The Peace of God’s Presence

1 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’” Haggai 2:1-5 ESV

Haggai began his letter with the time stamp: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1 ESV). It was on that fateful day that Haggai delivered his first message from Yahweh to the people of Judah. In it, the Almighty had revealed to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the remnant of the people that their 16-year delay in rebuilding the temple had resulted in judgment, and more was on the way. He expected them to honor and fear Him by obeying His word and fulfilling His command to restore the temple to its former glory. They had managed to build houses for themselves but had chosen to leave the house of God in ruins, and God was not pleased. Yet, despite their disobedience, God had assured His chosen people that He was still them and would not abandon them. And that promise stirred their hearts and motivated them to take immediate action.

And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. – Haggai 1:14-15 ESV

Once again, Haggai provides a detailed timeline of the events surrounding this period of corporate repentance and obedience. For whatever reason, it took three weeks before the people began construction on the temple. No explanation is given for the cause of their delay. Perhaps they needed to gather construction material and prepare the sight. Verse 8 of chapter one reveals that they were going to have to harvest lumber for the project. This entire initiative had been delayed for 16 years, so it’s not surprising that a lot of preparation work was required before the actual construction could begin. But begin it did.

Chapter two opens with another important time marker: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month” (Haggai 2:1 ESV). Another month has passed by and God sends Haggai with a second message for the people. This time, He addresses those among the remnant who had been alive when the first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? – Haggai 2:3 ESV

God presents these elderly members of the community with three questions. The first seems to be intended to stress their small numbers. Not many of the original deportees had returned to the land. Nearly 70 years had passed since they had first been taken captive and they would have been small children at the time. Many of their friends, neighbors, and relatives had chosen to remain behind in Persia, rather than return to Judah. So, there were few in the crowd that could recall the glory of the original Solomonic temple.

And God asks this small remnant of elderly eyewitnesses what they think about the new temple. How does it compare? What are their impressions of the work that has been completed thus far? For those who had seen the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, this remodeled version must have been a great disappointment.

It was difficult for these older members of the community to imagine the temple ever being restored to its former glory. To them, the entire process appeared ill-fated and destined for disappointment. The book of Ezra reveals that, sixteen years earlier, when Zerubbabel had supervised the laying of the temple’s foundation, these very same people had wept while their neighbors rejoiced.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. – Ezra 3:12-13 NLT

God knew that these individuals viewed the new temple “as nothing.” It was a disappointing shadow of the majestic building that had once graced Mount Zion. For them, it was all a sad reminder of all that had happened to the once-powerful nation of Judah. They believed their glory days were behind them. Upon their return to Judah, they had found the nation in disarray and its capital city of Jerusalem in a state of devastating disrepair. These poor people were having a difficult time imagining a rebuilt temple and a revitalized nation. But God had an opinion about the matter.

“But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” – Haggai 2:4-5 NLT

This time, God addressed His message to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the people. Despite the doubts and depressing outlook of the old guard, the people could have hope because God was with them. It had been 440 years, almost to the day, since King David had told his son, Solomon, that God had chosen him to build the original temple.

“Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” – 1 Chronicles 28:10 ESV

Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

Now, almost five centuries later, God was raising up another man to rebuild the house that the Babylonians had destroyed. God had chosen Zerubbabel to complete the work and had assured him that it would be done.

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” – Zechariah 4:9-10 ESV

God had been with Solomon and He would be with Zerubbabel. And God assured Zerubbabel and the people the promise of His enduring presence and power, just as He had done when the people of Israel had left Egypt.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

God had repeatedly promised His people that He would be with them.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” – Exodus 33:14 ESV

Now, He was reiterating that promise again. Yes, the temple might have appeared to be less than glorious. The circumstances in Judah may have felt daunting and the hope of future restoration might have seemed unlikely. But as long as God was with them, they could have hope. In fact, rather than doubting the future, they should have been expecting great things because they served a great God.

The people suffered from a limited perspective. All they could see was what their eyes revealed. They saw nothing but hard work and disappointing outcomes ahead. Yet God had told them, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT). They had their part to play. And while they may have viewed their task as little more than wasted effort, God wanted them to know that the outcome was going to be spectacular. He had plans for them that were way beyond their ability to conceive or comprehend. While they were busy thinking about the impossibility of their immediate circumstances, God was busy orchestrating the details of His future plans for the future redemption of all things. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was just one more act in God’s grand redemptive plan. And He was about to give them a glimpse into the glorious future He had prepared.

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

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

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

Living Proof

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. – 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV

Peter wasn’t telling his readers something they didn’t already know. He was simply reminding them of the truths they had been taught since the day they first believed. And he was determined to go on reminding them until the day God called him home. Peter knew that the circumstances they were facing had caused them to question the reliability of God’s promises. The presence of suffering and trials had left them wondering whether following Christ was really worth all the effort. But Peter reminded them that while faith alone in Christ alone could save them, they would need to develop and display the other Spirit-enabled attributes in their lives. He listed virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love as key components of a healthy and growing spiritual life. And while they were already aware of the necessity of these Christ-like characteristics, Peter was going to keep bringing them up until their lives reflected them – regardless of the circumstances. 

There’s a vast difference between knowing the truth and actually living it out in daily life. A cognitive understanding of “these qualities” was insufficient. It was of little use to know the technical definition of self-control if you didn’t actually put it into practice. And any discussion of godliness that failed to produce godly behavior was little more than religious rhetoric. In other words, it was all talk, no action.

