The Inexplicable Ways of God

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  Luke 23:50-56 ESV

The death of Jesus was a devastating and demoralizing blow to His followers. He had repeatedly told them that His trip to Jerusalem would end in His death, but they had refused to believe Him because His words did not comport with their understanding of the Messiah. Peter had even rebuked Jesus for making such illogical and unacceptable statements. These men had no place for a dying Savior in their Messianic vision. They had been longing for Jesus to curtail His preaching ministry and begin His campaign to destroy the Romans and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem.

Earlier in the week, as the disciples sat with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). They were distraught because Jesus had delivered some devastating news to them. On their way to the Mount of Olives, they had passed through the eastern gate of the city near the temple mount. When the disciples mentioned the beauty of the temple complex, Jesus surprised them by stating, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Now, as they sat on the Mount of Olives, with the temple mount in view just across the Kidron Valley, they wanted to know if the destruction of the temple was the sign they should be looking for. They were desperate to know what would be the sign or evidence of His coming as the Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had done nothing king-like. He had healed, preached, and taught, but none of that was what they expected the Messiah to do. They were looking for some kind of tangible proof that His kingdom was about to begin. But Jesus went on to tell them that things were going to get dramatically worse before they got better. The “sign” they longed for would come, but not when during their lifetimes and not before they would face difficult days.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 23:9-14 ESV

Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and unacceptable to the disciples. They had envisioned a far different ending to the story. In their minds, Jesus should have been seated on the throne of David and not hanging on a cross like a criminal.  And yet, it was all according to the will of God. As dark as the moment may have appeared to Jesus’ followers, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God was evident throughout the narrative. Everything was taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail. Every facet of the story was unfolding just as the prophet Isaiah had written centuries earlier.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

And, as Luke points out, the rich man Isaiah prophesied about was none other than Joseph of Arimathea, “a member of the council, a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50 ESV). Everything about the death of Jesus was unexpected and counterintuitive. It made no sense. And, as further proof, here was a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin, unknowingly fulfilling the preordained will of God. Matthew describes Joseph as “a disciple of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57 ESV). Luke states that “he was looking for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51 ESV). Somewhere along the way, this high-ranking member of Israel’s religious elite had determined that Jesus was the Messiah. He had broken ranks with the rest of his brothers on the high council and begun to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The long-awaited Messiah of Israel. In fact, Joseph had risked his reputation by refusing to give his consent to the council’s decision to have Jesus arrested and crucified (Luke 23:51).

And now, he was further jeopardizing his livelihood and life by asking Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. Luke provides no insight into the motivation behind Joseph’s actions, other than the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that the Gospels provide the name of only one other individual who assisted in the burial of Jesus, and he too was a member of the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. – John 19:39 ESV

This was the same man whose curiosity had compelled him to schedule a late-night, clandestine meeting with Jesus.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:1-2 ESV

Jesus had gone on to tell this highly educated Pharisee about the key to seeing and experiencing the Kingdom of God. And it was not what Nicodemus had expected. In fact, Jesus’ words confused him. When Jesus had stated, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.,” Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4 ESV). None of this made sense to Nicodemus. As a Jew and a highly-respected member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus believed himself to have a permanent place reserved for himself in the kingdom. He truly believed he had earned his rightful place in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. But Jesus revealed that entrance into the kingdom would require far more than good deeds and the right genes.

“…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5 ESV

And then He added the one vital element that was missing from Nicodemus’ understanding of the coming kingdom.

“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15 ESV

The Messiah would have to die. Jesus would have to be “lifted up” on the cross. And He would later restate this unexpected requirement for the coming kingdom.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” – John 12:32 ESV

Nicodemus had left that night confused and concerned by all that he had heard. But evidently, he had come to the conclusion that the words of Jesus were true and that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He showed up at the cross of Jesus, carrying 75-pounds of spices in order to properly prepare the body of Jesus for burial, and he had gone to great expense and was taking a great risk to do so.

There at the cross of Jesus, these two members of the Sanhedrin carefully removed the lifeless body of Jesus and prepared it for burial. They “took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53 ESV). And then they “rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:60 ESV).

What a remarkable and totally unexpected scene. It’s fascinating to consider that, over the centuries, countless paintings have been created that attempt to depict this event. But most of them portray images that are figments of the artist’s imagination. They show a dejected Mary cradling her dead Son in her arms, surrounded by compassionate and equally mournful disciples. But that is not what happened. Matthew reports that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:61 ESV). Luke indicates that the women watched as Joseph and Nicodemus prepared and buried the body of Jesus. They took note of where the tomb was located and made plans to return with spices so that they too might anoint His body. But the 11 disciples of Jesus are strangely absent from this scene. It appears that only John was near enough to know the details surrounding Jesus’ burial place, and he reports that “in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV).

