A Costly Choice

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
    but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:16-19 ESV

God cursed the serpent and, by extension, Satan, the one who had been behind the entire forbidden fruit incident. But now, He turns His attention to the two VIPs of His creation. Adam and Eve had been formed by the very hand of God and given the exclusive privilege of bearing His image. Not only that, they had been given the distinctive responsibility to act as God’s vice-regents, ruling over and caring for all that He had made. They were to have been stewards over the vast and diverse earthly domain God had created.

Eve had succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and eaten the fruit of the one tree God had decreed as off-limits. And it wasn’t so much the act of fruit consumption that got Eve in trouble. It was the motivation behind the act. When Eve heard the serpent promise that eating the fruit would not lead to death, she had believed him.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

Eve was out to satiate a hunger that had nothing to do with food. She wanted to “be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT). Eve’s brief exchange with the serpent had left her with a seemingly insatiable desire for sovereignty and autonomy. Eve didn’t suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. She wasn’t born with a forbidden fruit fetish. No, she had an authority problem. She wanted to be in control. And it seems that her mate shared her predisposition for independence and self-rule because he quickly joined her in eating the fruit. And, according to the book of James, they had no one to blame but themselves.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

This raises a somewhat disconcerting question. Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden in the first place? It seems that, in so doing, God provided a form of “temptation” for Adam and Eve. It seems only logical that had the tree not been there in the first place, Eve would not have been tempted to eat of its fruit. But this is an overly simplistic deduction. According to the Westminister Confession of Faith, God had preordained the potential for sin because He had also preordained the solution to the problem it would cause.

Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. – Westminster Confession of Faith, 6:1

By placing the tree in the garden, God established a test, but not a temptation. Notice what the text states about the tree and its fruit.

…the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes… – Genesis 3:6 ESV

There was nothing inherently wrong with the quality of the fruit. It was not poisonous or potentially deadly. In fact, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they remained fully alive. Satan had been partially correct when he stated, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4 ESV). The tree and its fruit were not the problems. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not, in and of itself, evil. It was as holy and pure as any other tree that God had placed in the garden. But God had set it apart and declared it off-limits to Adam and Eve. He deemed one tree as forbidden. And that one tree would become a test of Adam and Eve’s obedience. Would they obey God’s command and refrain from eating the fruit of that one tree? God knew the answer to that question because He had already come up with the solution to the problem it would cause. As was revealed in God’s curse of the serpent, He had already pre-ordained the coming of the offspring who would eventually bruise the serpent’s head.

God had created the universe and all that it contained, and He had declared it all to be “very good.” Then He had placed Adam and Eve in that perfectly holy and sinless environment. Hermann Bavinck provides us with a somewhat head-scratching analysis of the situation in which Adam and Eve found themselves.

“The possibility of sinning is from God. The idea of sin was first conceived in his mind. God eternally conceived sin as his absolute polar opposite and thus, in that sense, included it in his decree, or else it would never have been able to arise and exist in reality. It was not Satan, nor Adam and Eve, who first conceived of the idea of sin; God himself as it were made it visible to their eyes. By means of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the probationary command, he clearly showed human beings the two roads they could take. And before the fall he even permitted an evil power from without to insinuate itself into Paradise, using the snake as its medium, and to discuss with Eve the meaning of the probationary command. There is therefore no doubt that God willed the possibility of sin.” – Hermann Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Notice his emphasis that God “willed the possibility of sin.”  God did not force Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. They made that decision on their own. God had provided them with more than enough food options to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements. But they wanted the one thing they were told they could not have. They made a choice. In choosing the forbidden fruit they were really choosing to doubt and disobey God. Their decision revealed their unwillingness to trust God and submit to His will for their lives.

God had created Adam and Eve with the capacity for reason and self-determination. They were not automatons, operating by pure animal instinct. Created in God’s image, they bore an intelligence unequaled by any other living creature. They could speak, discern, process information, and make rational decisions. In other words, they had the ability to choose what they would do. Built into the kingdom mandate God had given Adam and Eve was the possibility that they might decide to disobey it. He had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. But they could have chosen to disobey that command. The rest of the creative order procreated according to instinct. The other living creatures lacked the God-given capacity to think for themselves.
They did as God had designed them to do. But Adam and Eve had been equipped with the God-ordained capacity to obey or disobey.

And because they had chosen to exercise their option to disobey, they were doomed to suffer the consequences. The painful lesson Adam and Eve learned that fateful day was that, as finite creatures, they were completely dependent upon God for their very existence. They owed Him their lives and they were reliant upon Him for all their needs. And yet, they had chosen autonomy over dependency – a decision that would cost them dearly.

God communicated His displeasure with Eve by explaining the “fruit” of her sin.

