A Refusal to Trust God

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:6-12 ESV

The very fact that a remnant of the nation of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan was a sign of God’s covenantal commitment. He remained faithful to keep all the promises He had made to the descendants of Abraham. Despite their centuries-long abuse of His grace and constant refusal to keep their commitments to keep His law, God had not completely wiped them off the face of the earth. He had punished them by sending the Babylonians to conquer and capture them, but He had not abandoned them. In fact, He had been the one to make their unlikely return to the land of Judah a reality. Yet here He was again, having to call His rebellion people to repent and return to Him. God desired to bless them, but could not do so as long as they remained unfaithful and unwilling to confess their sins and repent.

Their stubbornness and self-righteousness are evidenced by the question they posed to God.

“How shall we return?” – Malachi 3:7 ESV

In a sense, they were declaring their innocence. How could they return when they had never really abandoned God? When King Cyrus of Persia had decreed that the Israelites could return to the land of Judah, they had been part of the remnant that had agreed to do so. They had been part of the brave few who had made the difficult journey home and spent years rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. It had been their hard work that had caused the temple to rise from the rubble, and it was their sacrifices and offerings that had helped to reinstitute the sacrificial system. So, how could God demand that they return? What more could they do?

But God knew they were simply going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful, showering their affections on the false gods of the neighboring nations. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with non-Israelites, in direct violation of a divine prohibition. And these unholy unions had caused the people of Israel to embrace the gods of the Canaanites. The result was syncretism, a toxic blend of religious beliefs that resulted in a watered-down and ineffective spiritual experience. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, treating Yahweh as one more lover among many. And, to make matters worse, God accused them of theft.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. – Malachi 3:8 ESV

They boldly denied the accusation by questioning the accuracy of God’s statement. In their minds, they had done nothing to offend God. They had continued to offer the mandatory sacrifices and bring the appropriate offerings as the law required. But God disagreed. When presenting their mandatory tithes and offerings, they had regularly short-changed God by offering far less than He had required. This all goes back to the commands God had given the people of Israel long before they had settled in the land of Canaan. Just prior to their crossing of the Jordan River, Moses had delivered to the people God’s laws concerning the offerings of firstfruits and tithes.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. – Deuteronomy 26:1-2 ESV

God had assured them that Canaan was fruitful and abundant, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they were not to put their trust in the land or its productivity. They were to trust in the God who had fed them with quail and manna all during the years they had wandered in the wilderness. He would be their source of provision. By offering Him the first of their harvest, they would be displaying their complete dependence upon Him. And God would use these resources to provide for those in need among them.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. – Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ESV

Every third year, they were to dedicate the first of all their produce to God. And they were to do it as a form of worship, expressing gratitude for all that God had done for them. As they placed their gifts before the altar, they were to declare the undeniable reality of God’s faithful.

“‘…he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:9-10 ESV

And yet, God states that the people of Israel had been robbing Him of their tithes and offerings. They had been keeping back what was rightfully His. And as a result, “the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” were having to do without. God’s ordained system of social welfare had been disrupted by their disobedience and greed. Had they obeyed God’s commands, they would have been a model community that displayed mutual love and care. There was to be no needy or neglected in Israel. Since God was their ultimate provider, no one would do without. And God calls them to put Him to the test and see if His promises will not prove true.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10 ESV

All they had to do was obey. If they would simply keep the Lord’s command and do as they were told, they would experience the unprecedented and unparalleled blessings of God.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:11 ESV

The land was fruitful because God made it so. The soil was perfect for raising crops because God had deemed it so. But He could also bring drought, famine, and pestilence upon the land. God could bring enemies against Israel who would their farms and plunder their flocks and herds and empty their grain stores. But God preferred to bless them, and He would as long as they faithfully kept their covenant commitments.

And God reminded the people that their faithfulness would have far-reaching implications. Not only would the needy among them be properly cared for, but the nations would look on in amazement as they witnessed the supernatural blessings that Israel enjoyed.

“Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:12 ESV

Obedience was intended to result in divine blessing, which was to serve as a witness to the nations. God wanted to abundantly prosper His people so that the greatness of His name might be proclaimed throughout the world. As His chosen people, they had been set apart so that they might display His glory. As they faithfully followed His will and lived according to His exacting standards, they would be blessed by God and give indisputable evidence that He was the one and only God.

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

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

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

Cleansed As By Fire

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:1-5 ESV

The Israelites had dared to question the justice of God. They had willingly violated His commands and had suffered no consequences. So, in their minds, He was either impotent or indifferent to their behavior. But they were in for a rude awakening. Just because God had not yet punished them for their sins did not mean He was powerless to do so. He was the very same God who had sent them into exile 70 years earlier for having committed many of the very same sins against Him. He was gracious and merciful, but He was also righteous and just and determined to hold His people to their covenant commitments. God could not and would not leave their sins unpunished.

These verses deal with the present spiritual condition of the people of Israel by pointing to a future judgment to come. Through His messenger, Malachi, God warns of another messenger who will appear on the scene in the future, declaring the coming of the Lord.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The God they seem to believe was distant and disinterested was going to show up in their city and make an appearance in the temple.