In the place of death, there was a garden, and in the garden, there was a tomb. And as the lifeless body of Jesus was placed in the ground, a remarkable and unexpected reality was about to take place, just as Jesus had predicted.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:23-26 ESV

Don’t overlook the fact that it was two Pharisees who buried “the grain of wheat” in the ground. This unlikely pair was given the privilege of sowing the seed that would produce a harvest of righteousness. They served the Savior by placing His body in the tomb. They risked their reputations and their lives so that the Son of God might be given a proper burial. But what they didn’t realize was that they were planting the seed that would produce fruit for generations to come.

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

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

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

Just Call Me Barabbas

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:18-25 ESV

As far as Pilate was concerned, the Jewish religious leaders had done a poor job of prosecuting their case against Jesus. The litany of charges they had leveled against Him were dubious at best and outright lies at worst. And Pilate knew from the moment Caiaphas and his little entourage had shown up at His palace that their real issue with Jesus was religious in nature. He had seen through their little charade of faux civic duty and told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (John 18:31 ESV). He wanted no part in what was obviously a doctrinal dispute among the Jews.

Even after his personal interrogation of Jesus, Pilate remained convinced that He was innocent and had done nothing worthy of death. And he told the Jewish religious leaders as much.

“Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” – Luke 18:15-16 NLT

But to men who would settle for nothing less than a death sentence, Pilate’s decision was totally unacceptable and infuriating. They were out for blood – literally – and began to demand that Pilate rethink his position and give in to their demands.

For whatever reason, Luke chose to leave out a significant part of the evening’s proceedings. Matthew and Mark disclose that Pilate had offered what he believed to be a way to spare Jesus’ life. It seems that he sincerely doubted whether the Jews were truly concerned about Jesus being an insurrectionist who posed a danger to the community. So, almost as a test, he offered them a choice between the lives of two men. One was Jesus, whom Pilate had deemed as unworthy of death. The other was a man named Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer (Mark 15:7 ESV).

Apparently, Pilate had made it a custom to allow the people to request the release of one prisoner, in honor of the Feast of Passover. The Jewish religious leaders, who were very familiar with this rather strange policy, began to demand that Pilate honor his annual commitment. Naturally, Pilate assumed they were asking for the release of Jesus.

“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” – Mark 15:9 ESV

But much to his surprise, the Jews demanded that he set free a man who had already been condemned to death and deserved to be executed for his crimes. Yet Pilate really thought they would come to their senses and recognize that their hatred of Jesus was nothing more than a case of overinflated jealousy. Surely, they would listen to reason and not go through with this ill-fated inquisition. But he was wrong, and they vehemently vocalized their demands.

“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas.”  – Mark 23:18 ESV

Taken aback by the degree of their hatred for Jesus, he asked,  “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12 ESV). It seems apparent that Pilate was fully aware of the true intentions of the religious leaders. He was smart enough to know that they didn’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and by referring to Jesus as the “King of the Jews,” he was purposely poking the bear.

But Matthew reveals that there was another factor contributing to Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus to death. It seems that His wife had “suffered through a terrible nightmare” about Jesus (Matthew 27:19 NLT). She had even warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Matthew 27:19 ESV). She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something special about this man.

But when Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Moved by the content of his wife’s nightmare and his belief that Jesus was an innocent man, Pilate continued to argue for his release. But the people shouted all the more loudly, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV).

This prompted Pilate to ask yet a third time: “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23:22 ESV). And Luke records that the crowd, influenced by the high priest, members of the Sanhedrin, and their own elders, continued to demand that Jesus be crucified, “and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23 NLT).

Pilate finally gave up the fight. He acquiesced to the demands of the people and turned Him over to be put to death. Yet, Matthew noted that Pilate did so under duress.

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

He literally washed his hands of the matter and placed the responsibility clearly on the heads of the Jewish religious leaders. And their response is sad, yet insightful.

“We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

What an amazingly arrogant attitude these people displayed. They were basically calling down a curse from God on their own heads and those of their descendants. Driven by anger and a demonic-like hatred for Jesus, these men lost all sense of composure and reason. And their actions had just proven the veracity of the words that Jesus had spoken concerning them.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Mark records that Pilate “ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified” (Mark 15:15 NLT). John adds that “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:2-3 NLT). And Luke provides the sobering statement: “he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25 ESV). This was exactly what the religious leaders had set out to do. It was their will. And yet, their will was subject to that of God. They did what they did of their own accord and driven by their own sinful hearts, but it was all according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

But one of the most significant aspects of this story that often goes overlooked is the release of Barabbas. The details concerning this man are few and far between. The gospel authors simply reveal that he was a prisoner, charged with murder and insurrection, and likely facing execution for his crimes. And, of course, the primary form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans was crucifixion.  This man was a condemned criminal facing the most gruesome of deaths. He had already been convicted and condemned. His fate was sealed and there was nothing he could do about it.