“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
    and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
    but he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16 NLT

From this point forward, the woman would find obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply marked by pain and suffering. And the complementary and co-equal relationship God had given her and Adam would be replaced by a competitive and sometimes combative spirit. With the introduction of sin, the “one flesh” nature of the husband and wife relationship would be difficult to maintain. Selfishness would replace the symbiosis God had originally planned for marriage.

But God saved His harshest words and strongest punishment for Adam. Because Adam had chosen to listen to his wife and eat of the fruit that God had forbidden, he would find his role as steward of God’s creation to become a burden rather than a blessing.

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. – Genesis 3:17 NLT

God had always intended for Adam to labor. Work was always intended to be a blessing, not a curse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 2:15 ESV

But because Adam chose to disobey God, he would find His God-ordained mandate to be burdensome and back-breaking. God actually cursed the ground, causing it to sprout thorns and thistles. Planting would become difficult. Harvesting would be hit or miss. The ground would still provide the food man needed, but it would not release its bounty easily. God warned Adam:

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

For the first time since God placed Adam in the garden, He reveals the invading presence of death. He had warned Adam that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. But the fruit would not be the source of Adam’s demise. His body would now suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world where the ravages of time and toil would take their toll. Man, whom God had formed from the dust of the ground would return to from whence he came. The breath of life would be removed and his body would be returned to its original state.

This section of the creation narrative paints a bleak and sobering picture. And with it, Moses provides the backdrop for all that will follow. The rest of the book will detail the subsequent and far-reaching ramifications of that one fateful decision. Sin had entered the world and its influence would be felt for generations to come.

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

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

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

Future-Focused Living

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8-11 ESV

Peter has encouraged his readers to supplement their faith in Christ with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That’s quite a list and one that every follower of Christ should desire to see manifested in their own life. These are non-optional attributes that reflect the character of Christ and are available to every Christian through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. So, the only excuse for their absence is a refusal to, as Paul put it, “walk by the Spirit.”

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

And Paul went on to explain that those who live their lives in reliance upon the power of the Spirit will see the following fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Peter picks up on this idea of fruitfulness when he writes, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ— (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). While his list is slightly different than that of Paul, the overlap is obvious. And when Peter states, “if these qualities are yours,” he is not suggesting that the believers to whom he is writing have somehow missed out on the Spirit’s distribution of fruit. Any absence of fruit in their lives is due to failure to live in obedience to the Spirit. As children of God, they had full access to these Spirit-imbued qualities through willing and humble submission to the Spirit.

It wasn’t a question of whether they had the Spirit or not. It was a matter of obedience.  The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their relationship with Christ had provided them with a formidable capacity to live differently.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:2 NLT

Because the Spirit lives within the children of God, “these qualities” are theirs by right. But these Spirit-enabled attributes are only theirs in reality if they choose to live in submission to the Spirit’s life-altering power. That is exactly what the apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT

They were to submit to the Spirit’s leading and allow Him to begin His process of behavior modification from the inside out. It would start in the heart and mind. And when a child of God fails to allow the Spirit to renew their thoughts and attitudes, it will show up in the way they live their life. Their behavior will not reflect their beliefs and this grieves the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul went on to warn the Ephesian believers to seek proof of the Spirit’s presence in their outward behavior.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 NLT

And Peter picks up on this same idea when he writes: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). Again, his point was not that they lacked the power to produce these qualities. They had the Holy Spirit living within them. Their problem was one of perspective. Peter describes it as a kind of spiritual myopia or nearsightedness. Unable to focus on the long-term implications of the Spirit’s presence, the believer can easily find themselves fixated on the present. They live for the here-and-now, allowing the circumstances of life to determine their actions. They compromise their convictions and fall back into the old habits that marked their former life.

Refusing to understand that sanctification is a long-term process, some believers run out of patience and take their eye off the prize. They develop a shortsighted mentality that demands quick results and immediate gratification. From the content of Peter’s first letter, it’s clear that the believers living in Asia Minor were suffering persecution for their faith, and they were looking for immediate relief. They wanted deliverance from the unexpected trials they were facing. And because their identification with Christ was the cause of their trouble, they were being tempted to alleviate their suffering by returning to their former way of life. Peter had addressed this natural tendency in the opening chapter of that letter.

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:13-14 NLT

Notice Peter’s emphasis on “the gracious salvation that will come.” He was challenging them to raise their eyes and to focus on the incredible future that God had in store for them. This future-focused way of living was a regular part of the apostles’ teaching. The apostle Paul told the believers in Galatia:

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:8-9 NLT

This was the very message Peter had declared in his first letter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

He wanted his readers to live with the end in mind. Yes, they were having to endure trials and testings that made their present life uncomfortable, but there was hope on the horizon that would make their “momentary light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17) pale in comparison.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

In his second letter, Peter reminds his readers to stay the course. Regardless of what they may have been facing, they could rest in the knowledge that God was protecting and preserving them. And it was these Spirit-enabled qualities that would see them through the difficult days ahead.

