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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Light Was Dawning

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:67-80 ESV

Zechariah, no longer hampered by his temporary bout of deafness and muteness, reacts to the miraculous birth of his son by composing a song of praise to God. But this is far more than a song of gratitude for God’s gracious act of replacing Elizabeth’s barrenness with fruitfulness. Whether he realized it or not, Zechariah was revealing Spirit-inspired truths regarding the coming Messiah.

Filled with and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was given special insight into the plan of redemption God was about to unveil to His chosen people. With the Spirit’s assistance, Zechariah was able to clearly see God’s hand behind all that was happening, and he pronounces a blessing on God for His covenant faithfulness.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people…” – Luke 1:68 ESV

The Messiah had not yet been born but Zechariah knew that His arrival was imminent. God’s promise to raise up “a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:69 ESV) was as good as done. The days of darkness that surrounded the people of Israel were about to be permeated by the light of God in the form of the Messiah, the promised and long-awaited descendant of King David.

As a priest, Zechariah would have been intimately familiar with all the prophetic passages regarding the coming of the servant of God. And with the Spirit’s assistance, he was able to see that God was preparing to fulfill each of those prophecies in his own lifetime. For more than 400 years, the people of Israel had endured a deafening silence, as God had chosen to cut off all communication with His people. He had sent no more prophets. There had been no divine calls to repentance. And while a remnant of the people had returned from exile in the land of Babylon, rebuilt the temple, refurbished the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulated the city, the land was marked by a lingering spiritual darkness.

Ever since the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the nation of Israel had been without a king and had suffered a series of degrading occupations by foreign military powers. Even as Zechariah composed his song of praise, the land of Judah was filled with Roman legionnaires, and the people of Israel were having to endure the oppressive and humiliating presence of the Roman emperor’s powerful representatives. With no army to defend them and no king to lead them, the Israelites were powerless to do anything about their demoralizing situation.

But Zechariah knew that God had promised to one day save His people. The prophets had declared “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:71 ESV), and now it was all about to happen. God had sworn an oath to Abraham “that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.” (Luke 1:74-75 NLT). For Zechariah, this was all like a dream come true. The days of waiting were over. The long delay was about to end. The Messiah was finally coming, and He would bring deliverance and redemption for the people of God.

And Zechariah was blown away that his newborn son would play a role in this divine redemptive plan for the nation. He even addresses his infant son, disclosing the vital part God had preordained for him.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…” – Luke 1:76 ESV

Once again, Zechariah has the words of the prophets in mind. It is likely that he was thinking of the prophecy of Malachi, written some four centuries earlier.

“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

You can sense Zechariah’s excitement as he considers the prospects that lie ahead. He probably considered the words of the prophet Isaiah, and inherently knew that the time for rejoicing had come.

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God.” – Isaiah 40:1-3 NLT

Like any father, Zechariah was proud and pleased that his son had been hand-picked by God for this essential assignment. And, as a priest, he was blown away by God’s loving and gracious decision to redeem His people. Despite centuries of rebellion and rejection by His people, God was still willing to keep His covenant commitments. Motivated by His tender mercy, God was still offering them salvation and forgiveness of sins. He was sending His Son as the ultimate means of redemption and restoration. And Zechariah’s son would prepare the way for this darkness-shattering, life-transforming Servant of God.

And Zechariah wraps up his song with a poetic description of the Light of the world.

“…the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:78-79 NLT

And the apostle John would use similar words to open his gospel account.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

And the apostle would go on to describe and differentiate the unique role that Zechariah’s son would play.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John  1:6-8 ESV

When Zechariah’s son had grown to full manhood, he would begin his earthly, yet heavenly sanctioned ministry. He would declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. He would let the people know that heaven had invaded earth in the form of the life-giving light of God.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… – John 1:9-12 ESV

Zechariah was excited about the birth of his son, but he was even more energized about the fact that his son would be used by God to fulfill His long-standing covenant promises. The words of the prophets were about to come true, in Zechariah’s lifetime and, in part, through Zechariah’s seed.

The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious….