Then, someone took his place. Jesus became the substitute for Barabbas, bearing his cross and suffering the death that had been intended for him. The sinner had been set free and the innocent man was crucified on his behalf. What an incredible picture of the entire redemptive story. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was killed so that Barabbas could live. But it seems unlikely that Barabbas experienced a radical conversion experience, placing his faith in Jesus as his sin substitute. He probably went on to live his life just as he always had. He was a sinner, condemned, unclean and yet, Jesus had died in his place. Just as Jesus died in the place of all because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that they too had been like Barabbas. They had been people imprisoned for their rebellion against God and facing a well-deserved death sentence. Yet, Jesus took their sins upon Himself by taking their place upon a cross that had their name on it. And, as a result, they were free to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 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 Different King of King

1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” Luke 23:1-16 ESV

The next phase of Jesus’ trial was about to begin. The high priest and his compatriots on the high council now had the evidence they needed to bring accusations of treason against Jesus. By claiming to be the Messiah or king of Israel, Jesus had given them ample reason to get the Romans involved. The Roman government, while tolerant of other religions, was ruthlessly intolerant of insurrection in any form. There is little doubt that they had heard the rumors concerning Jesus. Though He was nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth, He had attracted a large following and many were claiming Him to be the next king of Israel. So, the Sanhedrin knew that Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, would be more than interested in interrogating their prisoner. And their hope was that Pilate would protect the interests of Rome by having Jesus put to death.

While the Sanhedrin had determined that Jesus deserved death because of His blasphemous claims of divinity, they were prohibited by Roman law from practicing capital punishment. So, their plan was to use the rather lame charge of treason to incite the Romans against Jesus. And it seems that the entire religious leadership of Israel was party to this deadly charade. Luke indicates that “the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate” (Luke 23:1 ESV). The two high priests, Caiaphas and Annas, as well as the members of the council and the elders of Israel were all part of the contingent that accompanied Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace.

This angry mob dragged Jesus before Pilate and immediately began to level their charges against Him. It’s unlikely that they entered the palace of the Gentile governor because that would have rendered them unclean (John 18:28). So, they stood in the courtyard, their prized prisoner in hand, delivering their carefully crafted indictments against Him.

“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” – Luke 23:2 ESV

They deliberately distanced themselves from Jesus, choosing to treat Him with disdainful anonymity. Refusing to use His name or His rightful title of Rabbi, they paint Jesus as just another radical revolutionary stirring up trouble in Israel. And they attempt to portray themselves as friends of Caesar, dedicated to protecting his interests and in full allegiance to Roman rule over their nation. In fact, John records the disingenuous response of these men when later, Pilate mockingly declared Jesus to be their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ alleged claims of kingship were the primary focus of Pilate’s interest in Him. Having heard the accusations of the religious leaders, Pilate turned to Jesus and asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3 ESV). Luke reports that Jesus simply responded, “You have said so” (Luke 23:3 ESV). But John provides much more detail regarding the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. He notes that Jesus responded to Pilate’s question by asking, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). This cleverly worded question seems to be inquiring whether Pilate is expressing personal interest in Jesus’ kingship or simply parroting the accusations of the religious leaders. In a sense, Jesus wanted to know if Pilate was simply looking for a confession of guilt or was curious to know if the rumors about Jesus were true. Was He really the Messiah, the son of David and the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel? But Pilate, sensing what Jesus was doing, quickly redirected the conversation.

“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

Pilate was looking for proof of Jesus’ guilt. He had been accused of promoting tax evasion and of declaring Himself the rightful king of Israel. These were serious charges and Pilate was attempting to give Jesus the opportunity to tell His side of the story. But instead, Jesus chose to clarify the nature of His kingship and kingdom.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

Pilate and the Romans had nothing to fear from Jesus. He was not an insurrectionist and He had no desire to disrupt the political status quo in Israel. He had not come to usher in a physical kingdom or wage war against the Romans. In fact, His battle was with the religious leaders of His own people, who were standing in opposition to His mission of repentance and redemption. They, of all people, should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. But because Jesus had not appeared in the form they had been expecting, they had rejected Him. He had not fulfilled their expectations concerning the Messiah, so they sought to destroy Him. But what they failed to understand was that the Messiah’s kingly mission would not be about crowns and conquests or the defeat of Israel’s political enemies. Jesus had come to deliver His people from slavery to sin, not subjugation to Rome.

But all this talk of kingship led Pilate to ask, “So you are a king?” (John 18:37 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The truth was that Jesus was a king. But He was a completely different kind of king who had come to establish a different kind of kingdom. He had come to wage war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). His fight was not with Rome, but with Satan. His objective was the deliverance of men from spiritual slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that accompanied. The apostle Paul would later declare, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT).

But all of Jesus’ talk of otherworldly kingdoms meant nothing to Pilate. He sensed that Jesus was no threat to Rome and delivered his conclusion to the religious leaders gathered in the courtyard of his palace.

“I find no guilt in him.” – John 18:38 ESV

But this pronouncement was not what Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin wanted to hear. So, they became even more agitated and desperate, demanding that Jesus was a clear and present danger to the Roman republic.

