what Jesus is saying here. First of all, He compares Himself to the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. His audience would have been highly familiar with these two men. But Jesus focused on two specific incidents involving these prophets of Israel and their interactions with two Gentiles: One a Sidonian widow and the other, a Syrian leper. Jesus infers that God seemingly overlooked the needs of Jews in order to minister to these two non-Jews. This unthinkable idea left His Jewish audience appalled and angry.

When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff – Luke 4:28-29 NLT

Keep in mind, these were His neighbors, the very people with whom He had spent His entire life. But as soon as Jesus placed a preference on Gentiles, they turned on Him like a pack of ravenous dogs.

What the people of Nazareth failed to understand was that their Messiah would be a Savior for all the people of the earth, including the Gentiles, whom they despised. And this bit of unexpected news didn’t fit their concept of the Messiah. They were expecting a Jewish Messiah who would wreak havoc on the pagan nations of the world, much as David did to the Philistines. They were hoping and longing for a Messiah who would deliver a devastating blow to their Roman occupiers and revive the Jewish state. There was no place in their concept of the Kingdom for Gentiles. And their anger with Jesus was so intense that they tried to kill Him. But Luke simply states that Jesus “passed right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30 NLT).

This would be the first of many attempts on Jesus’ life. But what sets this one apart is that it came from those who knew Him best. His own friends and neighbors tried to take His life. But it was just a foreshadowing of what was to come as, eventually, the entire nation of Israel would turn against Him.

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

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

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

From Boy to Man to Messiah

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:39-52 ESV

Once Mary and Joseph had fulfilled all the requirements prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law, they were able to return home to Nazareth in Galilee. But for some unexplained reason, Luke chose to leave out the family’s flight to Egypt. Not only that, he also fails to mention the visit of the wise men who traveled all the way to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 ESV). When these foreign visitors had arrived in Jerusalem seeking the newly born king, they sought aid from Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea. But Herod was surprised by their news and made plans to eliminate this new competitor to his throne.

After the wise men had paid their respects to Jesus in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream in which an angel of the Lord warned him about Herod’s plan to kill Jesus.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

The angel’s warning proved true, as Herod “sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16 ESV). Joseph would keep his family in Egypt until he received another dream alerting him to the news that Herod had died, and it was safe to return home. But Joseph’s initial plan had been to return to Bethlehem.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.– Matthew 2:21-23 ESV

Bethlehem was located in Judea, the province over which Herod had been given jurisdiction by the Romans. Since Herod’s son, Archelaus had taken his place as king of Judea, Joseph was directed by God to take his family back to Nazareth.

So, there was a lot that had happened in the young life of Jesus before we reach the events recorded in today’s passage. Luke simply picks up the story after their return, stating, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40 ESV). Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus had failed. The infant soon became a healthy young boy, growing up in the small town of Nazareth. Luke seems to want his readers to understand that Jesus had a childhood. The Messiah of Israel had been born and raised just like any other Jewish boy of His day. He had been taught by His parents and provided with instructions in the Mosaic Law and introduced to the sacrificial system of Israel.

Luke reports that, for 12 years, Jesus and His family made the annual trip to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. This was one of three festivals that required all Jewish males to travel to the capital city where the temple of Yahweh was located. Many would bring their families with them so that they might experience the sights and sounds of this important national commemoration of Israel’s deliverance by God from their captivity in Egypt.

But on this particular occasion, Luke reports that something significant happened. When the feast had ended, the family joined the thousands of other pilgrims who filled the streets leaving Jerusalem. It was likely that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were traveling with friends and other extended family members. And it was common practice for the men and women to travel in separate groups. This may help explain how neither Mary or Joseph seemed to notice that Jesus had stayed behind and was not part of the caravan that made its way back to Nazareth. Each of them just assumed that the child was traveling with the other parent. It was not until that evening that they discovered Jesus was missing. In a panic, they made the long trek back to Jerusalem.

But all the while, Jesus had been “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46 ESV). This young boy of 12 had been quizzing the religious leaders, most likely peppering them with questions about the law and other matters of faith and religion. And this seemingly precocious pre-teen from the backwater town of Nazareth left an impression on His elders.

…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:47 ESV

But while Jesus had been busy in the temple, His poor parents had been in a panic, searching for their “lost” child all throughout the city of Jerusalem. When they finally discovered Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph were dumbfounded. Luke uses the Greek word, ekplēssō, which can be translated “to strike with panic, shock, or astonishment.”