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The Lord was going to make His presence known in the very place where they were offering blemished and unworthy offerings to Him. Malachi warns the people that the day was coming when Yahweh would make a personal appearance in His holy temple. And it’s important to note that the people of Israel had expressed their sorrow and confusion over His seeming absence and silence when they had offered their sacrifices to Him.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. – Malachi 2:13 ESV

God would not always remain silent or hidden. He would one day respond to their sins and reveal Himself in all His might and power. But God states that His appearance will be preceded by “my messenger” (malʾakhi). While this is a variation of the prophet’s name, it does not refer to Malachi. Verse 5 of chapter 4 reveals this messenger’s identity.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. – Malachi 4:5 ESV

Malachi is recording a prophetic pronouncement from God that has a now-not-yet aspect to it. The reference to this future messenger and his designation as Elijah are all cleared up by a series of statements made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist.

“This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

And Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” of whom the prophets spoke.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

In a later exchange with His disciples, Jesus further clarified John the Baptist’s role as the “messenger” of God who would prepare the way for His coming.

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. – Matthew 17:10-13 ESV

And even before John the Baptist’s birth, an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zechariah the priest, declaring that his barren wife would bear him 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

The people of Israel longed for a divine “messenger” who would appear on the scene and reestablish the glory days of Israel. They were familiar with all the prophetic passages that spoke of a coming one who would be a son of David and set up His kingdom on earth. They dreamed of the day when this mighty warrior-king would make his appearance and put Israel back on the geopolitical map. They had no king and were living in the shadows of their more powerful pagan neighbors. So, they would have understood Malachi’s mention of  “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight” as a reference to this long-hoped-for Messiah or savior.

And while God assures them that the Messiah is coming, He warns that His appearance will not be quite as joyful for them as they had hoped.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3 NLT

Their idea of the messenger of the covenant was a deliverer who would fulfill all of the blessings that God had promised as part of His covenant commitment. But they failed to remember that the covenant was bi-lateral in nature. God’s blessings were contingent upon their obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But as Malachi has already pointed out, they had not kept their part of the agreement. Like their ancestors, they had continued to disregard God’s laws and dishonor His holiness by bowing down to false gods. So, when this messenger of the covenant appears, He will come to purify and cleanse the people. He will be like a refining fire that purges all the dross from the gold so that what remains is pure and undefiled. This agent of God will perform a miraculous cleansing of God’s people so that they are able to come before Him in sinless purity.

“Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:4 NLT

God will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will purify and cleanse their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this coming day of the Lord and the miraculous life-altering ministry of the Messiah.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 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.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

In order for cleansing to take place, judgment will have to be leveled against all those who stand before God as impure and defiled by their sins. That is why God warns that, in the future, when the Messiah comes, He will “draw near to you for judgment” (Malachi 3:5 ESV). This cannot be speaking of Jesus’ first coming because Jesus clearly stated, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47 ESV). But at His second coming, Jesus will come as judge. In His righteousness, He will expose all sin and deal a blow to Satan and his demons.

In the present, Malachi is warning the Israelites that their sins are offensive to a holy God. And in the future, those sins will be exposed and dealt with. In order for cleansing to take place, all their sins will need to be revealed, confessed, and burned away. God wanted His people to understand that their current sins will one day face a future judgment. Their unrighteousness was a problem that needed to be addressed. They couldn’t ignore it or continue to justify it. Because God’s judgment of sin is inevitable and inescapable.

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

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

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

A Rupture in the Cosmic Order

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Genesis 3:8-13 ESV

The fruit that God had clearly forbidden, Eve had deemed as “good for food” and “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). Under the nefarious influence of the serpent (a.k.a. Satan), Eve had rejected the divine prohibition concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both she and Adam went with their gut instinct and gave in to their base desire for self-satisfaction. Moses reveals that at the core of Eve’s decision-making process was the faulty understanding that “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “wise” is שָׂכַל (śāḵal), and it can also mean “to give insight.” Eve was hoping to acquire an intuitive understanding of all things. Dictionary.com defines “intuition” as “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process.” She desired an immediate and inner apprehension of right and wrong. In other words, she was not interested in adhering to God’s predetermined standard for obedience. William Ernest Henley could have been quoting Eve when he penned the last two lines of his poem, Invictus.

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Eve was dissatisfied. Everything God had made and had deemed as “very good” was not good enough for Eve. She wanted more. She wanted what she could not have. She had an innate desire for that which had been denied. She and Adam had no need for additional food. There was no shortage of edible plants and fruit-bearing trees in the garden. But the one tree that God had declared as off-limits became the one tree Eve couldn’t stop thinking about.

“The heart wants what it wants. That’s as far as we get. That’s the conversation stopper. The imperial self rules all. The inquiring into the causes of sin takes us back, again and again, to the intractable human will and the heart’s desire that stiffens the will against all competing considerations. Like a neurotic and therapeutically shelf-worn little god, the human heart keeps ending discussions by insisting it wants what it wants.” – Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 62

It wasn’t so much the fruit that Eve desired as the promise of autonomy it supposedly held. She wanted to be wise – like God. She desired to be intuitively intelligent and capable of making her own determinations of right and wrong.

J. I. Packer describes sin as “essentially the resolve – the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve – to play God and right the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives” (J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement,” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer). Eve had resolved to replace God’s standard with her own and, sadly, she convinced her husband to follow her lead.