“He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” – Luke 23:5 ESV

The mention of Galilee gave Pilate an excuse to pass the buck. He wanted nothing more to do with Jesus, so he had Him transferred to the royal palace of Herod, the governor of Galilee. Since Jesus was accused of stirring up trouble in Herod’s jurisdiction, Pilate decided to let his fellow governor get in on the action. But Herod wasn’t interested in making a deliberation concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He had heard all about Jesus and was hoping this miracle worker from Nazareth would oblige him by performing one of His famous signs. But Jesus refused to play Herod’s game and, before long, Herod lost interest and sent Him back to Pilate. All the while Jesus was in Herod’s palace, the religious leaders stood outside shouting their accusations against Him. But to no avail. Herod had Jesus dressed up in “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11 ESV) and then subjected Him to the ridicule and contempt of his guards. But before long, Jesus found Himself back in Pilate’s palace.

What happened next is critical to the story of Jesus’ final hours. Pilate reported to Jesus’ accusers that their charges were insufficient to warrant His death. They had failed to produce enough evidence to convince either him or Herod to order Jesus’ execution. And for the second time, Pilate announced, “after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (Luke 23:14 ESV). The Gentile rulers declared Jesus to be innocent of all charges. Pilate agreed to punish Jesus but would not condemn Him to death. At least, not yet.

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

Guilty As Charged

66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”  Luke 22:66-71 ESV

While Peter had been busy denying any knowledge of Jesus, his friend and mentor had been undergoing intense interrogation by the high priests and their associates. John provides a much more detailed description of the evening’s proceedings in his gospel by cleverly juxtaposing the “trial” of Peter with that of Jesus. In his narrative, the scene repeatedly switches from the exterior courtyard to the inner recesses of Caiaphas’ palace. Outside, Peter was being forced to answer some simple, yet potentially damning questions. Inside, Jesus was being bombarded with questions designed to produce evidence that would justify His death. He was even having to face the false accusations of witnesses who had been paid to condemn Him, but their testimonies ended up being contradictory and worthless.

Peter faced accusations of being a follower of Jesus. He was recognized as a Galilean and of having been in the garden with Jesus when He was arrested. But Peter denied any and all charges leveled against him – even though they were all true.

John indicates that Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, was the first to question Jesus. He demanded to know what Jesus had been teaching His followers. But Jesus simply replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).

Jesus’ response earned Him a slap in the face from one of the temple guards, along with a reprimand for disrespecting the former high priest. But, once again, Jesus replied calmly, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT). Refusing to answer the question, Annas had Jesus taken to his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the official high priest of Israel.

Mark picks up the story at this point. A host of so-called witnesses had been paraded before the high priest and his fellow members of the council, each leveling their own fabricated charges against Jesus. Some had even accused Jesus of planning to destroy the temple in Jerusalem.

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.’” – Mark 14:58 NLT

While none of the witnesses could corroborate their stories, that appears to have been a moot point to the high priest. He was not interested in the truth. He simply wanted to get Jesus to perjure or incriminate Himself. The purpose of the witnesses was to force Jesus to defend Himself and say something they could use against Him. But Jesus remained silent. Frustrated by Jesus’ lack of cooperation with their sham trial, Caiaphas stood before the council and addressed Jesus with a question of his own.

“Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” – Mark 14:60 NLT

It seems that what Caiaphas wanted from Jesus was a clear declaration of His claim to be the Messiah. If he could get Jesus to admit that He was the long-awaited Messiah or king of Israel, he could accuse Jesus of being an insurrectionist and a potential threat to the Romans. But when Jesus refused to say anything, Caiaphas finally blurted out, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mark 14:61 NLT).

At this point, Jesus spoke up, and what He said left Caiaphas and his cronies in a state of anger and astonishment. According to Luke’s account, Jesus calmly stated, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer” (Luke 22:67-68 NLT). But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reveal that Jesus eventually answered the high priest’s question.

I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62 NLT

With this answer, Caiaphas knew he had hit the jackpot. Jesus had just claimed to be the king of Israel. But not only that, with His declaration, “I am,” Jesus had just claimed to be God. He had just put Himself on equal footing with Yahweh. As experts in the Old Testament Scriptures, these men fully understood the significance of Jesus’ words. They were highly familiar with the book of Exodus and recognized that Jesus was echoing the words that God had spoken when Moses had asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13 ESV).  And God had responded, “I am who I am.” Then He went on to say, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 ESV).

Jesus had just claimed to be God. According to the law, He had committed blasphemy. And just to ensure that they had heard Jesus right, Caiaphas asked, “So, are you claiming to be the Son of God?,” and Jesus responded, “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70 NLT). Jesus cleverly accused the high priest of Israel of validating His divinity.

But in a display of over-the-top theatrics, Caiaphas tore his garment as a sign of horror and mourning over this blatant disregard for the holiness of God’s name. Then he shouted to his associates, “Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Mark 14:63-64 NLT). And everyone in the room shouted, “Guilty!…He deserves to die!” (Mark 14:64 NLT).

They had what they wanted. Jesus had just condemned Himself to death. By claiming to be the king of Israel, He had declared Himself to be an enemy of Rome. Always fearful of insurrection, the Romans had a zero-tolerance policy regarding any kind of threat to their authority and they would deal swiftly and harshly with anyone claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne of David.