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. – 2 Peter 1:10 ESV

Peter had opened up his letter with the timely reminder that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all they needed to not only survive but thrive in this life. They were more than adequately equipped to handle whatever the world threw at them. But they were going to have to avail themselves of the power that God had provided. By living in the power of the Spirit they would confirm their identity as God’s children. Their Spirit-empowered lives would confirm their calling and help remind them of God’s future plans for them.

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:11 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.

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

Don’t Lose Hope

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

Peter has pulled out the big guns, choosing to use Jesus as the consummate example of suffering for the sake of righteousness. In fact, according to Peter, Jesus Christ “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). As the sinless Son of God, Jesus willingly laid down His life so that sinful humanity might be reconciled to God. He offered Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God and allowed His blood to be poured out as the once-for-all sacrifice that would offer permanent cleansing from sin. And because Jesus accomplished the will of His Heavenly Father by giving His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:8), He was resurrected back to life and now sits “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22 ESV).

Jesus suffered and died but was resurrected and glorified. He paid the high price for mankind’s sin debt with His own life and, as a result, He was returned to His former glorified state and restored to His well-deserved position at His Father’s side. The fact that Jesus was resurrected and restored to His former pre-incarnate state is to be understood as proof of the effectiveness of His sacrifice. His death satisfied the just demands of His holy and fully righteous Father. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 ESV

Jesus’ suffering and death allowed God to remain just and loving at the same time. Because of His holiness, God had to punish sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye or act as if it never happened. Mankind’s rebellion against His rule and reign had to be dealt with. But because God is love, He wanted to provide a way to acquit sinful men and women of their crimes against Him. That is where Jesus came in, and He described His one-of-a-kind role in unequivocal terms.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And Jesus went on to explain that all those who refused to accept Him as God’s substitutionary sacrifice on their behalf would find themselves remaining under the just wrath and condemnation of God Almighty.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. – John 3:18 NLT

And Peter uses the selfless sacrifice of Jesus as a powerful source of motivation for his readers. He reminds them, “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too” (1 Peter 4:1 NLT). Peter wanted them to know that their suffering for the sake of righteousness was actually proof of their reconciliation with God. They had aligned themselves with Jesus Christ and were suffering the consequences of their decision. They found themselves despised and hated by the world just as Jesus had been.

All throughout his letter, Peter has been very clear that the kind of suffering to which he is referring is that which is associated with doing what is right.

For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment…if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:19, 20 NLT

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

And when the believer suffers for doing what is right and responds in kindness, love, and patient endurance, he or she “has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1 ESV). Rather than lashing out in hate and bitter remonstrations, the Christ-follower is to follow the example of Christ and “do good.” And that unexpected response to undeserved suffering serves as proof of the believer’s status as a redeemed and Spirit-empowered child of God. No longer a slave to sin, that child of God can “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). In other words, the one who has placed their faith and hope in Christ and received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit has the power to say no to sin and yes to God. While they still retain their sinful nature, they don’t have to give in to it. Paul spoke about this capacity to choose right from wrong in his letter to the church in Galatia.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul went on to point out the powerful influence the Spirit has over the life of the believer.

the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. – Galatians 5:22-25 NLT

And that is the very same message Peter is trying to convey to his readers. He wanted them to remember that they were new creations in Christ, equipped with a new capacity to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy and, oftentimes, unjust society. They were surrounded by “godless people” who “enjoy their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols” (1 Peter 4:3 NLT). But the believers who received Peter‘s letter were being reminded that they were free to live distinctively different lives. And when they did, their former friends would be shocked and surprised at their behavior. 

your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. – 1 Peter 4:4 NLT

But rather than seeking the source of the believers’ transformed lives, these former friends will slander and malign them. Good deeds don’t always produce good responses. Our acts of righteousness can often bring down the wrath of those who misunderstand and misjudge our actions. But Peter encourages his audience to live the fate of these kinds of people to God.

remember that they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead. – 1 Peter 4:5 NLT

His reference to the living and the dead was meant to be a reference to all those who had heard the gospel message but had since died. There were many who had heard the gospel message, believed it, and then went on to experience the judgment of their flesh. In other words, like all human beings, they died. But Peter reminds his readers of the part of the gospel message that makes it “good news.”

…although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 4:6 NLT

Peter was emphasizing the reality that every human being will one day stand before God. His concern was that those to whom he wrote would remain faithful to their calling and committed to following the example of Jesus. Their future reward was secure. And while they might suffer in this life, they could remain confident in God’s promise of their eternal security.