In earlier times he humiliated
the land of Zebulun,
and the land of Naphtali;
but now he brings honor
to the way of the sea,
the region beyond the Jordan,
and Galilee of the nations.
The people walking in darkness
see a bright light;
light shines
on those who live in a land of deep darkness. – Isaiah 9:1-2 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Fullness of Time

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66 ESV

When Mary made her trip to visit Elizabeth in Judah, her cousin would have been in the sixth month of her pregnancy (Luke 1:36). Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, then returned home (Luke 1:56). It would appear that Mary returned home to Nazareth before Elizabeth gave birth.

But not long after Mary’s departure, Elizabeth’s due date arrived and she bore a son just as the angel Gabriel had told Zechariah (Luke 1:12). For the entire nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah had suffered from temporary muteness because he had failed to believe the message of the angel.

“…behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” – Luke 1:20 ESV

It appears that Zechariah’s ailment included an inability to hear as well. When his neighbors attempt to question him about the child’s name, they are forced to use hand signals, which would indicate that he was deaf as well as dumb. The Greek word Luke used to refer to Zechariah’s muteness is kōphos, and it can also be used to refer to deafness. So, for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah was forced to live in silence, unable to speak or hear anything. And this condition would have made his vocation as a priest virtually impossible to fulfill. He lived in a state of silent isolation, waiting for the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy. And no one could have been more anxious or excited about Elizabeth’s due date than Zechariah. He was looking forward to seeing the fulfillment of all his prayers, but he must have also had high hopes that the birth would bring about the restoration of his speech and hearing.

Throughout this chapter, Luke puts a great deal of emphasis on time. Gabriel told Zechariah that his words would “be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20). Luke records that Zechariah left the temple and returned home “when his time of service was ended” (Luke 1:23). Then we are given time markers focused on the stages of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

for five months she kept herself hidden – Luke 1:24 ESV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth – Luke 1:26 ESV

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

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. – Luke 1:56 ESV

Then Luke begins this section with the statement, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son” (Luke 1:57 ESV). Everything was happening according to God’s divine timeline. While Elizabeth’s pregnancy was normal, in that it lasted the usual nine months, it was supernatural and sovereignly ordained. Luke does not want his readers to forget that she was advanced in years and had suffered from barrenness. The birth of this baby was anything but normal, and the timing of all these events was meant to remind the reader that these were extraordinary and divinely sanctioned days in the history of Israel. A formerly barren woman was giving birth to a son. A young virgin girl was three months pregnant and carrying within her the Son of God. And it was all happening according to God’s preordained and perfectly timed plan.

The apostle Paul emphasized the impeccable timing behind God’s plan.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman… – Galalians 4:4 ESV

Time had reached its fulness or completeness. Each element of the plan was happening at just the right time and at the prescribed moment that God had preordained. There was no chance involved. It was all part of the perfect will of God Almighty.

Elizabeth gave birth to a son – just as Gabriel had said she would. And the new parents were surrounded by friends and neighbors who came to celebrate this joyous occasion with them. Even they recognized the hand of God behind Elizabeth’s pregnancy and delivery, and rejoiced that “the Lord had shown great mercy to her” (Luke 1:58 ESV). But they were completely ignorant of God’s plans for this newly born infant. They had no way of knowing that he would “be great before the Lord” and “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15), or that he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16 ESV). To them, he was just another healthy baby boy who would be a welcome addition to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. This faithful priest now had a son and an heir. 

And because this baby would likely be the only child born to this aging couple, the friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth fully expected them to name the boy after his father. But eight days after giving birth to her son, Elizabeth surprised her friends by informing them that his name would be John. She and Zechariah chose to reveal this news on the day scheduled for their son’s circumcision. This God-ordained rite was meant as a sign that their newborn son was dedicated or set apart to God. It was a sign of the covenant that God had made between Himself and the offspring of Abraham.

“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations…” – Genesis 17:9-12 ESV

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that their son had been graciously given to them by God and that he had a divine mission to accomplish. They were merely stewards, charged with the task of keeping God’s vessel pure and prepared for his future role: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:170 ESV). Gabriel had warned them to keep their son away from wine and strong drink. He would be filled with the Spirit of God and set apart as an instrument to accomplish God’s divine plan. And this godly couple was determined to follow the words of the angel of God. When Zechariah was questioned about their strange choice of name, he used a writing tablet to affirm his wife’s answer, scrawling the words: “His name is John” (Luke 1:63 ESV).