You can sense Mary’s concern and consternation in her response to Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48 ESV). Like any concerned mother, she is relieved and, at the same time, a bit put out with her son. For three days she has had to suffer all the anxieties and fears that accompany the realization that your child is missing. And Mary had the added pressure of knowing that her son was to be the long-awaited Savior of Israel, and now she had somehow managed to misplace the Messiah.

But when Mary confronted Jesus about His behavior, the young boy answered confidently,  “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). There was no disrespect or dishonor in Jesus’ words. He simply stated what appeared to HIm to be obvious.

What Jesus actually said was something along the lines of “Did you not know that I must be about the things of my Father’s?” The Greek word that ends the sentence is patēr, which is translated as “father.” With this statement, Jesus is revealing that He understands the identity of His true Father. He knows that He is the Son of God, and He is asking His mother why she seems so surprised to have found Him in His Father’s house. Where else would He be? Where else would He go?

But Luke reveals that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. It was all too much for them to take comprehend. So, with great relief, they took their Son and started the long journey back to Nazareth. And Luke notes that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51 NLT). This statement seems to indicate that, at this point, Jesus fully understood who He was and what God had planned for Him to do. But He realized that His time had not yet come to begin His earthly ministry. So, He willingly submitted Himself to His parent’s care, waiting patiently for the preordained time His Messianic ministry would begin.

And for the next two decades, Jesus would remain in Nazareth, growing from a young boy into full adulthood. Luke makes note that, during those years, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). There was a natural progression to Jesus’ physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. He grew up just like any young man would do. He learned and experienced life. And it would seem that His awareness of His true identity and future mission became increasingly more clear over time. God was preparing His Son for His eventual mission.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impeccable Timing of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The King Has Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unlikely Vessel

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.’ 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 ESV

The birth of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah, while obviously divinely ordained and miraculous in nature, was meant to be a precursor to the more important and paradigm-shifting birth that was to follow. John’s entire life and ministry would be that of a herald or preparer of the way.

“…he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:17 ESV

In the same way, Luke records John’s birth as if it was merely a sign of greater things to come. While there are obvious similarities between the two birth accounts, Luke wants his readers to understand that there were glaring and significant differences as well. Years later, after beginning his ministry announcing the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, John would elaborate on the differences between him and Jesus.

“You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of Him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him, and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must increase; I must decrease.

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.” – John 3:28-31 BSB

Once again, the angel Gabriel is sent to earth by God with a message. This time, he appears to a young virgin girl named Mary. Unlike Zechariah, Mary bears no title or job responsibility that would give her an air of importance or worth. She lived in Nazareth, a relatively obscure town located in the region of Galilee. With the mention of her place of residence, Luke has moved the narrative outside the walls of the capital city of Jerusalem where Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. In doing so, he has shifted the reader’s attention from the sacred environs of the temple to the less-than-holy confines of Nazareth. The reputation of this backwater town was far from stellar. Years later, when Philip told Nathanael “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45 ESV), Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But it was in this unimpressive place and to an unassuming young girl that God sent His angelic messenger with unexpected news.

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:28 ESV

Luke records that Mary’s response to seeing an angel was markedly different than that of Zechariah. He had been troubled and filled with fear at the sight of Gabriel but Mary seems to have been more disturbed by the content of the message than the heavenly status of its deliverer.

…she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. – Luke 1:29 NLT

Mary was a nobody. It’s likely that she was no more than a teenager at the time. And besides her name and the fact that she was a virgin, all Luke tells us about her is that she was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27 ESV). There is nothing about Mary that should have set her apart as special in any way. And that seems to be the point. When Gabriel announced her “favored” status, he was not declaring that she had somehow earned her way into God’s good graces.

The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη, and it means “to grace” or “to indue with special honor.” It is only used one other time in the New Testament. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul refers to the grace or unmerited favor that God had poured out on them.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV

They had done nothing to earn their adoption as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. It had all been a gift from God. And he would elaborate on the undeserved nature of that gift in the very next chapter.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

Mary had done nothing to merit her visitation from Gabriel, and her designation as God’s “favored one” was unearned as well. God had chosen her. He had set her apart to be the earthly vessel that would carry the priceless treasure of His Son. It was her relative obscurity and apparent inadequacy that set her apart. And Mary seemed to recognize the incongruity of Gabriel’s words with her own understanding of her value. She was troubled by what she heard and couldn’t reconcile the confusing nature of the angel’s message. But the apostle Paul provides us with a statement that helps to explain what was going on as Gabriel declared God’s message to Mary.