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

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

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

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

 

Equipped and Empowered

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25 ESV

You have been called to suffer. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how that thought must have come across to Peter’s audience. And he was quite specific about the kind of suffering he has in mind.

…if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. – 1 Peter 2:20 ESV

Peter had been addressing those within the local congregation who were slaves. The Greek word Peter used is oiketēs, which most often referred to a household servant. Another common reference to slaves was the Greek word doulos, which means “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.” It is estimated that, during the 1st-Century, as much as one-third of the Roman population were slaves. As a result, slaves were a ubiquitous part of society, with many of them coming to faith in Christ and becoming members of local congregations throughout the Roman empire. Some of these people had been taken as captives of war. Others were born into slavery. But there was another class of individuals who had been required to enter into indentured servitude out of necessity. If someone owed a debt he could not pay, he could agree to work off the unpaid balance by becoming a bondservant. This was a situation that was covered under the Mosaic Law and was essentially a form of welfare. The Law even made provision for an individual to remain a slave out of gratitude to his master.

“But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” – Exodus 21:5-6 NLT

Yet, it is difficult to understand how the New Testament authors seem to have remained silent about the injustice of slavery. In our day, when slavery has been deservedly castigated and virtually eradicated, we find it strange that Jesus and His followers had little to say about it.

“The church never addressed the institution of slavery in society, for it was outside its province—society in that day did not claim to be representative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with the Enlightenment—but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be allowed, for all were brothers and sisters (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11; Phile. 16), however shocking that was to society at large.” – Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter

Their silence on the matter should not be taken as a form of validation or justification. But as was pointed out in yesterday’s point, Peter and the other apostles were not out to redeem the culture of their day. They had a God-given mandate to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and make disciples of all the nations. Any impact they were to make on the culture would come through the reconciliation of individual men and women to God. And their efforts were bearing fruit. The church was growing and its presence was beginning to be felt all throughout the Roman Empire. It was within the body of Christ that individuals from all walks of life could gather together in an atmosphere marked by unity and equity. The apostle Paul repeatedly emphasized the equalizing nature of the gospel.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT

And Peter took the time to address the slaves within the local fellowship to whom he wrote. He wanted to use them as an example of what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ. These individuals, while free in Christ, still found themselves living as literal slaves to men. Considered to be little more than personal property, they had no rights. For Peter, the hopeless and helpless circumstance of a slave provided the perfect illustration of his earlier point.

For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. – 1 Peter 2:16 NLT

This message had been addressed to the entire congregation, but now Peter was applying it to the life of a slave. He knew that many of these enslaved brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering unjustly at the hands of their masters. It is quite possible that some of them were actually enduring increased hostilities for their profession of faith. So, Peter reminds them that “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment” (1 Peter 2:19 NLT).

And because Peter knew that this call would be difficult to hear, let alone obey, he turned their attention to Jesus. Peter could recall the teachings of Jesus and knew that His life had been the consummate illustration of humble servanthood and willing submission to doing good, no matter what the cost. The words of Jesus still rang in Peter’s ear.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 NLT

Jesus had been called by God to serve, suffer, and sacrifice His life, so His followers should not expect their calling to be any different.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

With the prophetic words of Isaiah in mind, Peter paints a vivid picture of Jesus, the suffering servant.

He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

Jesus provided an incomparable example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and yet He willingly allowed Himself to be rejected and ridiculed by those whom He had made. The Creator placed Himself at the mercy of His creation. Peter’s words echo the sentiment of Paul, expressed in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Peter understood the formidable nature of his admonition. He was asking his readers to do the impossible. Yet, at the same time, Peter knew from personal experience that this kind of selfless life could be accomplished through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. In fact, in a second letter he wrote, Peter introduced himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NLT). He considered himself to be a slave of Jesus and wanted his readers to understand that they not only shared his identity but were equipped with the same source of power to live it out in everyday life.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

There was nothing they would face for which they were not already equipped. There was no suffering they might undergo that Jesus Himself had not endured and overcome. Even enslavement could not prevent their successful emulation of Jesus. No circumstance they could face in life would be able to stand against the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. They had been called to do good, and even if suffering were part of God’s divine plan, they would find themselves fully capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus.

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

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

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

 

More Than Alive

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 ESV

What’s Up with the Ascension?Luke is a stickler for details. So, it’s not surprising that he adds a very subtle but significant factor when describing the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He points out that Jesus led His disciples “out as far as Bethany” (Luke 24:50 ESV). This was the same village, located just a few miles east of Jerusalem, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was returning to the very spot where He had earlier told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT).