And it’s interesting to note that the first “insight” Adam and Eve gained from eating the forbidden fruit was an awareness of their own nakedness. They made the sudden determination that what God had deemed as “very good” was unacceptable. Their decision to cover their bodies with make-shift garments reveals their new capacity for making self-determined moral judgments.

“…there is a never-ending drive to replace the triune God with infinitely inferior and more palpable gods along with a set of degenerate moral precepts as a further means of suppressing the truth. The unregenerate host of humanity hate the light of divine moral truth. They cannot bear to allow it to shine on them lest it expose the blackness of their shame, their dishonor, their guilt and rebellion (John 3:20).” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

It should not be overlooked that the very first thing Adam and Eve did, post-sin, was cover their “nakedness.” They inherently knew that they were exposed to the eyes of God, and they feared that He would see them for what they were. So, Moses indicates that the first couple attempted to hide from the presence of the Lord. In an almost humorous aside, Moses states that they hid “among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). Their newly acquired “wisdom” prompted them to seek shelter from God in the very place where they had committed the crime.

One of the ironic things about Satan’s offer of god-like wisdom is that it immediately renders any takers illogical and irrational. Adam and Eve really thought they could hide from God. And when He showed up, asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 ESV), Adam reluctantly responded, ““I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10 ESV).

Fear, shame, and hiddenness. Those are just a few of the unhealthy byproducts of sin. They also reveal what Satan was really offering when he had declared that the forbidden fruit would make Eve “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV). His promise of god-likeness was a lie. What he was really offering was the anthesis of godliness. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve and her easily manipulated husband didn’t become like God, they actually found themselves exhibiting characteristics that were diametrically opposed to God: ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and lawlessness.

“…to fall short of the glory of God is to bare a shattered imago Dei. The reflection of the moral image of God within the fallen creature is irreparably broken apart from divine intervention. ‘Sin is a radical disruption in the core of our being.’” – Scott Christensen, What About Evil: A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory

Notice that God began the conversation with His disobedient children by inquiring about their location. He knew where they were and He was fully aware of what they had done. But He seems to place the emphasis on their broken relationship with Him. They were in the garden, hidden among the trees, but they were actually far from God. Their sin had separated them from the very one who had made them. And notice that, when Adam heard the voice of God, he immediately confessed his nakedness, but not his sin. And, in an attempt to garner a full confession from Adam, God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11 ESV).  Once again, God knew the answer to His own question. He was simply giving His disobedient son an opportunity to own his actions. But rather than admitting his culpability, Adam passes the buck. He blames his wife.

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:12 ESV

He attempts to shift the blame by pointing out that Eve had been God’s idea. Had God not made Eve, none of this would have happened. Adam was declaring himself to be an innocent and unwitting victim in this disastrous affair. Playing along with Adam’s faulty line of reasoning, God asked Eve, “What is this that you have done?” (Genesis 3:13 ESV). To which she replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13 ESV).

Neither the man nor the woman took responsibility for their actions. They had both desired the benefits the fruit offered, but neither wanted to accept accountability or face the liabilities that came with their actions. Sin always has consequences. It offers an assortment of tempting perks, but they all come with a hefty price tag. And, as will become readily apparent, there was plenty of blame to go around. God would render judgment against all parties involved. He would hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Adam and Eve had been created as God’s image-bearers, but in choosing to disobey God, their ability to mirror His goodness and glory was shattered. On that fateful day, the light of God’s glory diminished in the lives of the two people He had created. Darkness entered the scene once again. Evil entered the garden. And as Os Guinness so aptly put it, “Evil is therefore in essence that which was not supposed to be, a rupture in the cosmic order of things, a cancer whose malignancy has spread to every part of life, a form or red-handed mutiny against life as it was supposed to be” (Os Guinness, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror).

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

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

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

Jesus Christ is Lord

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:41-47 ESV

Jesus’ last exchange with the Sadducees left them at a loss for words, but more determined than ever to rid themselves of this irritating thorn in their sides. Jesus had deftly handled their cleverly crafted question about the resurrection, easily exposing their poor understanding of the Scriptures. Their tendency to read God’s Word through the lens of their own earth-bound perspective had resulted in a gross misinterpretation of its content and a misapplication of its truths.

And the entire debate between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel revolved around the issue of authority. They believed themselves to be the God-ordained authority figures over the nation of Israel. Yet, Jesus had appeared on the scene, making radical claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. His self-proclaimed identification as the divine King of Israel easily trumped their claims of spiritual superiority and divinely mandated authority. And it didn’t help the cause of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees that this Rabbi from Nazareth backed up His words with inexplicable miracles and powerful teaching.

As we read through the events surrounding the last week of Jesus’ life, we should begin to recognize that this is really about two kingdoms in conflict – the one the Pharisees and religious leaders had come to know, love and control; and the one that Jesus had come to establish. As John the Baptist began his ministry, paving the way for the coming of the Messiah, he had told the people of Israel, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).

His call to repentance was not just an encouragement to change their behavior, but it was a demand that they change their minds. John was calling them to completely alter their preconceived notions concerning God, sin, the kingdom, the Messiah, and the means by which man can be restored to a right relationship with God. Repentance would require them to do an about-face concerning what they currently believed about all of those things. And that change of mind and heart would result in a change in behavior.