For Peter, these qualities needed to be constantly inculcated and incarnated into the life of the believer and ever-increasing in their influence. Otherwise, the believer would risk becoming “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). Notice that his emphasis is on Jesus. His point seems to be that a believer’s ever-expanding knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done will result in effectiveness and fruitfulness. The greater our understanding of all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf on the cross, the more we will seek to live like Him. We will grasp the amazing significance of the Spirit’s role in our lives and seek to live in obedience to His will. And when we do, we will accomplish greater works than Jesus Himself, just as He promised.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 ESV

Jesus went on to tell His disciples that the power behind those “greater works” would be the Holy Spirit.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

It is only with the Holy Spirit’s help that a believer can transfer “these qualities” from the head to the heart and radically transform their behavior so that it mirrors that of Christ.

You can sense Peter’s urgency as he states, “it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live” ( 2 Peter 1:13 NLT). He was driven by an awareness that his days on earth were limited and that he must carefully steward whatever time he had left to carry out his commission. It is most likely that he wrote this letter from Rome, where it is believed he was eventually martyred by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter lived with a determination to make the most of his time on earth, not wasting a single second that God graciously provided. In the back of his mind, Peter could always hear the prophetic words that the resurrected Jesus had spoken to him on the beach.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 NLT

As the apostle John points out, Jesus was alluding to Peter’s eventual death. It is unclear whether Peter understood the words of Jesus to be a premonition concerning his eventual martyrdom. But he must have understood that by the time he reached old age, he would suffer some kind of arrest and imprisonment. It is believed that Peter was in his 50s by the time he wrote this second letter, and that would have been considered “old” in those days. With each passing year, Peter knew that his time on earth was drawing to a close. He even referenced the words that Jesus spoke to him that fateful day on the seashore.

For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. – 2 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Peter wasn’t attempting to tug at their heartstrings or put them under some false sense of guilt or sympathetic obligation. He was simply expressing his determination to finish strong. He was going to take advantage of every precious moment he had and use it to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ to “remember these things.” What things? These things: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

Peter wasn’t promoting academic enhancement. He wasn’t looking for ritualistic religious practices or outward displays of self-righteousness. He was expressing an expectation in true heart change that showed up in Spirit-transformed behavior. It seems likely that Peter had in mind the words that Jesus had spoken to the pious and outwardly righteous Jews of His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

And Jesus had quoted the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded by the prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). As God’s chosen and set-apart people, the Jews had displayed a penchant for playing the part. Jesus constantly referred to them as hypocrites, little more than actors in a play, pretending to be something other than what they truly were. And Peter feared that the readers of his letter were running the risk of doing the same thing. If their lives failed to reflect the fruit of righteousness, made possible by the indwelling presence of the Spirit, their worship would be nothing more than a farce. They would become ineffective and unfruitful. Their witness for Christ would become diluted by compromise with the world. And for Peter, that was unacceptable.

He had opened up this letter with powerful words of encouragement.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

Peter expected the recipients of his letter to fully embrace the “precious and very great promises” made available to them in Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf, they had become “partakers of the divine nature.” They weren’t sinners trying to act like saints. They had been redeemed, renewed, and enjoyed a reconciled relationship with God the Father. In Christ, they were new creations. Their old sin nature, while not fully eradicated, was no longer in control of their lives. They had the power to live distinctively different lives, just as Paul had declared to the believers in Corinth.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ESV

Not only did they have the ministry of reconciliation. They were to be living evidence of the transformative reality of Christ’s reconciling work. As Paul put it to the believers in Corinth, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NLT).

In the same way, Peter greatly desired that his brothers and sisters living in Asia Minor would be letters of recommendation, declaring with their lives the redemptive and reconciling power of the gospel.

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.

All According to Plan

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Luke 22:47-53 ESV

Upon completion of His prayer time with the Father, Jesus found Peter, James, and John sound asleep yet again. According to Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts, Jesus sympathetically stated, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest.” (Mark 14:41 NLT). But then, sensing the arrival of His arrest party, He immediately announced, “But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Luke 14:41-42 NLT).

At that moment a company of armed guards, accompanied by members of the Sanhedrin, noisily shattered the serenity of the garden and pierced the darkness of the night with their torches. Leading them was Judas. It seems likely that their less-than-stealthy approach had awakened the other disciples, who immediately sought out Jesus. They arrived just in time to see “a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs” (Mark 14:43 NLT) enter the garden with their fellow disciple, Judas leading them. And Mark adds that these men “had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders” (Mark 14:43 NLT). 

One can only imagine the range of emotions that flooded the minds of the disciples as they witnessed this unexpected scene. Having just woken up, they would have been confused and disoriented by the sudden realization that they were surrounded by what appeared to be a group of well-armed vigilantes. And the surprising sight of Judas standing alongside these men would have left them shocked and resentful. But before they had time to process all that was going on, Judas stepped forward and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” (Matthew 26:49 NLT). Then he proceeded to kiss Jesus, a prearranged sign designed to clearly identify the one for whom the men were looking. In the darkness of the garden, it would have been difficult to distinguish Jesus from His 12 disciples, so Judas had come up with this simple signal to ensure they arrested the right man.

Once again, the other 11 disciples would have watched all this take place with a sense of bewilderment and growing apprehension. What was happening? Why were these men here and what was Judas doing with them? It’s important to recognize that, even when Judas had left the upper room after Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him, the rest of the disciples didn’t immediately assume Judas was the guilty party. And as this surreal scene unfolded before them, they remained stupefied and unable to comprehend the gravity of the moment.