According to the apostle Paul, between the time Jesus walked out of the tomb to the moment He stood before His disciples in Bethany, He had appeared to hundreds of individuals in His resurrected form.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-8 NLT

So, as He stood among His disciples in Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’ death-to-life transformation, there was little doubt in their minds that He truly was “the resurrection and the life.” He was the literal epicenter for all hope of resurrection. Lazarus had been raised from death to life, but he had not been resurrected. His earthly body had been resuscitated, which is a miracle in and of itself, but he would live to die again. In other words, Lazarus’ new life was nothing more than his old one regained.

But what Jesus had said to Martha regarding the resurrection was something altogether different. He told her, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26 NLT). To experience the resurrected life was to enjoy eternal life – a never-ending experience of life without pain, suffering, or physical death. It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus chose Bethany the point of departure for His ascension back to heaven. He had a new body that was prepared for its eternal existence with God the Father. Yes, He still retained the scars and visible wounds He had suffered during His crucifixion, but His “earthly tent” had been transformed into into its glorified state. The apostle Paul talked about this “eternal body” and its implications for all believers.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this… – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

I don’t think it’s farfetched to consider that Lazarus was in the crowd that day. He was a faithful follower of Jesus and was eternally grateful for the miracle of new life that Jesus had given him. But as Lazarus looked on, he was still inhabiting his old earthly tent, while Jesus stood before him in His new “house,” a heavenly body prepared for the joys of eternal life.

For Jesus, the goal was not restored life, but resurrected life. While Judas was living proof that Jesus could raise the physically dead back to life, that had not been His primary objective. New life was not enough. What sinful man really needs is resurrected life.  The apostle Paul would drive home this point in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

Belief in a reanimated of a formerly dead Jew was not going to be enough. Jesus wasn’t just another Lazarus – a dead man who had been restored to life. He was the resurrected and glorified Son of God. And it was His resurrection, not His resuscitation that made the difference. Consider what Paul wrote.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

The point Paul was trying to make was that Jesus was not simply alive. He is the living hope for all those who have died. His resurrection was not an offer of renewed life on this earth but of eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God. And His resurrection was to stand as a guarantee of all the resurrections to come.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT

And then, Paul went on to compare Jesus to Adam.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.– 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT

What’s important to consider is an often overlooked exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they gathered together in Bethany. Luke records this conversation in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

As they stood looking at the resurrected Jesus, all they could think about was the fact that He was alive. Just days earlier, Jesus had been a corpse in a tomb. But now, He stood before them in the peak of health and what they hoped would be full fighting form. Their question reveals that they were still hoping Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. They had not given up hope that Jesus would finally declare His Messiahship by overthrowing the Romans and establishing His reign over Israel. Now that He was alive, there was no time like the present.

But Jesus burst their bubble by announcing, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NLT).

They had their sights set on a display of military power that would put Israel back on the map. But Jesus promised them a far different kind of power – that which would come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the only way that kind of power would become available was if the resurrected Jesus returned to His Father’s side. And according to the gospels and the book of Acts, that is exactly what happened. 

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT         

and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. – Luke 24:50-51 NLT 

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Mark 16:19 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke records that they “worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53 NLT). But it seems that in between the time he wrote his gospel and then penned the book of Acts, Luke had gained further details concerning that fateful day. Through interviews or word of mouth, he discovered that the disciples had experienced one last divine encounter. Two angels had appeared and confronted them about their apparent delay in returning to Jerusalem.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:11 NLT

They were standing there, probably slack-jawed and dumbfounded, as their able-bodied, fully alive Messiah slowly disappeared from sight. They had been hoping He would stay and fulfill all their hopes concerning the Kingdom of God. But He was leaving so that they might one day experience the reality of their own resurrections and the joy of life in His eternal Kingdom. And it was news of His promised return that filled them with joy and sent them back to Jerusalem in a state of heartfelt worship and praise. And we too should rejoice and worship the King for the unwavering promise of His return.

“Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 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

The Best Is Yet To Come

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49 ESV

Just as the two disciples were sharing about their recent encounter with Jesus, the eyes of everyone in the room were suddenly drawn away by the sudden and unexpected appearance of Jesus. The majority of the people in the room had not yet seen Jesus, so His arrival caught them completely off guard. According to John’s gospel account, “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NLT), and yet Jesus had no trouble gaining access. He just appeared out of nowhere. And in that moment, the rumors became reality.  The claims of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the two disciples from Emmaus were miraculously corroborated by Jesus Himself. The could see Him with their own eyes and hear the sound of His voice as He said, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36 ESV).