At that exact moment in time, God restored Zechariah’s ability to speak and hear. By obeying the word of the angel and naming his son, John, Zechariah proved his faith and was healed of his infirmity. And the first thing he did was bless God. We are not told what Zechariah said, but it seems likely that he reiterated some of what Gabriel had said regarding John’s future role. Luke indicates that “fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65 ESV).

In blessing God, Zechariah must have divulged some of what the angel Gabriel had said. This news obviously made an impact on those who were in the range of Zechariah’s voice. And the fact had not escaped them that Zechariah’s voice had been miraculously and instantaneously restored. There was something supernatural going on in their midst. But they had no way of knowing that God had just invaded time and space, sending his servant, John, so that he might one day begin his ministry of announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repentance. Three decades would pass before the baby born to Zechariah and Elizabeth launched his divinely ordained ministry. In the meantime, another baby would be born to a young virgin girl named Mary. Months, years, and decades would pass. But God was at work. He was methodically and painstakingly preparing the way for the long-awaited Messiah. And in the fullness of time, His plan of redemption would begin.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Love of Darkness

12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
    his sin is kept in store.
13 The pangs of childbirth come for him,
    but he is an unwise son,
for at the right time he does not present himself
    at the opening of the womb.

14 I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
    I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
    O Sheol, where is your sting?
    Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

15 Though he may flourish among his brothers,
    the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come,
    rising from the wilderness,
and his fountain shall dry up;
    his spring shall be parched;
it shall strip his treasury
    of every precious thing.
16 Samaria shall bear her guilt,
    because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword;
    their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
    and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:12-16 ESV

The problem was not that Israel had sinned. God had fully expected them to do so and had made ample preparations for that inevitable prospect. The entire sacrificial system was based on the knowledge that God’s people would sin and was intended to provide them with a means of receiving atonement, forgiveness, and a restored relationship with Him. But the Israelites had become guilty of unrepentant sin. They had chosen to worship other gods, in direct violation of God’s commands. And they repeatedly refused to repent of their sin of spiritual adultery. Despite the warnings of God’s prophets, the Israelites continued to forsake Yahweh and offer their sacrifices, affections, and allegiance to false gods. This left them living in a state of unrepentant sin for which their many sacrifices provided no atonement or forgiveness.

God wanted to redeem, forgive, and restore them, but their unwillingness to repent made that impossible. He had promised to forgive their sins – if they would only repent.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

But God compares His stubborn people to an infant that refuses to go through childbirth. The mother goes through intense labor pains, attempting to bring her new baby into the world, but the child “resists being born” (Hosea 13:13 NLT). This fictitious scene is meant to expose the absurdity of Israel’s actions. Like a baby that chooses to remain in the comfortable and familiar environs of the womb, the Israelites had chosen to continue in their lifestyle of sin and apostasy.

The moment of birth has arrived,
    but they stay in the womb! – Hosea 13:13 NLT

God had great things in store for them – if they would only repent. He wanted to bless them with abundant life and all the benefits that would come with living in obedience to His just and holy commands. But they refused to repent. And because they refused to repent, the number of their unforgiven sins had increased exponentially, leaving them with a growing debt that could only be paid through death and destruction.

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
    but he who pursues evil will die.
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those of blameless ways are his delight. – Proverbs 11:19-20 ESV

For the wages of sin is death… – Romans 6:23 ESV

But despite God’s desire that His people repent and return to Him, He is determined to punish them for their wickedness. He cannot turn a blind eye to their sin and simply act as if they have done nothing wrong. And while He is a loving, gracious, and compassionate God, He is also just and holy, and obligated to punish the iniquities of men. So, He asks a series of rhetorical questions:

“Should I ransom them from the grave?
    Should I redeem them from death?” – Hosea 13:14 NLT

And then God answers those questions with a clear declaration of Israel’s coming destruction.