Luke seems to indicate that Jesus responded to Judas’ hypocritical display of affection by whispering into his ear, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48 ESV). He wanted Judas to consider the gravity of the moment and the sobering significance of His decision. He was betraying the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus’ use of the term, “ Son of Man” was direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.

“I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

Jesus was the “Son of Man,” the one to whom the Ancient of Days had given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. And here was Judas betraying the long-awaited Messiah of Israel in such a disrespectful and shameful manner.

Sensing Judas’ sudden guilt and apprehension, Jesus quietly added, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matthew 26:50 ESV). Since Judas had already identified Jesus so that He could be arrested, what more was there for him to do? What did Jesus mean when He said, “do what you have come for?” According to Matthew 26:15, Judas had already received his blood money from the Sanhedrin as payment for his betrayal of Jesus. So, what more was there for him to do?

It seems that Jesus was letting Judas know that the kiss was only the beginning of his betrayal. That simple act was going to lead to a series of actions on the part of the guards, the Sanhedrin, and the Romans that would eventually end with Jesus’ death. Judas had no concept of all that his self-centered decision had set in motion. And, in a sense, all that transpired in the hours ahead would be Judas’ doing. He would be forever responsible for the death of the Messiah of Israel. That’s why, when Jesus had announced in the upper room that one of the disciples would betray Him, He added this foreboding warning.

“For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” – Matthew 26:24 NLT

And as Judas stepped back, he had done what he came to do, but he would soon realize the true gravity of what he had done. His sin was going to have long-term and devastating consequences that he had not anticipated.

It was at this point that the rest of the disciples snapped out of their stupor and realized what has about to transpire. So, one of them shouted, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 49 ESV). The scene grew suddenly chaotic as the armed guards grabbed Jesus and the disciples began to panic. Matthew indicates that one of them decided to take matters into his own hands and “pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear” (Matthew 26:51 NLT). In a matter of seconds, the serene setting of the garden had turned into an armed conflict, and Jesus was forced to intervene. “No more of this!” He shouted. Then turning to His disciples, He reprimanded them for their impulsive and inappropriate behavior.

“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” – Matthew 26:52-53 NLT

They were operating outside the will of God the Father, and their actions were actually in conflict with the pre-ordained plan of God. They were guilty of the very same thing for which Jesus had condemned Peter on an earlier occasion. When Jesus had announced to His disciples that His arrival in Jerusalem would result in His arrest, trial, and execution, Peter had rebuked Him. And Jesus had responded to Peter with a rebuke of His own.

“You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Now, here were the disciples repeating the same mistake. And it isn’t hard to imagine that the one wielding the sword that night was Peter himself. He remained just as impulsive and self-willed as ever.

But Jesus stood between the two opposing groups, calmly quieting the storm of anger that threatened to turn the garden into a killing field. And, true to form, He stooped down, picked up the severed ear, and miraculously restored the wounded man to health. Even with His own death just hours away, Jesus continued to show unrivaled compassion and care for others.

It’s at this point in his narrative that Luke reveals the presence of the chief priests, the officers of the temple, and the elders. These men had been there all along, lurking in the shadows. They would not have missed this moment for anything in the world. It was the culmination of much planning and the solution to what they believed to be a pressing problem. Caiaphas, the high priest, had earlier told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, “You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (John 11:50 NLT). He had concluded that Jesus posed a threat to the nation’s well-being because He was inciting the people and encouraging revolution. That would eventually bring that the wrath of the Romans and result in unnecessary pain and suffering. So, it was better for Jesus to die than for Israel to be destroyed.

Fully aware of the rationale behind their conduct, Jesus clearly refuted their claim that He was some kind of radical, political activist who posed a threat to society.

“Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.” – Luke 22:52-53 NLT

There was no need for the armed guards and all the cloak-and-dagger histrionics. There had been plenty of opportunities for them to arrest Jesus along the way, but they had chosen to do it under cover of darkness. But as Jesus made clear, this was their moment. They were in their element. The darkness of the evening was symbolic of their spiritual state. Their actions bore evidence that they preferred the darkness of sin over the light, just as the apostle John had claimed.

…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

And Jesus let them know that their cleverly orchestrated and clandestine plans were actually the will of God.

“But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” – Matthew 26:56 NLT

They were not the ones in control of the situation. They were simply instruments in the hands of God Almighty, fulfilling His predetermined plan for the redemption of the world. And even the fearful response of the disciples after Jesus was arrested was all part of the preordained will of God. Matthew indicates that “the disciples deserted him and fled” into the night (Matthew 26:53 NLT). Jesus had warned them that this would happen.

“All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” – Mark 14:27 NLT

Jesus had quoted Zechariah 13:7, revealing to the disciples that even their eventual abandonment of Him would be in fulfillment of the predetermined will of God the Father. Everything taking place on this fateful night was being orchestrated from above. It was all part of the plan and a necessary part of the plan that had been put in place before the foundation of the world.

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 Lamb for Sinners Slain

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:14-23 ESV

As Jesus and the disciples gathered in the second-floor room of a borrowed home, all the familiar sights and smells associated with the Passover meal would have greeted them. Peter and John had been busy making preparations for this commemorative celebration, preparing the room, and making sure they had all the food required for this annual event.

For the disciples, this meal would have had a certain sense of nostalgia associated with it. They would have celebrated this annual festival every year at the same time over the course of their lives. It was a high holy day and, in a sense, a holiday for the Jews. On this day they celebrated God’s deliverance of their ancestors from their captivity in Egypt. The book of Exodus records the words Moses spoke to the people of Israel when he shared with them God’s plans for the first Passover meal.