But His words fell on deaf ears and His inexplicable appearance produced fear rather than joy. Their dazed and confused minds wrestled to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing. Unable to mentally process the scene taking place before them, they concluded that they were seeing things – specifically, a ghost. This was the same conclusion they had reached when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:26). They had no mental category for dealing with what they were seeing. Even though many of them had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were having a difficult time believing that Jesus was truly alive. They were quick to write off His appearance as little more than an apparition.

But the ever-compassionate Jesus, lovingly asked them, “Why are you frightened?…Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38 NLT). The sound of His voice was meant to reassure them that He was real and not a figment of their imaginations. They were not experiencing a mass hallucination. There was no reason for them to fear and no cause for them to doubt. His appearance was living proof of what the angel had said. “He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:6 NLT). Jesus was standing right in front of them – in the flesh. And to prove He was anything but a ghost, Jesus showed them His wounds, stating, “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39 NLT).

Even in His resurrected body, Jesus retained the wounds He had received as part of His crucifixion. The holes from the nails were still evident. The wound caused by the spear still marred His side. The punctures from the thorny crown still adorned His head. The ragged stripes from HIs flogging were clearly visible for all to see. He retained all the marks associated with His sacrificial death. And yet, He was alive. In a sense, He still bore on His body the evidence of mankind’s sin debt. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). His wounds remained but man’s sin debt had been removed – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

But even as they tried to take it all in, the disciples wrestled with an odd mix of joy and disbelief. They were ecstatic and skeptical at the same time. Their hearts were overjoyed and their brains were overtaxed. It was just too much to take in. Recognizing their troubled state, Jesus graciously provided them with further proof of His physicality. He asked for something to eat. And as the disciples looked on in awkward silence, Jesus ate the piece of broiled fish they had offered Him.

Having finished His meal, Jesus turned His attention once again to His disciples. His time on earth was coming to an end and He had much to tell them before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, just as He had done with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). Using the Old Testament Scriptures as His text, Jesus revealed how everything that had happened since the day of His incarnation had been all according to the sovereign plan of God the Father. He declared, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). And not long after He spoke these words, the last part of this phase of His mission would be fulfilled. He would ascend back to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers. All in keeping with and in fulfillment of the will of His Heavenly Father.

Jesus assured His disciples that His death had all been part of the plan.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” – Luke 24:46 NLT

The Sanhedrin and the Romans had been little more than tools in the hands of God Almighty. They had been His instruments for fulfilling the divine plan of redemption through the selfless sacrifice of His one and only Son. Then Jesus reminded them of the role they would play in His absence. He would be leaving them but they would carry on His ministry.

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” – Luke 24:47 NLT

They were to be a light to the nations. These men and women who had gathered behind locked doors out of fear for their lives would become the vanguard of a might movement of God that would shake the world. They were about to discover the truth of the promise Jesus had made to them.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

When He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come, and with His arrival, they would experience a source of power that would transform them into agents of change who would revolutionize the world. And as He prepared to depart, He once again assured them that He would not leave them alone or powerless to face the future.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 24:49 NLT

All they had to do was wait and believe. Jesus wasn’t demanding that they be successful. He was simply reminding them to be faithful. Wait and watch. Rest and be ready. They were about to become instruments in the hands of God Almighty, accomplishing His divine will through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit. They were about to grasp the reality that Jesus death had been the beginning and not the end. The best was yet to come.

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

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

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

God of the Living, Not the Dead

27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question. Luke 20:27-40 ESV

The spies of the scribes and chief priests failed to entrap Jesus with their question and, instead, they were left speechless by His response.

…they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. – Luke 20:26 ESV

This left the door open to the Sadducees, another religious sect in Israel. These men shared membership in the Sanhedrin with the Pharisees but held opposing views on a number of important doctrines. While they held a conservative view of Scripture, insisting on a literal interpretation of the text, they were the religious liberals of their day when it came to the afterlife, the doctrine of the resurrection, and the reality of angels. They rejected them all. For them, this life was all there was, and it was to be lived in strict adherence to the written law as found in the Torah. They were elitists who rejected the oral law of the Pharisees, the “traditions of the elders” that contained hundreds of additional laws or addendums to the written law. But while they were not exactly bosom buddies with the Pharisees, they shared one thing in common with them: A hatred for Jesus. So, in this passage, they come to Jesus posing a question intended to expose Jesus’ heretical views on the resurrection.

Their question is a lengthy one, presented in the form of a short story. It’s a fictitious scenario involving what was called the Levirate Law, part of the Law of Moses found in the book of Deuteronomy. This law ruled that when a man died, leaving his wife a widow with no children, one of his brothers was obligated to marry the woman. The intention behind the law was to carry on the deceased man’s name and ensure that any inheritance he might have had remain in the family.

The law stated, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NLT).