“O death, bring on your terrors!
    O grave, bring on your plagues!
    For I will not take pity on them. – Hosea 13:14 NLT

This time, they would receive no rescue from God. He would not intervene on their behalf and prevent the inevitable consequences for their sins. They would pay, and they would pay dearly. But they could have escaped the consequences of death and the grave if they would have only repented and returned to God in humble contrition. Had they only been willing to confess their sins, He would have been faithful and just to forgive them. The apostle John points out the reality of that divine response to man’s humble act of repentance.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

It is interesting to note that, centuries later, Jesus Christ would appear on the scene in Israel, preaching the same message of repentance. Matthew records how Jesus began His earthly ministry by fulfilling the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

“…the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:16-17 ESV

Despite Israel’s continued transgressions and ongoing refusal to repent, God would send His own Son to earth preaching a message of repentance to all those who were willing to listen and obey. But like all the other prophets before Him, Jesus would find His Israelite audience to be resistant to His message. They would be attracted by His miracles and curious about His identity, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He could forgive their sins. In his gospel account, the apostle John reveals that the Jews refused to receive Jesus and His message of repentance.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

And John goes on to reveal that Jesus was sent by God in order to offer sinful mankind a way of receiving forgiveness rather than condemnation. Jesus was the gracious gift sent by God the Father that could provide all those living under the condemnation of death with a means of atonement, forgiveness, and redemption.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:17-19 ESV

Even in Jesus’ day, things had not changed. The people of Israel still loved the darkness rather than the light. Like an infant clinging to the familiar darkness of the womb and refusing to be born into the light of day, the Israelites were stubbornly holding on to their lifestyle of sin and refusing to step into the light of God’s forgiveness.

God would punish the northern kingdom of Israel for its refusal to repent. He would send the Assyrian army to destroy the capital city of Samaria and take tens of thousands of its citizens into captivity.

The people of Samaria
    must bear the consequences of their guilt
    because they rebelled against their God.
They will be killed by an invading army,
    their little ones dashed to death against the ground,
    their pregnant women ripped open by swords.” – Hosea 13:16 NLT

These words sound so harsh and barbaric to our modern sensibilities. They paint a portrait of God that we find unattractive and antithetical to our understanding of Him as a loving, gracious, and compassionate God. But we sometimes fail to understand that He is a holy and just God who cannot tolerate sin. His righteousness requires that He deal justly and decisively with all sin. But the truly amazing thing is that God had a plan in place that would deal with the deadly impact of sin and provide sinful mankind with a gracious and totally undeserved plan of escape. And it would be made possible through the gift of His Son. The apostle Paul reminds us of the wonderful secret regarding God’s plan of redemption.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NLT

The Israelites would be punished for their sin. They would face the inevitable consequences of death and the grave. But God was not done. He would preserve a remnant of His people, and through that remnant, He would send His Son. Jesus, the Son of God, would be born into the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham, and as a descendant of David. He would be sent by God to be the Savior of the world, offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind and as a means of receiving a restored relationship with a holy and just God. As the apostle Paul so aptly put it:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

While Israel clung to the womb of sin and darkness, Jesus, the light of God’s glory, was born into the darkness of a sinful world in order to provide the gracious gift of God’s redemption and restoration.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Compassionate, Merciful God

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. – Hosea 11:8-11 ESV

One of the problems we face as fallen human beings is trying to comprehend the ways of a holy and fully righteous God. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s explanation for why finite men will never grasp His infinite and inexplicable actions.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

But while we might agree with God’s assessment of the problem, we too often miss the circumstances surrounding our lack of understanding. Take a look at the verses that precede the Lord’s declaration regarding His unfathomable ways. What we have difficulty comprehending is His divine willingness to show compassion on those who least deserve it.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

God specifically addresses “the wicked” and “the unrighteous.” He calls on sinners to seek Him while they still have the opportunity. He doesn’t require that they clean up their proverbial act and start living righteous lives before they seek Him. But He does ask them to turn from their wicked lifestyles and their unrighteous ways of thinking, and to seek Him instead. All so that He might shower them with His compassion and bless them with His undeserved pardon.