But for Caiaphas, the real win was that Jesus had committed blasphemy. This upstart Rabbi from Nazareth had repeatedly claimed to be the Son of God and had led the people to believe that He was on an equal footing with Yahweh. For Caiaphas, that was not only impossible, but it was also unacceptable and intolerable. This man had to die. In fact, Caiaphas had come to that conclusion a long time ago. He had already declared his assessment of the situation when he told his fellow members of the Sanhedrin:

“…it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” – John 11:50 ESV

And John went on to explain that Caiaphas’ words were actually prophetic. The high priest didn’t realize it when he said them, but his words were actually echoing the preordained will of God.

He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. – John 11:51-52 ESV

Jesus really did have to die. Not for blasphemy but so that the will of God might be fulfilled. Just hours earlier, in the garden, Jesus had prayed to His Heavenly Father:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:1-5 ESV

Jesus would die. But He would do so, not for blasphemy but so that sinful man might be restored to a right relationship with God. He would die as God, not for claiming to be God. He would be executed for being holy and righteous, not sinful and blasphemous. He would be lifted up on the cross, not as an example of insurrection, but as God’s means of salvation and future resurrection. Caiaphas and his companions believed they were one step closer to ridding themselves of Jesus, but they were accomplishing the will of God. They were unwillingly, yet perfectly, playing their part in the divine plan for the redemption 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

You Can’t Hide the Truth

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. Luke 22:1-6 ESV

Having finished recording Jesus’ lengthy discourse concerning future events, Luke abruptly brings the reader back to the present. All along he has been tracking Jesus’ slow but deliberate journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. At this point in his narrative, Luke has been describing Jesus’ activities in and around the city of Jerusalem as the Messiah awaits the final phase of His Kingdom mission. Now, the timeline will begin to speed up as the day of Jesus’ death draws closer. The celebration of Passover is at hand. Luke refers to it as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was actually the week-long celebration that followed the day of Passover. But it was not uncommon for both names to be used when referring to the same annual event when the Israelites celebrated and commemorated their miraculous deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God.

Luke seems to purposefully juxtapose this sacred holy day with the evil intentions of the religious leaders. At the time when the people of Israel should be expressing their gratitude to God for His gracious and undeserved deliverance of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, the chief priests and their cronies were plotting to kill God’s Son and their Savior.

the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” – Mark 14:1-2 ESV

According to Matthew, these men had been planning and scheming how to eradicate Jesus, whom they saw as a threat to their power and control.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together… – Matthew 26:3-4 ESV

But there is far more here than meets the eye. Their intentions to kill Jesus were motivated by something far more formidable and foreboding than their own overinflated egos. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had bluntly assessed the true cause of their unbridled animosity toward Him.

“…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. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” – John 8:44-47 ESV

Jesus pulled no punches when revealing the true cause of their hatred for Him. They were the sons of Satan and not God. Their rejection of Him was based on their refusal to accept the truth of His words and the validity of His mission as the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. Contrary to their warped opinion, it was not Him who was guilty and sin and worthy of death, but it was them. And they were turning their backs on “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It is painfully ironic that they were plotting to put to death the sinless Lamb of God just days before each of them would sacrifice an unblemished lamb as part of their celebration of Passover. But their eyes were blind to the truth and their hearts were hardened to the reality of Jesus’ identity. Yet what they failed to understand was that their Satan-inspired scheme to arrest Jesus and have Him put to death was all part of God’s redemptive plan. What they thought would bring about the end of Jesus would actually make possible the divine strategy for mankind’s redemption and creation’s eventual restoration.

The religious leaders secretly plotted Jesus’ demise, hiding their intentions for fear that His popularity among the people would cause an uproar. But Jesus was painfully transparent with His disciples, telling them exactly what was going to happen to Him in the days ahead.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

Jesus was fully aware of all that was about to transpire. He knew what the chief priests were planning and He was fully confident that it was all part of His Father’s plan. At no point in the story does Jesus view Himself as a helpless victim or do the gospel authors portray Him as an unwilling participant in some grand cosmic scheme over which He has no say or control. No, He was completely committed to the mission assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He had already clarified that point to His disciples.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

But for Jesus’ death to take place, there was a range of individuals who would be required to play crucial roles in God’s sovereign plan of salvation. One of those would be Judas. And it’s interesting to note that, of all the gospel authors, only Luke and John indicate that Judas’ actions were motivated by Satan.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. – Luke 22:3 ESV

…the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him… – John 13:2 ESV

Under the influence of Satan, Judas concocted plan to betray Jesus to the religious authorities. We are not told the thinking behind his plot to turn Jesus over to the Sanhedrin, but it is clear that money played a role. Luke clearly indicates that Judas offered to betray Jesus in return for a payment.