These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, having been seven times a widow and childless. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Luke makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not interested in hearing Jesus’ interpretation of the law but they simply wanted to expose His views concerning the resurrection. This is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!” (Luke 20:33).

They think they have Jesus trapped. Since the Torah did not explicitly teach about the resurrection, they did not believe in it. So, their little story was designed to expose the fallacy behind the doctrine of the resurrection. In their minds, they had shown that the very concept of the resurrection would conflict with the law itself. How could a woman have seven husbands in heaven?

But Jesus exposed the flaw in their thinking and the problem in their lives. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus responded to their question with a rather blunt and far-from-flattering statement.

“Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29 NLT

This would have been like a sucker punch to the stomach. Jesus had caught them off guard and had wiped the smug look of satisfaction off their faces with one simple sentence. These men prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, and yet Jesus accused them of being unfamiliar with God’s Word and His power. They were intelligent yet ignorant. In all their study of the Scriptures, they had overlooked God’s power on display. They had relegated all they knew about life to the here-and-now and rejected the idea of a hereafter. So, Jesus rocked their religious sensibilities by informing them that the resurrection will render marriage unnecessary.

Jesus rendered their convoluted scenario pointless and irrelevant. In her resurrected state, the woman would not be married to any of the brothers.

Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. – Luke 20:34-36 NLT

This statement by Jesus must have caught the arrogant Sadducees completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to some who are reading these words right now.

It’s likely that your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.

In heaven, the union of Christ and the Church will be complete. There will no longer be a need for a symbol of that union. And while we may find that idea disturbing and possibly disappointing, we have to remember that our condition in our resurrected state will be one of perfection. We will be like Christ and have perfect fellowship with God the Father. Our primary relationship will be with Him. There will no longer be the need for another person to complete or complement us.

But Jesus knew that behind their question was their view concerning the resurrection, so He cut to the chase and took it head-on.

But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” – Luke 20:37-38 NLT

Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When God spoke to Moses about His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, He used the PRESENT tense.

God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. – Exodus 3:15 ESV

These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. He was still their God. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error but a theological truth. There is an afterlife, and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So, they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. When they couldn’t comprehend something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, but it was also undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.

For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife because it made no sense to them. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven, and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less.

And sadly, there are many who live with that same restrictive mindset today. Even those claiming to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They simply ignore what they can’t see or explain. And yet, God’s Word encourages us to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers and aliens here, always remembering that this world is not our home. We are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is an eternal state. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.

We worship a God of the living. The power of God assures us that the dead in Christ are not gone. They are experiencing the joys of heaven, and one day we will see them again. It is just as Jesus promised:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 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

Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:1-6 ESV

Jesus has been unrelenting in His judgment of the Pharisees. He has castigated them relentlessly and even accused them of refusing the heed the words of their own Scriptures.

“…they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31 NLT

Their hatred for Jesus had reached such a fevered pitch that they had become incapable of recognizing Him as being the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold. Jesus was the Son of God, making Him not only the law-giver, but the perfect law-keeper. In His sermon on the mount, He declared of Himself:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Mathew 5:17-18 NLT

But while the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders were outwardly committed to the law, they failed to recognize Jesus as its fulfillment. And their rejection of Him was causing others to question the validity of His identity and mission.  After all, if the religious leaders of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, maybe He wasn’t really  who He claimed to be. Perhaps He did cast out demons by the power of Satan. Maybe He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leading the gullible and the innocent to fall for His cleverly disguised lies. But Jesus had refuted these accusations, arguing, “if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matthew 12:28 NLT).

Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees of acting as road blocks to the good news of the kingdom. It was one thing for them to reject Jesus as the Messiah, but it was another altogether for them to persuade others to turn down God’s gracious offer of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

But as Luke begins this section of his gospel, he portrays Jesus focusing His attention off of the religious leaders and on to His followers. He wants them to understand that they too can become stumbling blocks to the gospel. They all ran the risk of losing hope in His identity as the Messiah. The days were coming when the pressure against Jesus would reach a fever pitch and He would become the focal point of the Pharisees’ rage and the enemy’s wrath. Satan was going to unleash his entire arsenal of weapons against the Son of God, all in a last-ditch effort to thwart the redemptive plan of God.

Even on the very night when Jesus would share His final Passover meal with the disciples, they would get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. This would take place after He washed their feet and described the death He was about to endure. And then, Jesus would turn to Simon and deliver what had to have come across as a rather a disturbing message:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 NLT

Simon was going to be tempted. He would find himself faced with the choice of admitting His relationship with Jesus or denying it to save his own skin. He would choose the latter. In doing so, Peter sinned. He let his fear of men overcome His faith in Jesus. But in Luke 17, Jesus encourages His disciples by acknowledging the reality of the temptations they would face. He knew the days ahead would be difficult and filled with opportunities to turn their back on Him. Even on the night when Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50 NLT).