As sinful human beings, we find this kind of offer incomprehensible and inexplicable. It makes no sense. Because to our way of thinking, love is always conditional. Rewards must be earned. We have been raised on a steady diet of moral rhetoric that has convinced us that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet, the apostle Paul would remind us that it was for our sinfulness that Jesus came to earth and offered up His life.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Even Jesus declared that His incarnation, call to repentance, and offer of redemption was aimed at the spiritually sick and hopeless.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

On another occasion, Jesus reiterated this same sentiment, declaring His intention to show compassion on those who least deserved it.

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

So, when we read a book like Hosea, we can become confused by what appears to be apparent contradictions in the character of God. One minute we find Him castigating and condemning the Israelites for their immorality and idolatry. He declares His dissatisfaction with them and delivers warnings of His pending judgment. Then, almost out of nowhere, God declares His intention to show them mercy.

Take a look a verses 8-9. They stand in stark contrast to verse 7, where God just declared His intention to ignore Israel’s pleas for help. They will cry out, but “he shall not raise them up at all.”

Yet, in the very next verse, God reveals what appears to be a dramatic change of heart.

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”
– Hosea 11:8-9 NLT

While God is determined to bring judgment against His wicked and unrighteous people, He cannot bear the thought of destroying them completely. He mentions the cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which, at one time, had enjoyed a close physical and moral relationship with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, God destroyed these two cities when He brought His judgment to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the thought of bringing that level of destruction on His chosen people caused God’s heart to soften. His compassion overwhelmed Him. He declares that “My heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8 ESV). That word “recoils” has a very interesting meaning in Hebrew. It is the word, hāp̄aḵ, and it can mean “to turn” or “overturn.” It also has a negative connotation, referring to the overthrow of someone or something. Hans Walter Wolfe provides a helpful explanation regarding what seems to be going on in the heart of God.

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.” – Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974

God is holy and must punish sin. But God also desires to extend mercy and compassion to sinners. The apostle Peter describes God as incredibly patient, and reminds us that “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). The same was true regarding His relationship with the people of Israel.

Israel would face God’s judgment, but would not have to undergo the full weight of His divine wrath.

“No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
    I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11:9 NLT

Unlike fallen mankind, God is not motivated by sinful desires. Even in His anger, He always acts righteously and justly. He is never capricious or vindictive. According to the psalmist, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

This is not a picture of God relenting, repenting, or even changing His mind. He is simply stating that He is a God who is balanced and just in all that He does. He is going to punish Israel, but He is also going to keep every covenant promise He has made to them. His destruction will come, but it will not be complete and comprehensive. He will severely discipline them, but refrain from annihilating them. Why? Because He has promised to use them to bring a blessing to the nations, and He will accomplish that promise through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. His plans do not always make sense to us. But His grand plan for the redemption of mankind included His Son being born into the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, as a descendant of Abraham, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, God will restore His people to power and prominence when His Son sets up His earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Which is exactly what God promised to the rebellious people of Israel through His prophet, Hosea.

“For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:11-12 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unrequited Love

1 And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. Hosea 3:1-5 ESV

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was meant to parallel the relationship between God and the apostate nation of Israel. And it seems that Gomer played the part of the unfaithful and adulterous wife quite well. It appears that, at some point, she abandoned Hosea and sought out the love of another man. We are provided with none of the backstory to Gomer’s fateful decision and are told nothing of the pain Hosea experienced when she left him. Since few details are provided, it is impossible to know how long Gomer has been gone. But regardless of the length of time and the level of pain that Hosea suffered, he receives a clear, yet difficult command from God.

Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover.” – Hosea 3:1 NLT

Hosea was being given a non-negotiable assignment from God. He was to seek out and restore his unfaithful wife. And what made this command particularly difficult was that she had left him and was now in a relationship with another man. Her actions clearly indicate that she had replaced Hosea with someone else. And God points out to Hosea the glaring similarities between Gomer and the people of Israel. By seeking to restore his adulterous and unloving wife, Hosea will be demonstrating God’s unfailing love for Israel.