He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. – Luke 22:4-5 ESV

Matthew points out that Judas didn’t have a sum in mind when he offered his deal to the high priest. He simply asked, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15 ESV). And the Sanhedrin put the price on Jesus’ head at 30 pieces of silver, an insignificant sum that was the equivalent of a month’s wages. This exact amount was in keeping with the prophesy found in Zechariah 11:12 ESV.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

And Matthew would later record that this sum was in fulfillment of the words of Jeremiah the prophet.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel…” – Matthew 27:9 ESV

The price for his betrayal established, Judas “began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around” (Luke 22:6 NLT). The religious leaders were intent on keeping their plans hidden. The last they wanted was an ugly scene that might stir up the people and raise cause a riot in the streets. Anything that even remotely looked like rebellion would cause the Romans to react swiftly and harshly. The Roman authorities were already on edge because of the crowded conditions in Jerusalem. The city was filled with pilgrims and the nationalistic fervor of this particular holiday was a recipe for trouble. So, the chief priests and their peers were looking for a way to rid themselves of Jesus with as little fanfare as possible.

But despite their careful planning, this entire scenario was going to explode into a public display of epic proportions. Their efforts to keep the death of Jesus hidden from view would fail miserably. This brings to mind a teaching of Jesus recorded by Luke.

“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 1For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” – Luke 8:16-17 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus’ declaration, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (Luke 8:12 NLT). And later on, in the same discussion, Jesus would clearly state, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I Am he” (Luke 8:28 NLT). The apostle John would add the clarifying words that Jesus spoke concerning the public nature of His death.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die. – John 12:32 NLT

God’s plan for the salvation of mankind could not be thwarted and it would not be kept a secret. The “true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9 ESV) would not be hidden. It would be just as Jesus had told the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“…as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” – John 3:14 NLT

And then Jesus informed Nicodemus that the day was coming when the Light would be lifted up for all to see. He would be nailed to a cross and openly displayed as the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:19-21 NLT

The Messiah would be lifted up, not on a dais with scepter and royal robes, but on a cruel Roman cross. All so the divine plan for redemption can be clearly seen by all.

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

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

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

God of the Living, Not the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving God What Is Rightfully His

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:19-26 ESV

While some of Jesus’ parables left the crowds scratching their heads in confusion, this was not one of them. Its meaning was far from hidden or obscured. And Luke indicates that the scribes and the chief priests understood that they had been portrayed as the villains in His story. The only thing that kept them from arresting Jesus right on the spot was their fear of the people. They knew they would have a riot on their hands if they so much as touched Jesus. So, they decided to bide their time, waiting for a better opportunity to catch Jesus saying or doing something that would justify His arrest.

As they had done on so many other occasions, the religious leaders sent some of their own to spy on Jesus. These men were instructed to blend in with the crowds by pretending to be sincere followers of Jesus. Luke doesn’t reveal whether they ditched their clerical robes in order to disguise their identities, but it seems likely that they did what they could to fit in with the rest of the people who flocked around Jesus. Of course, it could be that they hired individuals to act as spies. The Greek word for “spies” is egkathetos and it means “one who is bribed by others to entrap a man by crafty words” (“G1455 – egkathetosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (kjv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 2 Oct, 2021.).

But whoever these people were, their mission was simple: “get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). They were tasked with shadowing Jesus and looking for some kind of proof that He was a threat to the Roman government. By this time, the religious leaders had already decided that Jesus needed to die (Luke 19:47), but the Romans prohibited the Jews from carrying out capital punishment. So, it was important that they find evidence that would incriminate Jesus and force the Roman authorities to put Him to death. In chapter 23, where Luke records Jesus trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the Sanhedrin level a charge against Jesus that they knew would seal His fate:.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

This accusation had not come out of thin air, but it was a blatant misrepresentation of Jesus’ answer to a question the spies had directed to Him. Not long after telling His parable about the wicked tenants, the spies sent by the Sanhedrin asked Jesus one of their cleverly worded questions.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – Luke 20:21-22

This question had been carefully crafted and was designed to put Jesus in an awkward and untenable predicament. It was a simple question, but because it involved the Roman government and the hot-button topic of taxation, it was politically charged and a potential landmine.

In keeping with their charge to feign sincerity, these men prefaced their question with statements of false flattery designed to disguise their real intent. But Jesus saw through their little charade and knew exactly what they were attempting to do. So, He asked someone in the crowd for a denarius, a Roman coin that bore the image of the emperor. Holding up the coin for all to see, Jesus asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?,” and the crowd answered, “Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24 NLT).

Jesus had not been stumped by their trick question. The spies had thought it would put Jesus in a no-win situation. If He declared that the Mosaic law required the Jews to pay taxes or tribute, the people would turn on Him because they despised the oppressive and excessive burden place on them by the Romans. But if Jesus stated that the Jews owed no taxes to Rome because it was a godless and immoral government, He could be accused of undermining the authority of Caesar. This would give the Sanhedrin what they were looking for – evidence that Jesus was fomenting political unrest.

But Jesus avoided controversy by stating, “Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25 NLT). In other words, if the coin bears Caesar’s image and name, then it is rightfully his and must be returned. But the spies took this very clear statement from Jesus and twisted it into a declaration of rebellion and anarchy. They misrepresented Jesus’ words and told the Sanhedrin that Jesus had promoted tax evasion, and that is exactly what the religious leaders later reported to Pilate.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

These men were willing to do anything to get rid of Jesus, including lie. And Jesus had already confronted them about their propensity for falsehood.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Because they were unable to trick or trap Jesus, they resorted to lies. They fabricated their own version of the truth, propagating a false narrative that would protect and preserve their domain.