The days ahead would be filled with temptations to turn their back on Him, and all of them would dessert Him in some form or fashion. Only Peter and John would follow Him to His trials. Of all the disciples, only John is described as being at His crucifixion. But Jesus wanted these men to know that their abandonment of Him would be forgiven. Their loss of faith would not be held against them. But if their lack of faith caused another to reject Jesus, the consequences would be serious.

The context is critical to understanding this passage. Jesus had been hammering away at the religious leaders and their lack of compassion for the people. These arrogant and prideful men viewed themselves as spiritual superior to everyone else. And in their highly educated and religiously savvy opinion, they deemed Jesus to be a fraud and phony. He was a wannabe Messiah who lacked the proper credentials, pedigree, and education to serve in such a prestigious and prominent role. And these men were leading others to sin against God by rejecting His anointed Messiah.

So, Jesus was warning His disciples to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the days, ahead, when things got dark and all looked lost, he wanted to them to remain faithful and not allow their doubts to cause others to dismiss Him as Savior. And He gave them some sobering words to consider:

It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.” – Luke 17:2 NLT

He forewarns them: “So watch yourselves!” (Luke 17:3 NLT). Things were about to get dark and deadly. His earthly mission was going to culminate with His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it would be followed by His miraculous resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And despite of His victory over death and the grave, the temptations would continue for the disciples. That is why He continues to encourage them to live in a constant state of preparedness, because the enemy was defeated but far from dead. Satan would continue to attack the disciples long after Jesus was gone. They would face ongoing temptations to sin and would need to avail themselves of the forgiveness Jesus made possible by His death on the cross.

Sometime after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would later:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

Forgiveness would be an ongoing commodity because sin would be an ever-present reality. Jesus’ death provided the payment for mankind’s sin debt, but it did not eradicate the danger of sin’s presence. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples:

“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4 NLT

When Jesus departed from earth, He left His disciples on their own, but He did not leave them defenseless and helpless. He provided them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, alone and on their own. No, He assured them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). The Holy Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to fulfill the Great Commission and survive in a hostile environment in which the enemy still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). The tempter, though defeated,  would still be alive and well and working overtime to distract and destroy the followers of Christ. Temptations would come. Believers would sin. And forgiveness would need to be extended.

All this talk about temptation, trials, sin, and forgiveness left the disciples wondering if they were up to the task. In their simplistic way of thinking, they believed they would need additional faith in order to survive what was coming their way. They didn’t want to flake out or run the risk of causing a brother or sister to stumble. So, they asked Jesus to increase their faith. It was like asking for more energy to survive a particularly strenuous task. But Jesus pointed out that it was not the quantity of their faith that mattered. Nor was it a matter of quality.

“If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you! – Luke 17:7 NLT

To the disciples, faith was the missing ingredient. But in their defense, on more than one occasion, they had heard Jesus say, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). That sounds like a declaration of need or an accusation of lack. In their minds, they simply presumed that more faith was the answer. But the amount of faith is not the issue here. It is the object of our faith that matters. A little faith placed in the right source will produce staggering results. It was Paul expressed in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jesus was going to ensure that they had all the strength they needed to endure what they were destined to face as His disciples. And Jesus would later assure His disciples that they would have all the faith, power, strength, wisdom, and words they needed to accomplish even greater works than He had done.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 NLT

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

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

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

The Power of God

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 ESV

Just one day after the scene of Jesus’ spectacular transfiguration on the mountaintop, it was back to business as usual for the disciples. Peter, James, and John had been given the unique opportunity of watching the glorified Jesus having an intimate discussion with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Still on an emotional high from their experience, the three disciples must have been disappointed to find the ever-present throng of people who had gathered to see Jesus. They had probably seen the transfiguration as a sign that Jesus was about to establish His messianic kingdom. But now it appeared that nothing had changed.  They were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes (Mark 9:14). But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and another man in the crowd. The rest of the people were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. – Luke 9:38-39 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it. – Luke 9:40 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon-possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you? – Luke 9:41 NLT

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration He had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state, and had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. The three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the Almighty’s hand. But when He had descended from the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus was forced to look upon a similar scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more importantly, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention on the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child (Mark 9:21-22). And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, even the father is unsure whether Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the child up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, even the smallest portion of faith in the full power of God could “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

And Luke concludes that everyone who witnessed this scene was “astonished at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43 NET). Jesus had full faith and confidence in the power given to Him by God the Father, and He had demonstrated that faith by casting out the demon. And even those in the crowd had to recognize that what they had witnessed was the power of God. There was no other explanation. 

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

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

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

Proclaim the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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