In the world into which Jesus came, the Jewish people had strong opinions about these matters, the byproduct of centuries of man-made decrees, religious doctrines, and dogma. They thought they had God figured out and were convinced that they knew what they had to do to deal with sin. But they had grown callous to God and carefree about their own sin, justifying their actions and downplaying their own guilt. They put a lot of stock in their status as descendants of Abraham and in their unique identity as God’s chosen people. But John the Baptist had come preaching a call to repentance. He had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. And Jesus came preaching that very same message, telling them, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT).

The Kingdom of Heaven was near – in the form of the King of Heaven – Jesus Himself. This was a statement of authority and divine representation. Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. He was the one true King. But the Jewish people failed to recognize Him as such.

This brings us to today’s passage, where Jesus continues to spar with the religious leaders of Israel. He had weathered a relentless gauntlet of questions from these men, as they attempted to expose and entrap Him. But this time Jesus turned the tables on them by requiring them to answer a question from Him. In doing so, He reveals some Messianic misconceptions on their part. He exposes their faulty views of who the Messiah would be and what He would do when He came.

Matthew records that Jesus began this conversation with a very simple, yet revealing question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42a NLT).

Jesus already knew what their response would be, and that answer would reveal much about their understanding of not only the Messiah but of His coming Kingdom.

“They replied, ‘He is the son of David.’” – Matthew 22:42b NLT

So, what does this answer tell us about their view of the Messiah? They believed this long-anticipated deliverer of Israel would be a descendant of David. But it also reveals that they viewed the Messiah’s kingdom would be of this earth and not heavenly in nature. In other words, they were anticipating a king just like David had been. They were expecting a ruler, a royal heir to David, who would wear his crown and sit on his throne, re-establishing Israel’s power in the region. They weren’t looking for a Savior from sin, but a deliverer from subjugation to Rome.

But this is where Jesus exposed their incomplete understanding of the Messiah’s identity and role. In Luke’s version of the story, he reports that Jesus posed the question: “Why is it that the Messiah is said to be the son of David?” (Luke 20:41 NLT). Then Jesus presented the well-educated religious leaders with a conundrum. 

For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.’” – Luke 20:42 NLT

Matthew records Jesus’ statement in the form of a question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?” (Matthew 22:44 ESV).

At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is posing some kind of riddle or trick question. But He actually quoted a well-known Messianic passage found in Psalm 110:1. The Sadducees would have agreed that this passage referred to the coming Messiah or Davidic descendant. In fact, over the centuries, this psalm had been applied to each successive king in the Davidic dynasty and was used to refer to the ideal Davidic king. As a result, they would have been very familiar with the passage and its application to the coming Messiah. So, Jesus pointed out that in the psalm, David calls the Messiah his Lord.

If the coming Messiah was to be a “son” or descendant of David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, why would David call this man his “Lord?” To understand this question, you have to recognize that there are two different words used for “Lord” in Psalm 110. The first is Jehovah, a noun used to refer to God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel. The second word is adon, a noun that means “lord” or “master”. But when used in conjunction with Lord (Jehovah), it typically refers to God’s sovereignty or authority. So, you could read the line in Psalm 110 this way: The LORD (God) said to my (David’s) Lord (Messiah)

The point Jesus was making was that David knew something about the Messiah that the Pharisees did not. That’s why Jesus asked them a further question: “Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Luke 20:44 NLT).

The Pharisees had a limited view of the Messiah. They believed He would be an earthly and fully human descendant of David – nothing more, nothing less. But Jesus’ point was that David seemed to know that the Messiah would be MORE than just his descendant. He would be divine and have God-given authority to rule and reign over God’s Kingdom. He would be David’s LORD and Master. He would be a divinely appointed ruler with power and authority far beyond anything David had known.

But the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to see or acknowledge this. Jesus was not what they had been expecting and, most certainly, not what they wanted. He didn’t look or act like a king. And the Israelites still wanted a king just like all the other nations. They wanted a royal ruler on their terms and according to their definition. It was the very same problem their ancestors had when they had demanded that the prophet Samuel appoint them a king like all the other nations.

They had rejected God as their King and, in response, God had given them Saul. Now, centuries later, they were demanding the same thing. But God was not going to give them another Saul. He was going to give them another David, an actual descendant of David, but a man greater than David had ever been. He would be the God-man, the Son of God, and the ultimate Savior of the world.

At this point in the conversation, Jesus turns His attention to His disciples but He spoke so all could hear what He had to say. The religious leaders, who had grown strangely silent, still had the capacity to hear Jesus speak, and what He had to say was aimed directly at them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:46-47 NLT

Jesus was pulling no punches. He was calling out these men for their self-righteous and hypocritical displays of false piety. And in doing so, Jesus echoed the words from His own sermon on the mount, delivered some three years earlier.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. – Matthew 6:5 ESV

This was a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching. Throughout His ministry, He regularly exposed the hypocritical nature of these self-righteous demagogues. Earlier in his gospel account, Luke records Jesus leveling the same condemning indictment against the Pharisees.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For 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

These so-called shepherds of Israel were fleecing the flock while they feigned a lifestyle of super-spirituality. They had no care or concern for the people of God. Instead, they used their power and position to benefit and promote themselves. This led Jesus to warn, “Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47 NLT). These men, who believed themselves to be the highest authority in the land, would one day stand before the One who wields ultimate authority over all the universe. They will have to answer to God. And, at that time, they will also have to explain their refusal to acknowledge and accept Jesus as the Son of God. While they stand opposed to Jesus now, there will come a day when they will bow before Him and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11 ESV).