“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. – Exodus 12:14 NLT

Moses went on to explain to them the meaning and the mandatory nature of the two festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

“Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. – Exodus 12:17 NLT

Then Moses reminded the Israelites that this celebration was to celebrated annually throughout all their generations.

“Remember, these instructions are a permanent law that you and your descendants must observe forever. When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’” – Exodus 12:24-27 NLT

On this night, the disciples would have gathered around a table that held all the elements of a typical Passover meal, including the carefully prepared sacrificial lamb. And Peter and John would have faithfully followed the instructions given by Moses centuries earlier.

“The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects. Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.” – Exodus 12:6-8 NLT

All over Jerusalem that night, families had gathered together to share this sacred meal. And in that borrowed upper room, Jesus reclined around a table with His little family of 12 disciples as they prepared to celebrate Passover together for what would be the last time. And Luke indicates that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were both an expression of joy and sorrow.

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:15-16 ESV

His mention of suffering must have caused a pall to fall over the normally festive proceedings. This was not the first time Jesus had talked of the suffering awaiting Him in Jerusalem, and His disciples would have reacted to it much like they had before: With shock and sorrow. Yet, strangely, Jesus expressed how much He had been anticipating this moment. He told His disciples that He had been looking forward to it. And yet, He knew that, at that meal, one of them was going to betray Him. He was also fully aware that, by the end of the evening, all of them would end up abandoning Him. And the ever-faithful Peter, out of fear for his life, would close out the night by denying he even knew Jesus.

But Jesus knew the significance of this occasion. It would be His last chance to instruct His disciples and prepare them for all that was about to happen in the hours ahead. It was no coincidence that Jesus used this highly symbolic meal to illustrate the nature of His pending suffering and death. After all, He was the ultimate pascal lamb and was about to offer up His body and blood on their behalf. But His death would not release them from physical bondage to the Romans. It would provide them with freedom from the bonds of sin and the penalty of death that hung over their heads.

There was so much that the disciples didn’t know and even what they did know, they failed to understand. When Jesus mentioned not eating the Passover meal again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God, they had no idea what He was talking about. It’s most likely that they understood Him to mean that He was about to set up His earthly kingdom. After all, that was what they had been longing for Him to do for three years.

But what they failed to understand was that Jesus was about to lay down His life as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:20). He was going to offer Himself as the sinless substitute, selflessly enduring the sentence of death that God, the righteous judge, had decreed as the just and holy punishment for mankind’s rebellion against Him. Not long after they completed the Passover meal, Jesus would go to the cross, where He would take on man’s sin debt and satisfy the just demands of His Holy Father. And, in doing so, God would graciously “pass over” the sins of all those who placed their faith in the selfless sacrifice of His Son. All that Jesus was about to do would be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

But 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.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 NLT

And the book of Revelation reveals that, for His efforts, Jesus would be recognized for His inestimable worthiness.

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” – Revelation 5:12 ESV

But as the disciples shared the Passover meal with Jesus, they remained oblivious to all these things. So, when Jesus took the cup and told them to divide it among them, they would have thought nothing about it. To them, it was just another part of the Passover ceremony. And when Jesus stated, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18 ESV), their hopes must have risen. Once again, they would have likely understood that Jesus was about to set up His earthly kingdom. 

But then, Jesus took bread and broke, telling His disciples, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). Their minds would have raced back to that day when Jesus had declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).  They would have remembered the two different occasions when Jesus had broken bread before and miraculously fed thousands of hungry people. But there was no way for them to understand His statement, “This is my body, which is given for you.” And when He took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20 ESV), they had no way of grasping the significance of His words. Perhaps their minds went back to the words of Moses when he had ratified the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:8 ESV

Or it could be that they recalled the words of God recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

But even as their minds reeled with confusion, Jesus interrupted their thoughts by announcing, “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him” (Luke 22:21-22 NLT).

Yet, rather than seek clarity from Jesus about what He meant about dying, they began to debate amongst themselves, questioning which of them would be responsible for His betrayal. They remained clueless about the fate that awaited Jesus. And they had no way of understanding what the cup and the bread had been meant to signify. Jesus was on the way to the cross, but they were still hoping He would soon be sitting on the throne of David.

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

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Luke 21:20-28 ESV

As Jesus and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley at the majestic temple gracing the pinnacle of Mount Zion, He broke the news to them that God’s house would one day be destroyed.

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Luke 21:6 ESV

Then He followed this distressing news with the disturbing revelation that the temple }s destruction would be accompanied by wars, famines, and earthquakes. Not only that, they could expect to experience persecution, suffering, and betrayal; even by their own family members. Some of them would even end their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

And as if all that was not bad enough, Jesus announced that Jerusalem itself would be besieged and destroyed.

“…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. – Luke 21:20 NLT

The unexpected and disturbing nature of Jesus’ words left the disciples reeling. How could this be? Why would God allow His temple to undergo desecration and destruction at the hands of His enemies? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus announced would happen. And in 70 A.D., Jesus’ prophetic words of became a devastating reality. It was in August of that fateful year, after a five-month-long siege, that Titus and the Roman army entered Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple. Jesus predicted this event and warned that when it came, everyone in Judea and Jerusalem should make places to run for their lives.