“This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” – Hosea 3:1 NLT

As difficult as all of this was for Hosea, God fully understood and could easily empathize with the hurt and anger that he was feeling. In a sense, Hosea was being allowed to experience the very real pain of rejection that God had endured for centuries. His relationship with the people of Israel had been marred by their constant unfaithfulness and repeated rejections of His love. Regardless of how many times He had demonstrated His steadfast love for them, they proved to be spiritual adulterers who made a habit out of giving their love and affection to other gods. And every time they bowed themselves before another “lover,” they were rejecting and spurning the love of God. They were thumbing their noses in the face of the one who had redeemed them from their former life of slavery and had pledged to shower them with His undeserved love and affection.

So, Hosea obeyed the Lord and sought out his wayward wife. Once again, we’re not told how long it took Hosea to locate Gomer. It could be that he knew right where she was all along. It’s more than likely that the rumor mill had been in full effect and Hosea had heard where she was and even knew the name of her new lover. But getting Gomer to return was going to prove difficult and costly. This isn’t one of those Hallmark Cards movies where Gomer runs into the waiting arms of Hosea as the music swells in the background. No, Hosea was forced to buy back his own wife, and he shares the exact price he had to pay.

So I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. – Hosea 3:2 NLT

It’s difficult to know just how costly this purchase was for Hosea. But the Mosaic Law provides a bit of context. It outlines the penalty that was to be paid if one man’s ox gored and killed another man’s slave.

…if the ox gores a slave, either male or female, the animal’s owner must pay the slave’s owner thirty silver coins. – Exodus 21:32 NLT

It seems that Gomer’s new relationship was not as loving as it may have appeared. Her new “husband” was willing to enter into negotiations with Hosea to determine a fair price to let her go. And the final price worked out to be about 30 pieces of silver. Hosea paid half of it in cash and the rest in barley and wine. Gomer’s lover sold her out for the price of a dead slave.

Once Hosea had finalized the purchase, he informed Gomer of the new conditions of their relationship. He laid down new rules of engagement that prohibited any further adulterous behavior on her part.

“You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” – Hosea 3:3 ESV

Hosea was pledging his faithfulness to Gomer and declaring his expectation that she return the favor. Something that is easy to overlook in all of this is the difficulty this new arrangement would pose for Gomer. She had a proven track record of unfaithfulness and was going to find Hosea’s demands to be restrictive and repugnant. She had already left him once and it is likely that she would be tempted to do so again. But her forced “faithfulness” was intended to illustrate what was going to happen to the people of Israel. God was going to take them through a time of corporate cleansing that would deny them access to their false gods. And it would come in the form of their defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians.

During their time in exile, the Israelites would find themselves living outside the land of promise and with no access to their former idols or places of pagan worship. They would have no king to lead them or priests to guide them in their worship of their false gods.

“Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols!” – Hosea 3:4 NLT

And they would be denied any access to God Almighty. Some scholars believe that Hosea told Gomer that their physical relationship would be put on hold as well. Not only would she be denied access to other lovers, she would not be allowed to enjoy intimacy with Hosea.

“You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me. – Hosea 3:3 NLT

Hosea was placing his unfaithful wife in a form of isolation, and that is exactly what God ended up doing with the unfaithful people of Israel. He sent them into captivity in Assyria, where they were denied all the privileges and prerogatives they once enjoyed as His chosen people. Their unfaithfulness, like that of Gomer, came with consequences.

But God gives Hosea good news. He informs His faithful prophet that the day will come when Israel returns to Him. And it won’t be a forced relationship based on rules and mandatory restrictions. They will willingly return to God and express to Him their love and affection.

“But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness.” – Hosea 3:5 NLT

The prophet Ezekiel provides further insight into this future day when God will restore His disobedient people.

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 ESV

Even their return to Him will be the result of His gracious power and provision. He will be the one to restore their hearts and provide them with the capacity to love Him unconditionally and faithfully. The prophet Jeremiah makes this point quite clear.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” – Jeremiah 24:7 ESV

“I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” – Jeremiah 32:39 ESV

Hosea did not possess the ability to instill this kind of change in the heart of Gomer. He had no guarantee that his unfaithful wife would ever return his love and affection. But he faithfully obeyed the will of God and continued to display his love to her, without ever knowing if she would reciprocate. But God provided him with a glimmer of hope by revealing His plans for the disobedient people of Israel. If God could restore and redeem them, perhaps there was a chance that Gomer could one day learn to love Hosea.

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