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

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

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

Rejecting Their Redeemer

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 ESV

Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city of Jerusalem, seated on the foal of a donkey, the crowds greeted Him with shouts of praise and adulation.

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:38 ESV

Everyone seemed to be in high spirits as “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37 ESV). Yet, as Jesus descended from the Mount of Olives on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley and began the climb up Mount Zion toward the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the city was displayed before Him – and He wept.

The Greek word used to describe His emotional state is klaiō, and it conveys the idea of someone in mourning. As Jesus saw the glistening walls of the city and the temple of Yahweh sitting on the peak of the mount, He couldn’t help but be saddened. He knew exactly what lay in store for the inhabitants of the royal city and, despite their vociferous shouts of praise and their seeming acknowledgement of His kingship, He knew they would eventually reject Him as their Messiah. Their shouts of hosanna would soon turn to demands for His crucifixion.

Jesus put His feelings into words by stating,  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42 NLT). He had begun His earthly ministry declaring the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repent and believe. 

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”  – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

But now, three years later, He couldn’t help but grieve over the fact that the people of Israel were going to refuse His call to repent and reject His claim to be their long-awaited Messiah. As the divine Son of God, Jesus was well aware of the fate facing the city of Jerusalem, but the people living within its walls were completely oblivious. Their shouts of praise had been directly tied to their belief that, as the Messiah, Jesus was going to bring salvation to the land of Israel. They had long been told that the prophets foretold of the coming of a warrior-king and deliverer, God’s Anointed One, who would defeat the enemies of Israel and restore them to power and prominence.

But when Jesus failed to accomplish the military mission they had all been expecting, they turned their backs on Him. This Rabbi from Nazareth did not live up to their expectations and they reacted with disappointment that quickly turned to anger and resentment. Jesus longed for them to see and understand, but He knew it was too late. With their eyes blinded by sin and their hearts darkened by pride and self-righteousness, they were incapable of seeing the truth of who Jesus was and all that He came to offer. The apostle describes them as having stumbled over “the stone” that God had placed in their path.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:31-33 NLT

Jesus was that stone, and they “stumbled” over Him because He did not meet their expectations. And the apostle Paul goes on to describe God’s role in all of this.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

So, based on their eventual rejection of Him, Jesus warned that God would bring judgment against the people of Israel in the form of the destruction of their great city and revered temple. 

“Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side.” – Luke 19:43 NLT

Jesus describes a siege. The day was coming when Jerusalem would experience the same fate that had accompanied its fall to the Babylonians centuries earlier. And Jesus is unsparing in the dramatic details concerning the city’s eventual destruction.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

All of this brings to mind the words of the prophet, Isaiah, as, centuries earlier, he mourned over the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
“Has the Lord abandoned Jerusalem?” the people ask.
    “Is her King no longer there?”

“Oh, why have they provoked my anger with their carved idols
    and their worthless foreign gods?” says the Lord.

“The harvest is finished,
    and the summer is gone,” the people cry,
    “yet we are not saved!”

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people? – Jeremiah 8:18-22 NLT

Jesus was predicting a similarly devastating destruction at the hands of one of Israel’s enemies. But this time, it would be the Romans. After the Jews staged a rebellion against their Roman overlords in 66 AD, the emperor Nero dispatched his legions under the direction of General Vespasian. Two years later, Vespasian and his troops had just about quelled the rebellion, but Jerusalem remained under rebel control. That same year, the emperor Nero died and Vespasian took his place. He placed his son, Titus, over the Roman legions and the battle for control of Jerusalem continued unabated. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and in 70 AD, the walls were breached and thousands of the city’s inhabitants were slaughtered. Worse yet, the temple was ransacked and then burned to the ground. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the scene.

“…the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier’s back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.” – Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, xi. 1.2

And Jesus explains the actual cause of this tragic event. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple would not be because a group of Jews decided to rebel against their Roman oppressors. No, it would be because of the people of Israel refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

But the author of Hebrews lets us know that God’s judgment against Israel would not be permanent. His plans for them remain in place and the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their descendants remain unchanged.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Hebrews 11:11-12

For the moment, Jesus wept over His people because He knew all that was going to happen to them in the foreseeable future. But He was also confident that the day would come when God would fulfill all His promises concerning the people of Israel because He is the covenant-keeping God who never fails to keep His word.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 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 Prodigal Son and the Prideful Brother

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” – Luke 15:11-32 ESV

This particular story that Jesus told has come to be known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But if one considers the context in which this parable was originally told, it might be better titled, The Parable of the Disgruntled Brother. This entire section of Luke’s gospel, beginning in chapter 14 and continuing through the closing verses of chapter 15, contains a lengthy discourse by Jesus that exposes the true character of the religious leaders of Israel.

It all began with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. This miracle took place in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, where Jesus had been invited to dine with other members of the ruling class. It had all been a set-up, designed to put Jesus on the spot. In the middle of the dinner, a man suffering from dropsy just happened to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. But it seems likely that he had been sent for by the host of the party, in order to see if Jesus would attempt to heal him and violate the Mosaic law forbidding work on the Sabbath.