“…those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city…” – Luke 21:21 NLT

This tragic event would be a partial fulfillment of the  “days of vengeance” as foretold by the prophets of God.  But many of the Old Testament prophecies had a now-not-yet aspect to them. When Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple, His words also included a now-not-yet dimension. He was inferring far more than the disciples realized. Yes, within just a few decades, the nation of Israel would experience yet one more invasion by a foreign power that ended in the destruction of their capital and the demoralization of its people. But it would not spell the end of Israel. As bad as things would be in 70 A.D., Israel would rebound and survive.

But Jesus’ words contain a far more dire and long-term prognosis for Israel’s future. He describes a day when “there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end” (Luke 21:23-24 NLT). 

Both Matthew and Mark recorded this very same warning from Jesus in their gospel accounts. They both report that Jesus described the nature of this future event as unprecedented in scope and scale.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT

And all three gospel writers reveal that this future event will be accompanied by remarkable cosmic signs and supernatural environmental disasters.

“…there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26 NLT

But when the people on earth least expect it, they will suddenly “see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NLT). This is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, when He returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation that immediately follow the Rapture of the Church. The timeline goes something like this: As 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 indicates, the Lord will one day return for His bride, the church. This Rapture or “snatching up” up of God’s people will remove all believers from the face of the earth. This will also remove the restraining influence that God’s people provide. With believers no longer present to mitigate the devastating influence of evil, the world will become a place marked by unrestrained sin and rebellion against God. Yet, even then, God will redeem a remnant from among those living on earth in those days. They will end up as martyrs, the unfortunate recipients of the Satan-inspired wrath of the Antichrist. And while God will rain down a series of devastating judgments upon the world, most of those living in those days will refuse to honor Him as God. So, at the end of the seven years, God will send His Son to earth a second time. 

The apostle John describes the nature of Jesus’ second coming in vivid terms.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

The disciples of Jesus will be long gone before this event takes place. Yet, Jesus told them, “…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk2 21:28 ESV). They were going to witness the “birth pains” that would preview the coming of His return, but they would not live long enough to see Him “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 ESV). But they could rest in the knowledge that God’s grand redemptive plan for the world was impeccable and unstoppable. His will would eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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

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

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

No Love For God or Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefit of Believing

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”Luke 7:24-35 ESV

John the Baptist had his doubts, but that did not mean he had begun to disbelieve. His imprisonment by Herod had left him confused and conflicted because it was not what he had expected. He had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he most likely believed that even Herod would repent of his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife. John truly believed that the Messiah had come and things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. Righteousness would rule and reign in the land. But it would be accompanied by God’s judgment of all those who refused to live in submission to the new King, and whose lives did not exhibit true repentance. So, when a group of Pharisees and Sadduccees showed up asking John to baptize them, he had responded:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” – Matthew 3:7 ESV

In John’s mind, there were only two outcomes to the Messiah’s arrival: Repentance and forgiveness or judgment and wrath. But now, he was in prison while the unrepentant Herod walked free.

The people who overheard this exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples must have begun to murmur among themselves. Evidently, John’s apparent crisis of faith left them confused. Was he right? Could it be true that Jesus was not the Messiah? Should they be expecting someone else? Sensing their uncertainty, Jesus spoke directly to them.

“What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? – Luke 7:24-26 NLT

In a sense, Jesus was asking them what they had expected to find when they had wandered into the Judean wilderness where John was preaching and baptizing. They had not been looking for a timid, meek, or weak-willed man. They were not expecting to find a sophisticated intellectual dressed in fine robes and living in splendor. They had been looking for a prophet and they had not been disappointed. John had fit the bill. He had a similar ministry to that of Elijah the prophet. They even dressed in a similar fashion (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).

And Jesus affirms that John was exactly what they expected him to be: A prophet of God. And yet, Jesus declares that John was more than a prophet. He was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy:

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

This is exactly what the angel had told John’s father, Zechariah, when he had come to announce that Elizabeth would bear a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

And Jesus also quoted from Malachi when He told the crowd, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you’” (Luke 7:27 ESV).

John was the God-ordained forerunner of the Messiah. He had shown up at just the right time, according to the sovereign will of God, and had proclaimed the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And Jesus called John the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived. He had been given the distinct privilege and responsibility of heralding the arrival of the Messiah. While the prophets had predicted His coming, John had been there to see it happen. Not only that, he had fulfilled the will of God by baptizing the Son of God. He had even been witness to the Spirit’s anointing of Jesus and had heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV).

But as great as John was, Jesus declares that “even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” (Luke 7:28 NLT). With this statement, Jesus refocuses the peoples’ attention on the whole point behind John’s earthly ministry. His role had been to declare the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 3:1-2 BSB

And when Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had preached that very same message.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
 – Matthew 4:17 BSB

But preaching that message was meaningless unless those who heard it believed in it. And Luke points out that the crowd that day was comprised of two types of people: Believers and doubters. There were those who heard the words of Jesus and took heart because they had heard John’s call to repentance and been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.

When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. – Luke 7:29 NLT

But there was another group within the crowd who had refused the call to repentance and whom John had denied baptism.

But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism. – Luke 7:30 NLT

These men represented the “brood of vipers” John had warned would experience the wrath to come. And Jesus points out these unbelieving, unrepentant individuals by comparing them with petulant children. These pompous and self-righteous men were like spoiled children, used to getting their way, and demanding that their peers dance to their tune. These religious leaders had grown used to controlling everyone around them, using the law and their burdensome list of man-made rules and regulations to dictate the behavior of the people. And when the people failed to live up to their standards, they criticized and condemned them as unrighteous and unacceptable to God.