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-289 NLT

Mary was an unlikely vessel to contain the glory of God. But then, so are we.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

This young girl was going to be used by God to bring light into the world. She would bear and give birth to the Son of God. For nine months, she would carry the hope of the world in her womb, and eventually, she would deliver God’s priceless gift of grace into the waiting arms of a rebellious and sin-stained world.

Gabriel assured Mary that she had “found favor with God!” (Luke 1:30 NLT). Once again, this does not mean that Mary had earned favor, but that God had graciously chosen to act on her behalf. He was gracing her with His favor. And then Gabriel explains to her how the favor of God would manifest itself.

“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

If Mary had been troubled before, she had to have been reeling at this point. This was mind-boggling, earth-shattering information that must have left her head spinning and her heart racing. And her confusion is evidenced by her reaction: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). She and Joseph were still in the betrothal stage of their relationship and were not yet officially married. It sounded like Gabriel was getting the cart before the horse. She and Joseph still needed to complete their betrothal, go through the marriage ceremony, and then consummate their relationship.

That’s when Gabriel drops the next bombshell.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. – Luke 1:35 NLT

This was all uncharted waters for this young Jewish girl. She had no way of understanding what Gabriel meant. There was no precedent to which she could turn to understand this kind of supernatural explanation. It is doubtful that she fully comprehended the nature of Gabriel’s words. But rather than ask more questions, she simply responded: “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NLT). There may have been a tone of confused compliance behind Mary’s statement. She had no idea what was about to happen but because it was the will of God, Mary was ready to humbly submit.  

It all had to have sounded improbable and impossible to Mary. But Gabriel had assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NLT). And he gave Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence of God’s involvement in all that was going on. The creator of the universe was working behind the scenes to bring about the greatest event in human history, and He was using broken, barren, insignificant, and undeserving individuals to make it happen.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When God Is Not Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazed At Their Disbelief

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

After healing the woman with the discharge of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Nazareth. But there is one last thing we need to look at before leaving these two amazing miracles behind. In recording the events associated with these miracles, Mark provides two different pieces of information that, at first glance, appear to be unimportant. First, when describing the medical condition of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, Mark states that she “had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25 ESV). It would be logical to assume that he included this detail simply to emphasize the long-term and hopeless nature of the woman’s condition.

But then, just a few verses later, in describing the healing of Jairus’ young daughter, Mark adds another interesting detail.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age) – Mark 5:42 ESV

Once again, why did Mark feel the need to provide the girl’s age? Perhaps it was his way of explaining her ability to walk when commanded to do so. But why did he think it was so important to share her exact age? Even a toddler could have responded when Jesus called out “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41 ESV).

Could it be that Mark was attempting to use these two references to years as a way to connect these two miracles? Consider the fact that the very year the woman’s debilitating medical condition began would have been the very same year the young girl had been born. And while this woman spent the next 12 years visiting physicians and spending all her financial resources seeking a cure, the young daughter of Jairus would have been living a rather protected and privileged life. After all, her father was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue. For 12 years, the woman’s life would have been marked by pain and suffering, while the young girl most likely experienced a happy and carefree existence. But to the surprise of her family and friends, her young life would end suddenly and tragically in death. No one saw it coming. And while her anxious father had sought out the miracle worker named Jesus, his efforts would prove futile. It was too little, too late.

It would be natural to expect the older woman, who suffered from an incurable medical condition, to be the first to die. But she was spared because she placed her faith in Jesus. The one who knew her condition was fatal and was standing with one foot in the grave was delivered from death’s door. But the young girl, whose best years had been ahead of her, ended up dead, surrounded by mourners who grieved over her loss. But because of the faith of her father, Jesus raised the girl back to life. Upon hearing the devastating news that his daughter had died, Jairus was told by Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Jesus didn’t tell Jairus why or what he should believe. But the distraught father followed Jesus and, along with his wife and three of the disciples, watched as his 12-year-old daughter was miraculously restored to life.

Two women – one old and one young. One sick and the other whole. One anticipating death and the other completely surprised by it. And yet, both women were delivered from death by the same man. The one who was near death was prevented from having to experience it. The one who experienced death was brought back from it. And all through the power and authority of Jesus. This reminds us once again of the words He spoke to Martha, just before He raises her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

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

When we read the words, “…though he die, yet shall he live,” we should think of the 12-year-old girl. When we read the words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” we should think of the woman who had been sick for 12 long years. These two women provide us with living proof of Jesus’ statement. Yes, both would end up dying at some later date. But, in healing them and delivering them from death when He did, Jesus was demonstrating for His disciples that He had power over death and the grave. And, one day, He would prove it with His own death and resurrection.