But Jesus had not promoted social unrest or some kind of affirmative action. He had clearly told them to give Caesar what rightfully belonged to him. But He had also stated that the Jews were obligated to do the same with God.

“…give to God what belongs to God.” – Luke 20:25 NLT

The denarius bore the image of Caesar, but mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:27 records that God made the first man and woman in His own image.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Just as the Roman coin was stamped with the image of Caesar, every man and woman is stamped with the image of their Creator. And even in their fallen state, they still reflect the ownership of the one who made them. So, in effect, Jesus was encouraging His audience to honor Caesar by returning his property to him. But at the same time, Jesus was insisting that they honor God by returning to God what was rightfully His: Their lives. The apostle Paul would later expand on this idea in his letter to the Romans. In chapter13 of that letter, he gave a series of admonitions to honor and submit to governing authorities because “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Paul went on to address the topic of paying taxes.

So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. – Romans 13:5-6 NLT

The same Roman government was in charge during Paul’s day. Nothing had really changed. Rome was no less authoritarian and abusive, yet Paul continued to promote the very same mindset that Jesus had recommended.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:7 ESV

The last part of this verse reflects what Jesus had been trying to convey. If Caesar wanted his coins back, then return them to him. But it is God alone who deserves man’s respect and honor. Because we bear His image, we belong to Him. And Jesus was demanding that the people of Israel give God what was rightfully His: Their lives and their unwavering devotion.

At the heart of this entire exchange is man’s love affair with money and materialism. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had warned about the dangers of a divided love.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

He knew that the people were inordinately tied to the treasures of this world and, as a result, they had a divided allegiance. So, He warned them:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel were enslaved to money, materialism, power, and prestige. They may have faithfully worshiped at the altar of Yahweh but the real focus of their devotion and desire was earthly treasures. And while they had no love for the Roman government, they were willing to do business with the enemy because they benefited greatly from the relationship. Their greatest fear was that Jesus would disrupt their symbiotic and self-serving relationship with the Romans. They had a bird’s nest on the ground and this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth was threatening to destroy it all. That’s why Caiaphas the high priest would later tell his fellow members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus’ death was preferable to the nation’s demise at the hands of the Romans.

“You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:50 NLT

Caiaphas was out to preserve the status quo, and if it required the death of one man, then it would be well worth it. But what Caiaphas failed to realize was that his words were really prophetic.

He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. – John 11:51-52 NLT

Jesus, as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), would eventually give back to God what was rightfully His. He would sacrifice His own life on behalf of sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy God by offering His body as the ultimate tribute. Through the willing sacrifice of His life, Jesus would render unto God what was rightfully His.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 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

Who Do You Think You Are?

1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:1-8 ESV

Not long after His unexpected and surprising display of righteous indignation in the temple, Jesus returned to the scene of the “crime” and began to teach. It was business as usual for Jesus as He entered the temple court and began to proclaim the gospel. But the chief priest, scribes, and elders had neither forgotten or forgiven Jesus for what they viewed as an unjustified and unauthorized display of authority. They were still fuming over the costly disruption Jesus had caused on their turf. This renegade Rabbi had entered the temple grounds, the domain of the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and He had literally “cleaned house.”

Mark records that Jesus “entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (Mark 11:15 ESV). He accused the religious leaders of turning His Father’s house, a place of prayer, into a den of robbers.  While the temple was primarily a place of sacrifice, it was to be characterized by prayer. This harks back to the dedication ceremony conducted by King Solomon on the day the temple was opened. In his dedicatory prayer, Solomon asked God to graciously hear and answer the prayers that the people of Israel directed toward the temple, God’s dwelling place.

“May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:20-21 NLT

But Jesus had entered the courtyard of the temple and found a carnival-like atmosphere where personal gain had taken precedence over piety. The religious leaders of Israel had turned the celebration of Passover into a moneymaking enterprise that lined their pockets and further inflated their out-of-control egos. Rather than serving as shepherds to the sheep of Israel, they acted as opportunists who fleeced the flock and fattened their wallets with the illicit gain.

According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus demonstrated just how antithetical His ministry was to that of the Jewish religious leaders. Even after cleaning out the money-grubbing vendors, Jesus stayed behind. And Matthew reports that “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14 ESV). The Lamb of God demonstrated concern for  the sheep of God, while the so-called shepherds of Israel grew fat and happy by using and abusing those under their care.

But the disgruntled members of the Sanhedrin were furious with this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth and demanded to know by what authority He did the things He did. In their minds, He had no right to question their motives or criticize their behavior. They were the righteous ones. They held all the power and authority and answered to no one, especially an itinerant, unintelligent Rabbi from the god-forsaken region of Galilee. So, as Jesus taught in the temple courtyard, these men showed up and demanded that Jesus explain His actions from the day before.