These men had rejected the messenger of God. When John had shown up living the ascetic lifestyle of a Nazarite, they had accused him of having a demon. When Jesus showed up, choosing to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, they had declared Him to be a glutton and a drunkard. Their problem was that neither man would live according to their rules. They could not control John or Jesus and that infuriated them. And both men had attracted large crowds of followers, which threatened to diminish the Pharisees’ and Sadduccees’ control over the people.

Jesus ends this teaching by declaring, “wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Luke 7:35 NLT). Essentially, He is telling the people that the wisdom of God had been revealed. It has been made evident in the ministry and message of John. But it has also been manifested in His own words and works. And all those who will believe that He is the long-awaited Messiah will end up vindicating the wisdom of God. They will become living proof that what John had declared had been true and that Jesus really was who He had claimed to be. The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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

Not What They Were Expecting

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:38-44 ESV

After casting out the demon(s) from the man in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29), two of His disciples who lived in the town of Capernaum. Upon entering the house, He discovered that the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter) was bedridden, suffering from the effects of a high fever. Luke’s account of this scene differs slightly from that of Matthew and Mark. They both indicate that Jesus healed the woman by taking her by the hand. But Luke states that Jesus “rebuked the fever.” As he has done before, Luke places the emphasis on the words of Jesus. When Jesus had cast out the demon, the crowd had responded, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV). When Jesus had taught in the synagogues, Luke reports that he was “praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15 NLT).

So, while Matthew and Mark place their emphasis on the physical touch of Jesus, Luke focuses on the power and authority of His words. Just as the demons were subject to the command of Jesus, so was the fever. Whatever illness had caused the fever was immediately eliminated from the woman’s body, leaving her completely whole. So much so, that each of the gospel authors indicates that she set about preparing a meal for her son-in-law’s guests.

For Luke, everything about Jesus revolved around His God-given power and authority. He records that Jesus began His ministry by visiting the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth and reading from the book of Isaiah.

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

After reading this text, Jesus told the audience, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). In doing so, He was making the bold claim that He had been sent by God and was the Messiah, the anointed one for whom they had long waited. He was filled with the Spirit of God and had the power and authority to proclaim good news to the poor, set free all those who were enslaved and oppressed, and restore sight to the blind. He had come to declare that “the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:19 NLT). 

News of what Jesus had done for Simon’s mother-in-law soon spread throughout the town of Capernaum. By that evening, Jesus found Himself surrounded by people who were sick, lame, and even demon-possessed. What’s interesting to note is that Luke indicates that Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Luke changes his emphasis and focuses on the “hands-on” approach of Jesus. Yet Matthew reports that Jesus “cast out the evil spirits with a simple command” (Matthew 4:16 NLT). Each of these men wrote their respective gospel accounts with a particular audience in mind and with a specific message concerning Jesus that they were trying to convey. Matthew was an eye-witness to these events, while Luke was writing based on interviews he had conducted with those who were there at the time the events took place. The slight variations in their accounts do not reflect contradictions in the Scriptures, but they simply reflect each man’s attempt to communicate his particular message concerning Jesus. 

Each of the gospel authors was trying to illustrate the power and authority of Jesus. Just as the Isaiah passage had predicted, Jesus was preaching, teaching, proclaiming, healing, releasing, and displaying the favor of God to sinful men and women. He was the Messiah. And even the demons were subject to His commands.

And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” – Luke 4:41 ESV

Jesus spoke and they were obligated to obey because they recognized Him for who He was: The Son of God. The demons were not worshiping Jesus but they were acknowledging His identity as the Messiah. They inherently understood that Jesus was more than just a rabbi from the town of Nazareth. When He spoke, they were forced to obey His command. They had no choice but to do as He said because He had the full power and authority of God behind His words.

But Jesus “rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (Luke 4:41 ESV). At first glance, it might seem odd that Jesus prevented the demons from declaring His identity as the Son of God. But Jesus was on a God-ordained mission that had a firm and highly specific timeline attached to it. The testimony of the demons could have led the people to see Jesus as the political/military Messiah they had been looking for. His obvious power over the spiritual realm could have led them to speculate that He could just as easily defeat the physical enemies of Israel, such as the Romans. As we will see later on in Luke’s gospel, the people were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule and oppression, and, on more than one occasion, they would attempt to take Jesus by force and make Him their King. So, Jesus silenced the demons, refusing them to declare His true identity. He had a job to do and it would not be complete until He had faithfully obeyed His Father’s will by sacrificing His life on the cross.

After a busy day in the town of Capernaum, Jesus sought a place of refuge, to rest and, most likely, to seek time alone with His Heavenly Father. But the crowds were persistent and eventually found Him. The needs of the people were great and they begged Jesus to remain with them. You can sense that they knew He was someone special and they wanted to keep Him for themselves. But Jesus responded by informing them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43 ESV).

The people of Capernaum were focused on the physical benefits that Jesus seemed to provide. They had seen Him heal the sick and set free those who were demon-possessed, and they wanted more. But Jesus had a different agenda in mind. He had come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. Whether they believed Him to be the Messiah or not, Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom or rule from a throne in Jerusalem. He had come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19 ESV). God was preparing to show His undeserved favor and mercy on a condemned and death-deserving mankind by offering His Son as the substitutionary atonement for their sin debt. They were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule, but Jesus had come to provide freedom to those who were held captive by sin and death. And as Jesus would later state, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 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

Defying Expectations

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:15-21 ESV

As will become increasingly more clear as Luke’s gospel unfolds, John the Baptist certain expectations regarding the coming Messiah. Like all Jews, he was anticipating a kingly Messiah who would rule and reign in Jerusalem just as David had. John was aware of the many prophetic passages that pronounced the arrival of the long-awaited Savior of Israel. And, as John has already revealed, he believed that when the Messiah finally appeared, He would bring salvation but also judgment. That’s why John warned the people, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7 ESV).