But back to today’s passage. Jesus and HIs disciples made their way to Nazareth, the town where He had grown up. This is where Mary and Joseph had settled and raised their family. After the birth of Jesus, they had gone on to have additional children, and, unlike Jesus, they had all chosen to remain in Nazareth.

But on the next Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue where Jesus was honored as a visiting Rabbi or teacher. He was given the opportunity to address the congregation, and what He had to say that day made a huge impression on those in the room. But it seems that His words received mixed reviews.

“Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” – Mark 6:2-3 NLT

Some were blown away by Jesus’ eloquence and His ability to perform such incredible miracles. Likely, the news about His most recent demonstrations of power had already made its way to Capernaum. But there were others in the crowd that day who were unimpressed because they viewed Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter. They knew His family and were probably aware that even His own brothers thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Even His own family refused to believe Him to be the Messiah of Israel (John 7:5). It seems likely that Jesus’ siblings had shared their own opinions regarding their famous brother. And all of this negative publicity appears to have jaded the minds of those who had known Jesus since He had been a little boy. Mark reveals that the opinion of the naysayers prevailed that day.

They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Mark 6:3 NLT

Mark goes on to note that Jesus was amazed at the level of disbelief among those who knew Him best. It is clear that they had heard the rumors concerning His miracles. They had just heard Him speak and expressed their amazement at His wisdom. But they just couldn’t get past the fact that this was the same man whom they had seen running and playing in the streets of Nazareth as a boy. He was the son of a carpenter. How could He be the long-awaited Messiah? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” comes to mind. They knew too much, and their knowledge blinded them to the truth.

And sensing their disbelief and outright rejection of His message and ministry, Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” (Mark 6:4 NLT). Even the prophets of old found it difficult to get those who knew them best to listen to their words. Their claims to spokesmen for God went unheeded, and their calls to repentance fell on deaf ears. And Jesus includes Himself among the rejected and disrespected prophets of God. He was in good company and experiencing the same bad outcome.

And the refusal of the citizens of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the Son of God prevented them from experiencing the power of God in their midst. The miracles of Jesus would continue to be nothing more than rumors. The healings they had heard about would not take place in their community. The sick would find no relief. The demon-possessed would experience no release. The blind would remain sightless and doomed to walk in darkness. And the citizens of Nazareth would allow the Light of the world to walk away, leaving them wandering in the darkness of their own sin.

Mark paints a rather pathetic and pitiable picture of the scene that took place as Jesus prepared to leave His hometown.

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 NLT

There was an absence of faith in Nazareth. Despite everything they had heard and seen, they couldn’t get past the fact that this was Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He was just a man. He was no better than they were. So, why should they honor Him? Why should they believe Him? Sadly, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, had grown up among them, but their stubborn pride and sin would prevent them from recognizing Him. And while Jesus would mercifully heal a few, the rest would be left to die in their sins. Their refusal to believe would have dire and deadly consequences, just as Jesus would later tell Martha.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

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

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

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

Something New

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. – Matthew 13:53-58 ESV

When Jesus had finished sharing His parables concerning the kingdom, He asked His disciples if they understood their meaning, and they responded, “Yes” (Matthew 13:51 ESV). But did they really understand, or were they simply afraid to admit that they were still confused? Jesus seemed to know that their answer did not reflect the true state of their hearts and minds. He was well aware that all this talk of the kingdom had left His disciples with more questions than answers. They had taken it all in, but it would take time for them to digest all that they had heard.

Jesus responded to their affirmative answer with another parable-like statement:

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:52 ESV

In ancient Israel, scribes were considered an expert in the Hebrew scriptures. Their job was to study the Law and write commentaries on it. They were also responsible for transcribing the Scriptures, taking meticulous care to see that there were no errors made in the copying process. Their intense preoccupation with the Scriptures gave them an unparalleled familiarity with its content. Of all people, they should have been the most aware of the countless passages concerning the kingdom of heaven. The Pentateuch, the writings of the prophets, the books of history and poetry – they all pointed toward the coming Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom.