Jesus healed the man and then told a series of parables designed to expose the hearts of these religious leaders who claimed to be the overseers of the people of Israel but who showed little compassion for their spiritual or physical needs. In His first parable, Jesus warned the Pharisees and scribes, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 ESV). These were men who took great pride in their social standing and what they believed to be their superior spiritual status. They craved recognition and coveted the praise of men.

Jesus publicly rebuked His host for only inviting those to his dinner party who could return the favor. He had stacked his guest list with the names of those who would be most likely to reciprocate his kindness by extending him an invitation to dine in their homes. Yet, Jesus suggested that he do just the opposite.

“…when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” – Luke 14:13-14 ESV

But the Pharisee would have found this advice to be thoroughly appalling and illogical. What possible benefit could he receive from inviting those whom he considered cursed by God? In his perverse way of thinking, the poor, crippled, lame, and blind were suffering because they were sinners. He considered them unclean and unworthy of his attention. And, not only that, even if he did invite them into his home, they had no way of returning the favor. The Pharisee could not imagine a return on his investment. But Jesus told him:

“…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:14 ESV

But the Pharisee already considered himself to be just. He had earned his right standing with God through meticulous adherence to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus warned the man that his future standing with God might not be as secure as he supposed. He told another parable about a man sending out invitations to a great banquet. But when the day arrived for the banquet to begin, the invited guests all failed to show up. They each gave an excuse for not being able to attend. In anger, the host sent out his servant to “bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21 ESV). The servant did as he was told and, before long, the banquet hall was filled with those who couldn’t believe their good fortune to be invited to a feast of this magnitude. And the host declared that his original guests would not be allowed in, even if they showed up.

“…none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 ESV

Despite all His teachings, the Pharisees continued to view His association with tax collectors and sinners as unacceptable behavior for a religious leader. In their minds, Jesus suffered from poor judgment and was invalidating His ministry through His constant contact with the ceremonially unclean. But Jesus continued to expose their calloused hearts through the use of parables. He used the analogies of the lost sheep and the lost coin to illustrate God’s love and compassion for all those whom the Pharisees had written off as worthless. God had sent His Son into the world to save the lost. He had come to minister to the weak, suffering, sick, and dying. But the Pharisees refused to see themselves as helpless and hopeless. They were self-made men who believed their superior spiritual health rendered them immune from God’s judgment. They were healthy, whole, and in no need of a physician.

At one point, early on in His ministry, Jesus visited the house of Matthew, who happened to be a tax collector. The scribes and Pharisees who witnessed Jesus sharing a meal with Matthew and his fellow tax collectors expressed their disgust that He would associate with such sinners. To this Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).

This brings us to the parable of the prodigal son. In this parable, Jesus tells of two brothers who share the same father from whom they hope to one day receive their inheritance. According to the Mosaic Law, the older son was to receive a double portion of the inheritance. The father was to “the rights of his oldest son…by giving him a double portion. He is the first son of his father’s virility, and the rights of the firstborn belong to him” (Deuteronomy 21:17 NLT). But typically, the inheritance was not distributed until the father’s death. But in the parable that Jesus told, the younger son came to his father demanding to receive his inheritance early.

Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. – Luke 15:12 ESV

The father gave in to his younger son’s demands but chose to award both sons with their designated inheritance. He divided up his wealth between them. This is a point that often gets overlooked. The older brother received his double-portion of the inheritance at the very same time. But the younger brother “packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living” (Luke 15:13 NLT). Before long, he was broke and broken, and ready to return to his father’s house, even if it meant he had to do so as a hired servant. He had been greatly humbled by his experience in the big city and recognized how much he missed his father’s love and affection. So, he came up with a plan.

‘I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ – Luke 15:18-19 NLT

This is where the story gets interesting. The young man returned and was shocked to find his father not only waiting for him but eager to welcome him back into the family. He exclaimed, “this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:24 NLT). In celebration of his son’s return, the father threw a great feast. He even supplied his son with a new robe, sandals, and an expensive ring. The son had expected to be treated as little more than a slave, but instead, he was welcomed back with joy and treated like a celebrity.

But the older brother, who had been working in the fields, returned to this scene of unexpected celebration and was infuriated. And it doesn’t take much imagination to guess who the older brother represents in the story. He had stayed at home, faithfully fulfilling his duties, while his ungrateful brother had been off committing unmentionable sins in faraway lands. While the younger brother had been busy squandering his inheritance, the older brother had played the part of the dutiful son, caring for the land his father had bequeathed to him. As part of his inheritance, the older son would have received the double-portion, which would have included the land. It was his to care for. It now belonged to him. But he painted a very different picture. He became angry at his father’s ostentatious treatment of his younger brother and declared his frustration.

“All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” – Luke 15:29-30 NLT

In true pharisaical fashion, the older brother denounced the actions of his father. He wrestled with what he believed to be a great injustice and a clear case of inequity. Notice his emphasis on faithful obedience and the years he had spent “slaving” away on this father’s behalf. But, in reality, he had been working his own land. He had been tending his own fields and benefiting from the inheritance he had been given by his father. He viewed himself as the victim in this story. Somehow, he had been aggrieved by his father’s actions. And yet, all along he had been enjoying the gracious gift of his father’s wealth and lands. He had not suffered. He had not gone without. He had not been cheated in any way. But his pride and jealousy prevented him from rejoicing at the return of his brother. Like the Pharisees who could not understand Jesus associating with tax collectors and sinners, the older brother couldn’t comprehend his father’s treatment of his undeserving brother. But the father tried to help him understand the heart behind his actions.

“Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” – Luke 15:31-32 NLT

This seems to be the crux of Jesus’ message throughout these two chapters. The Pharisees, who viewed themselves as the faithful children of God, refused to show mercy to those who were the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). When Jesus saw the crowds of people following Him, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV). But the Pharisees could not bring themselves to care for the shepherdless sheep. Just as the older brother could not understand his father’s over-the-top treatment of his undeserving sibling, the Pharisees could not comprehend Jesus’ care and concern for the undeserving multitudes. But the prodigal son had returned in repentance and humility, fully aware of his sins and ready to beg for his father’s forgiveness. But the older brother revealed his true colors. As long as he remained the center of his father’s attention and the beneficiary of his father’s blessings, he was happy. But his brother’s return and his father’s response were more than he could bear. He may have shared his father’s inheritance, but he did not share his father’s heart.

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 City and the Savior

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:31-35 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, where He will fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) through His substitutionary death on the cross. But ever since Jesus came into the world, Satan had been intent on derailing the divine plan for His life. At His birth, Satan had used Herod I, also known as Herod the Great, in a failed attempt to eliminate Jesus as a child. When wise men from the east had informed Herod the Great that a child had been born who was to be the king of the Jews, he had viewed this news as a threat because he considered himself to be the rightful Jewish king. In an effort to eliminate this potential usurper to his throne, Herod the Great had ordered the murders of all infant boys under the age of two who had been born in and around the vicinity of Bethlehem. But Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, had been warned by God in a dream to take his wife and newborn son to Egypt.  Now, three decades later, Jesus is warned by Pharisees that another Herod is out to kill Him. This time, it is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.

But why would the Pharisees, who greatly despised Jesus, go out of their way to warn Him about Herod’s plans to kill Him? And was their message even true? Jesus appears to have taken the warning seriously but He also recognized that the Pharisees had ulterior motives. These self-righteous religious leaders wanted to keep Jesus from making His way to Jerusalem. This Rabbi from Nazareth had stirred up trouble everywhere He went and they had no desire to see Him bring His circus sideshow to their city. So, they decided to sow seeds of doubt in His mind by positioning Herod Antipas as a potential threat to His life.

From the moment Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, Satan had been attempting to thwart His plans. Immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where Satan launched a full-frontal assault, attempting to dissuade Him from carrying out His Father’s plan. But He had failed. Yet Luke’s record of that event tells us that Satan did not give up.

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. – Luke 4:13 NLT

And Satan proved to be a resourceful and unrelenting enemy. He continued to use any and every resource at his disposal in his attempt to derail the mission of Jesus. And one of Satan’s favorite tools happened to be the religious leaders of Israel, including the Pharisees. And Jesus had been well aware that these men were not to be trusted. In fact, on one occasion, He had exposed them as sons of the devil.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

This less-than-flattering characterization by Jesus had so angered the Pharisees that they had tried to stone Jesus to death but He escaped unharmed. Yet, this exchange only fueled the growing hatred of the Pharisees for Jesus. So, their attempt to warn Jesus about Herod was anything but a goodwill gesture. They were simply trying to scare Him off. After all, Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist to death, so it only made sense that He would have it in for Jesus as well.

But Jesus is not intimidated or swayed by their words. In fact, He tells them to deliver a message to Herod on His behalf. His reference to Herod as “a fox” was not meant to be flattering. Unlike the lion, the fox was considered an insignificant and inconsequential predator that was forced to use deceit and cunning to survive. The fox was basically a scavenger and anything but the king of the beasts. So, in referring to Herod as a fox, Jesus was exposing the true nature of this power-hungry, self-possessed pawn of the Romans.

Jesus was not going to be dissuaded from His divine mission. He knew exactly what was going to take place in Jerusalem and was well aware that His death was part of God’s divine plan. Herod, like his infamous late father, was powerless to do anything to Jesus. He would prove to be nothing more than a pawn in the hands of God the Father. So, Jesus told the Pharisees to inform Herod that He would continue to “cast out demons and perform cures” (Luke 13:32 ESV) just as He had been doing. And when the time was right, He would enter Jerusalem and complete the assignment given to Him by His Heavenly Father.

Jesus probably surprised the Pharisees when He admitted that His future included His death in Jerusalem. That was the whole reason He had left Galilee and was making His way to the holy city. He was on a journey that would culminate with His death on the cross, and nothing would keep Him from fulfilling His God-ordained mission. Jesus even admits that it was essential that His death take place in Jerusalem.

“…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” – Luke 13:33 ESV

Jesus was well aware of Jerusalem’s dark history. This capital city of Judah had a long and unflattering track record of treating God’s messengers with contempt and disdain. Throughout its history, the city of David had become a place where God’s prophets experienced rejection, ridicule, and even death at the hands of the chosen people of God. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of repentance and warnings of pending judgment should His people refuse to obey. Now, God had sent His own Son, the last of the prophets, with a message calling the people of Israel to repent and believe.