John was the divinely appointed messenger sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. But that does not mean he fully grasped what the nature of the Messiah’s role would be when He appeared. The apostle John records that John the Baptist described Jesus as the Lamb of God and understood that He would offer atonement for the sins of the world.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

As John began his public ministry, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea, he drew large crowds. And his ministry and message began to have an impact on all those who came to hear him. Luke reports that “the people were in expectation” (Luke 3:15 ESV). They sensed that something significant was about to happen. When they heard John proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV), their excitement began to peak. Was the one for whom they had been waiting so long about to show up? Would He deliver them from the oppression of the Romans? Was He going to restore Israel’s power and prominence?

They even began to question whether John was the Messiah. But He cleared up those rumors by declaring, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). While John was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason to believe that he understood the full import of his own words. It seems clear that John understood that when the Messiah appeared, He would come as both Savior and judge. John’s reference to fire conveys his expectation that one of the primary roles the Messiah would play would be that of meting out judgment upon the nations.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

John believed that one for whom he was preparing the way would usher in the end times. His arrival would fulfill all the prophetic promises concerning the renewal and restoration of Israel as well as the judgment of all of Israel’s enemies. John was expecting the final form of the Kingdom. Like many Jews of his day, John had conflated all the prophetic passages concerning the Messiah into one event. He had no concept of a first and second advent. From his perspective, when the Messiah showed up, it would be to set up His earthly Kingdom on earth – once and for all time.

But Jesus would later debunk the idea that He had come to judge the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

the purpose for His first advent was to offer salvation to a lost and dying world. He would do so by offering His life as a sacrifice for their sins. He would pay the debt they owed by laying down His life in their place. Jesus had come to suffer and die, not rule and reign. His appearance, while significant, was far from spectacular. He had not been born to a wealthy family and raised in an environment of privilege and power. He had not shown up on the scene with an army or a contingent of “mighty men” like David had. No, Jesus had been born in obscurity and relative anonymity. And even after John baptized Jesus and stood back and watched as He began His earthly ministry, the faithful messenger would begin to have serious doubts about Jesus’ identity.

At the baptism of Jesus, John had witnessed the dove descending upon Jesus’ head and had heard a voice from heaven declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). And yet, as Jesus began His earthy ministry, John would begin to have questions about what He saw Jesus doing. It seems clear that John expected a radical transformation to take place in Israel. He had been calling the people to repentance and demanding that their behavior reflect their willingness to change. He had even confronted Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, demanding that he repent of the adulterous affair he was having with his brother, Philip’s wife. Matthew records that John the Baptist fully expected everyone in Israel to get their spiritual act together, including the tetrarch of Judea. John had repeatedly confronted Herod and told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4 ESV). This bold accusation angered Herodias, Philip’s wife, and ended up getting John imprisoned. It was while in prison that John would begin to have second thoughts about Jesus.

Later on in his gospel, Luke records that, while in prison, John was receiving regular updates from his disciples about all that Jesus was doing. And what he heard left him scratching his head in confusion. Surely, they told him about all the miracles Jesus had performed. They must have shared the amazing miracle of Jesus raising a dead boy back to life (Luke 7:11-14). Yet John felt compelled to send two of his disciples to Jesus with a surprisingly blunt question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Luke 7:19 ESV).

And Luke seems to highlight the absurdity of John’s question by adding, “At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 ESV). In other words, Jesus had been performing many incredible and inexplicable miracles. Yet, John was unconvinced. He seems to have been expecting something completely different.

But rather than rebuke John for his doubt, Jesus sent back the two disciples with a message: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor…God blesses those who do not fall away because of me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

John had expected the Messiah to bring deliverance to the people of Israel. And yet, here he was in prison. He had been declaring God’s message of repentance and calling the people to prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom. But he was behind bars and having to wonder how any of this was part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. It’s clear that John knew his role was subordinate to that of Jesus. He had no aspirations of greatness or desire for glory. But he had not expected to be in jail. The apostle John reports that John the Baptist had one desire: To see the Messiah accomplish His God-appointed assignment.

“You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:28-30 NLT

Little did John know the prophetic nature of his own words. He would become less. In fact, he would never leave the prison alive. Herodias would arrange to have John beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). And Jesus would honor John with a profound statement concerning his contribution to the Kingdom.

“I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” –  Luke 7:28a ESV

John had been given the privilege and responsibility for preparing the way for the Savior of the world. And he had done his job faithfully. Yet, Jesus reveals that John’s greatness or significance will be exceeded by all those who become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” – Luke 7:28 ESV

John had faithfully declared the message he had been given. But he did not have a full grasp on the nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had fully expected Jesus to come with power, but not the kind of power that healed the sick and raised the dead. He had been hoping for the kind of power that would raise a nation back to prominence. He had been expecting a King who would rule in righteousness. But he had not anticipated a suffering Savior who would provide a way for sinful men and women to be declared righteous by God.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records that John “preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:18 NLT). Yet, his message comes across as anything but good news.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Luke 3:17 ESV

The beauty of the Gospel message is that it will eventually fulfill all the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah. But what John failed to understand was that the final fulfillment of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom would come at a much later date. With His first advent, Jesus came to offer salvation, not to celebrate His inauguration. He came to be crucified, not to be glorified. He came to serve, not to be served.