And Jesus compares these learned men to the master or head of a house. This man has a treasury (thēsauros) filled with a variety of items he has deemed of great value. Some are old, and some are new. But they have all been placed in a storehouse for safekeeping. A scribe would have been familiar with all the books of the Old Testament and would have known that they were all written over a period of 1,400 years by some 40 different authors. But this collection of diverse writings would have all been considered sacred to a faithful scribe. And he would treat the more recent texts of Scripture with just as much honor as the earlier ones. They would all be God’s Word and worthy of consideration. The newer books were to shed light on the older ones. And together, taken in their entirety, the Scriptures would shed light on the coming kingdom. They would all point toward the Messiah.

From the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis, the scribe would have read the words of God spoken to Satan in response to his role in the fall of Adam and Eve:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 ESV

This was a prophecy concerning the coming Messiah. Satan would eventually be paid in full for his wickedness, suffering at the hands of an offspring of Eve – the future Messiah. And if you fast-forward to the last verse in the last book of the Old Testament, you find another prophecy concerning the coming kingdom and the work of the Messiah:

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

Old and new treasure. It was all to be considered of equal value. And Jesus was sharing even more recent and revelatory information that the scribes should have considered in light of all that they already knew about the Messiah. They should have been able to put all the pieces together and see the bigger picture. But they didn’t. Instead, they rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They treated the new “treasure” provided to them through Jesus’ words and works, with contempt. Rather than accept the gift of God’s Son as the final piece to their collection of prophetic treasures, they rejected Him.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to take in all that they were hearing and seeing, considering it as new revelation, but fully in keeping with all that had come before. As God had said through the prophet, Isaiah:

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness.” – Isaiah 43:19 NLT

And as the apostle Paul would later write:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Something new and significant was happening. And Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that what they were witnessing was unlike anything the scribes or other religious leader had ever anticipated or expected.

And it is no coincidence that Matthew chooses to include Jesus’ return to His hometown of Nazareth at this point in his narrative. After completing this series of parables, Jesus left Capernaum and made the 20-mile journey to Nazareth, the place where He had spent His childhood. Jesus would have been returning to familiar territory, where He should have met a receptive audience. But things did not turn out that way. In this little section, which ends chapter 13, Matthew provides an important transition that brings his description of Jesus’ rejection by His own to a close.

Upon His return to Nazareth, Jesus made His way to the synagogue. This was not the first time Jesus had visited the synagogue since leaving Nazareth. Luke records that Jesus went back to Nazareth not long after His temptation in the wilderness. On that occasion, Jesus had stood before the congregation and read from the book of Isaiah. After reading the text, a prophecy concerning the Messiah, Jesus had boldly stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

While Luke records that the people “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22 ESV), they had a difficult time reconciling who they knew Jesus to be with what they heard Him saying. They couldn’t help but ask, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” They remembered Jesus growing up in Nazareth, along with his brothers and sister. They viewed Jesus as just another one of the sons of Joseph. They had no concept of the virgin birth or of Jesus’ deity. He was just another son of Joseph the local carpenter.

So, Matthew records yet another occasion when Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. And we find his neighbors still trying to reconcile their perception of Jesus with all that they had heard He had done since leaving Nazareth. They respond:

“He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Matthew 13:55-57 NLT

They were having trouble reconciling the old with the new. The more recent version of Jesus didn’t gel with their preconceived notions of who He was. That was the core of their struggle. Rather than receive Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, they couldn’t help but view them as nothing more than just another Jewish boy from Nazareth. They were incapable of seeing the treasure in their midst.

Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was a prophet without honor in His own hometown. This was in fulfillment of the words of John, recorded in his Gospel: “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had faced rejection elsewhere in Israel, particularly by the religious leadership. But if there should have been a place where Jesus found receptive ears and a willing acceptance of His message, it should have been Nazareth. But He found the residents of His hometown just as resistant to His claims as anyone else in Israel. As a result, Jesus “did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV). They would have loved to have seen Jesus perform some of the miracles for which He had become famous. They weren’t opposed to Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons, but they were not willing to accept His claims to be the Messiah.

John records that even the half-brothers of Jesus struggled with doubt concerning His claims. They were more than happy for Jesus to become famous as a miracle worker, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was their Messiah.

…and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:3-5 NLT

Unbelief. That was the problem. The people of Israel refused to believe who Jesus claimed to be. They could not accept this new version of the Messiah because it did not reconcile with their old, well-established ideas. Jesus did not look like what they were expecting. The kingdom of heaven Jesus preached about wasn’t anything like the earthly kingdom their Messiah would bring. And so, they rejected Him.

Something new had happened, but they couldn’t see past their old perceptions. And, sadly, they missed out on a priceless treasure provided to them by God Almighty and at no cost.

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