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

And Jesus would preach that same message within the walls of the city of Jerusalem. But rather than heed His call, they would cry out for His death. Which led Jesus to soberly reflect on Jerusalem’s long and sordid history of stubbornness towards the gracious message of God.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” – Luke 13:34 ESV

Jerusalem was the city of David, the capital of the once-great Davidic dynasty. And now, Jesus, the Son of David and the rightful heir to the throne, was returning to the capital to offer its citizens one final opportunity to repent and believe. But they would refuse. And Jesus shares His heart for the royal city by declaring, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Luke 13:34 NLT). Jesus had a deep and abiding love for the people of Israel and, in particular, for all those who called Jerusalem home. The Son of David had a deep love for the city of David. But He knew that they would reject His heartfelt invitation to repent and believe. Rather than recognize Him as their long-awaited Messiah, they would cry out for His crucifixion.

The royal city would reject its King, and, as a result, God would forsake the city of David. Jesus makes a prophetic declaration concerning Jerusalem that has two fulfillments.

“I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:35 ESV

Not long after this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, He would enter the city of Jerusalem at the head of a great procession. His triumphal entry would be marked by joy and celebration, with the people shouting His praises.

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

Yet, those very same people would end up changing their minds. In time, their cries of “Hosanna!” would turn to shouts of “crucify Him!” In a matter of hours, they would turn from fans to foes. They would revert from shouting His praises to demanding His death. But Jesus was also predicting another day when the people of Jerusalem would once again shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It will be at His second coming when He returns to the city of Jerusalem as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Herod would not stop Jesus. The Pharisees would not deter Him. And the unrepentant citizens of Jerusalem would disappoint but not dissuade Him. He would be faithful and accomplish His Father’s will. And because Jesus did what He had been sent to do, the day will come when the people of Israel and the citizens of Jerusalem will receive Him as their King. The prophet Ezekiel declares the coming day when God will restore the fortunes of Israel and bring joy to the streets of Jerusalem once more.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am ready to hear Israel’s prayers and to increase their numbers like a flock. They will be as numerous as the sacred flocks that fill Jerusalem’s streets at the time of her festivals. The ruined cities will be crowded with people once more, and everyone will know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 36:37-38 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

A Sign of Things To Come

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV

Some in the crowd had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others “to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16 ESV). It is to this second group that Jesus now turns His attention. Both Matthew and Mark include their own descriptions of the same or a similar incident where Jesus addressed the peoples’ demands for a sign. And it would appear that their insistence that Jesus do some significantly spectacular sign to prove His identity was also the brainchild of the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” – Matthew 12:38 ESV

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. – Mark 8:11 ESV

Their demand was very specific. They wanted a sign from heaven. These men had stood back and watched as Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. And, in an attempt to repudiate those miracles, they had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. So, it seems unlikely that they are requesting Jesus to perform another miracle. The Greek word translated as “sign” is sēmeion, and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than healing the blind or casting out demons. After all, there were others who claimed to perform miracles and even the Jews practiced exorcism.

No, it seems that they were asking Jesus to do the truly impossible. If Jesus He was divine, as He so claimed, then He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, such as predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction. But the motivation behind their request was evil to its core. They knew what the law said regarding anyone prophesied falsely in the name of God.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

Simply put, they were in search of an excuse to put Jesus to death. But He saw through their ploy and responded to their request with a stinging indictment.

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. – Luke 11:29 ESV

Jesus knew the intentions behind this request. The hearts of those demanding that He do some kind of miraculous sign were wicked and unbelieving. He knew that no matter what He did, they would refuse to believe. So, not only did Jesus refuse their request for a prophetic pronouncement, but instead, He announced a sign of coming judgment.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” – Luke 11:30 ESV

The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to those in the crowd. They would have made the connection concerning Jonah’s influence over the Gentile city of Nineveh. After refusing to obey God’s command to deliver His message of repentance to the Assyrian capital, Jonah was reprimanded and then rescued by God. Jonah attempted to run from his divine commission but ended up being swallowed by a great fish. This life-threatening incident ended up getting Jonah’s attention, convincing him to follow through on his God-given assignment. And the result was a miraculous revival among the pagan Ninevites. The entire city repented of their sins and worshiped Yahweh.

Jesus infers that Jonah, the reluctant messenger, because a sign to the people of Nineveh. He had spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish but then had been “resurrected” so that he might deliver God’s message of judgment and His call to repentance. Jesus is predicting His own 3-day-long interment in a tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” – Luke 11: 32 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse His offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the future judgment, the repentant people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the unrepentant Jews. Jesus predicts that the Jews will refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by His coming death on the cross.

And then, Jesus adds another claim of superiority to His growing list.

something greater than Jonah is here – Luke  12:32 ESV

Jonah was a prophet of God and the only one who had been sent by God to the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees would have related well to Jonah’s initial reluctance to take God’s message of repentance to non-Jews. The story of Jonah attempting to get out of this undesirable assignment would have resonated with them. Now, here was Jesus was claiming to be superior to Jonah.  But, in reality, Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to have precedence over the stories of Scripture because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah was just a man, and yet he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedient servant, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus was actually fulfilling their request. He was giving them “a sign by which anything future is pre-announced/.” He was predicting His own death, burial, and resurrection. And He was letting them know that all who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus also predicted that when that sign appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe it. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

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

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

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

Proclaim the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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