“I have come to save the world and not to judge it.” – John 12:47 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 Fruit of Repentance

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:1-14 ESV

Once again, Luke establishes a firm timeline in order to prove the historical veracity of Jesus’ life and ministry. The last chapter ended with the statement: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52 ESV). Luke’s last biographical entry concerning Jesus portrayed Him as a 12-year-old boy. But now, Luke has fast-forwarded nearly two decades and he establishes the timeline by providing a list of key historical figures with whom his readers would have been familiar.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas – Luke 3:1-2 NLT

Luke doesn’t provide the specific year in which John the Baptist began his ministry, but by listing these seven historical figures, he narrows down the possibilities. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar would have been somewhere around A.D.29. The last year of Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea was A.D. 37. Herod Antipas was deposed as the tetrarch of Galilee in A.D. 39. His brother Philip, who was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, died in A.D. 34. Annas and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, shared the tile of high priest until the spring of A.D. 37. The only name on the list for which there is little historical record is that of Lysanias, the tetrarch of Abilene.

So, it would seem that somewhere between the A.D. 26 and the spring of A.D. 37, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2 ESV). After a long delay, John received his official marching orders from God. Luke doesn’t reveal how this information was conveyed to John, but he does clarify the nature of John’s assignment.

He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. – Luke 3:3 NLT

John’s ministry and message had been given to him by God and it was in direct fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, written centuries earlier.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” – Luke 3:4-6 ESV

Luke appears to be quoting from Isaiah 40:3-5, using the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). By utilizing this prophetic passage, Luke is establishing that John was the divine fulfillment of this promise. He had come to prepare the way for the salvation of God. And to do so, he was given the task of “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3 ESV). As a prophet himself, John had been commissioned by God to call the people of Israel to repentance. The word “repentance” (metanoia) carries the idea of changing one’s mind. While we tend to think of repentance as an alteration in behavior or conduct, the New Testament concept of repentance conveys, first and foremost, a change in perspective or outlook. 

With the fulfillment of the Isaiah 40 passage, something new was about to happen in Israel. The old way of doing things was going away. Something new had come. And John’s job was to call the people to embrace a new way of thinking about everything, from the nature of the kingdom of God to the character of the Messiah, and even the means for achieving a right standing before God. Nothing was going to remain the same. With the launch of John’s ministry and the imminent arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, God was preparing to bring a radically new form of salvation – like nothing they had ever seen before.

John’s call to repentance and his offer of baptism was eagerly embraced by the crowds who flocked to see him in the wilderness. But it seems that John had suspicions concerning the sincerity of those who were verbally declaring their readiness to repent. He sensed that they were simply going through the motions, declaring with their lips that they were willing to change but with no intent to do so. In a sense, they were hedging their bets, desiring to receive forgiveness for their sins, but with no plans to change the way they lived their lives. So, John blasts them for their hypocrisy.

“You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:7-9 NLT

Whether John realized it or not, he was demanding that these people do something that was utterly impossible. He was calling them to “produce fruit that proves your repentance.” In other words, he was requiring that they change their behavior. And for centuries, that had been the call of every prophet of God.

“Yet even now,” the Lord says,
“return to me with all your heart—
with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts,
not just your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to anger and boundless in loyal love—often relenting from calamitous punishment. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT

But no generation of Israelites had ever been effective in fulfilling this command. Even the prophet Isaiah would record God’s words of condemnation concerning the Israelites less-than-sincere attempts at behavior modification.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Their hearts weren’t in it. And by demanding that the crowds show genuine fruit that proves their repentance, John was asking them to do the impossible. In reality, the Jews who came to hear John preach were of the opinion that they were God’s chosen people. As descendants of Abraham, they believed themselves to be honorary citizens of God’s kingdom. But John reveals that their prideful dependence upon their status as Abraham’s seed was not going to save them. What they failed to recognize was that God had made them out of nothing. He had formed the nation of Israel from a single man and his barren wife. And John drops the not-so-flattering bombshell: “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8 ESV).

Something new was about to happen, and John was trying to prepare the people for what God had in store for them. It would no longer be business as usual. Their half-hearted attempts at giving up their old ways were no longer going to cut it. God was done waiting for His rebellious people to return to Him in true repentance and contrition. He was no longer willing to allow those who bore His name to drag His reputation in the dirt by their ungodly behavior. God knew that the only hope of changing their behavior would come with a change in their hearts.

The prophet Ezekiel had recorded the words of God pronouncing His divine plan to one day do for the Israelites what they could never have accomplished on their own.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

But at this point in the inaugural days of John’s ministry, he is calling the people to display the fruit of true repentance. And when they ask him for examples of what that might look like, he gets very specific.

“The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” – Luke 3:11 NLT

To the tax collectors who came seeking to be baptized, John said, “Collect no more than you are required to” (Luke 3:13 NLT). Soldiers were told, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14 NLT). Everyone, regardless of their status in life, was expected to change the way they lived. But this would prove to be a pointless endeavor. They didn’t have what it takes to produce true and lasting heart change. In fact, their hearts remained as stony and stubborn as ever. 

For generations, the people of Israel had attempted to please God by keeping His laws, and when they failed to live up to His holy standards, they took advantage of His sacrificial system so that they could receive atonement and forgiveness. But this cycle of sin and sacrifice had produced no lasting change in their behavior. But all that was about to change. God was preparing to introduce a new means of atonement that would produce lasting heart change and the ability to display the fruit of righteousness.

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