“By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” – Luke 20:2 NLT

In their minds, Jesus was way out of bounds. He was out of His league and suffered from an unwarranted case of self-importance.  While He claimed to be the Messiah and had even blasphemed by declaring to be the Son of God, they considered Him as little more than a lunatic who had serious delusions of grandeur. According to Mark’s gospel, the Sanhedrin had already made up their minds about what to do with Jesus.

When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. – Mark 11:18 NLT

Jesus was a walking dead man because the Jewish religious leaders had already placed a price on His head. It was just a matter of time. And their demand that Jesus explain Himself was just one more attempt to get Him to further incriminate Himself. They were looking for additional evidence to take before the Roman authorities so they could demand His execution.

But Jesus saw through their little ploy and answered their question with a question.

“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” – Luke 20:3-4 NLT

Jesus stayed on the topic at hand, but He deftly returned service by lobbing the ball back into their court. It was an easy question, but it didn’t come with an easy answer.  Immediately, His interrogators were flustered and floundering around for an answer. They found themselves on the horn of a dilemma.

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” – Luke 20:5-6 NLT

They knew full well the John to which Jesus had referred. It was the late John the Baptist, who had just recently been executed by Herod, the governor of Galilee. Until his death, John had been a popular and polarizing figure throughout Judea,. He and the religious leaders had enjoyed their fair share of confrontations. At one point, they  showed up in the Judean wilderness demanding that John baptize them. But John saw that their motives were less than sincere and he boldly confronted them for their hypocrisy.

when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:7-10 NLT

John knew they were unrepentant and only seeking baptism as proof that they were prime candidates for the coming kingdom of God which John had proclaimed. Since everyone else was flocking to the Jordan River to be baptized, they didn’t want to be left out. But unlike the common people, the religious leaders didn’t believe in John or his message. That’s why Jesus’ question caused them so much concern. If they denied that John’s message concerning the coming kingdom was not from God, they would face the ire of the people. But if they were to agree that John had been sent from God, then Jesus would want to know why they refused to believe his message. John had also claimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” ( John 1:29 ESV). So, by rejecting the message of John, they had also rejected his identification of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.

Caught in a trap, these highly educated men decided to plead ignorance.

…they answered that they did not know where it came from. – Luke 20:7 ESV

And because they unwilling to declare their true disdain for John and his message, Jesus notified them that He had no intention of answering their question.

“Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Luke 20:8 NLT

Jesus already knew that they had rejected His claim to divinity. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God or the Messiah of Israel. So, anything He said was destined to fall on deaf ears. He had already confronted them about their predilection for falsehood and their propensity to believe lies rather than embrace truth.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 6:44-47 NLT

Jesus had cleaned out the temple based on His authority as the Son of God. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus referred to the temple as “My house.” And this statement had not escaped the ears of the religious leaders. They knew that Jesus was claiming to be on an equal standing with God Almighty. He was declaring His divinity. And to them, that was nothing less than blasphemy. The whole point behind their original question was to get Jesus to reiterate that claim in front of the crowds. That way, they would have all the witnesses they needed to convict Jesus and demand His execution. But Jesus’ time of death was drawing close, it was not yet time. There was more for Him to do. And Jesus followed this tense encounter with His arch rivals with a simple parable, and its message would deal with the topic of authority.

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

Seeking and Saving the Lost

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”– Luke 17:11-19 ESV

At this point in his narrative, Luke reminds the reader that, despite all the recent delays and seeming distractions,  Jesus remained committed to going to Jerusalem. Up to this moment, Jesus had been in Judea, slowly making His way to His final destination. But Luke reports that, for some undisclosed reason, Jesus decided to take a detour, passing back through Samaria and all the way to its northern border with Galilee.

Luke’s placement of this real-life story at this point in his gospel account is intentional because it provides a direct link to a couple of Jesus’ parables recorded back in chapter 15. One involved a shepherd who searched for a missing sheep, while the other described a woman who diligently searched for a single lost coin.  Jesus told both of these parables in order to expose the hardened and uncaring hearts of the Pharisees. These men, who were supposed to be the spiritual shepherds of Israel, showed no compassion or concern for those whom they deemed to be sinners. The members of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and other religious sects of Israel had become an exclusive society of spiritual elitists who looked down their noses at the poor, uneducated, and less fortunate. They had even deemed Jesus and his raggamuffin band of Galilean disciples to be little more than country bumpkins who attracted a motley blend of societal rejects, moral reprobates, and religious rejects. But Jesus took every opportunity to expose these men as hypocrites whose attitudes and actions stood opposed to the divine purposes of God.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus told of a shepherd who, while leading his flock of 100 sheep through the wilderness, discovered that one had gone missing. It had somehow wandered away from the fold. At this point in the parable, Jesus posed the question: “Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 NLT). To those living in an agrarian society, the answer to this question was obvious. The shepherd would risk everything to find that one lost sheep. But notice that Jesus describes the shepherd as leaving “the ninety-nine others in the wilderness” in order to find the one missing sheep. In this parable, the 99 sheep are meant to represent the Pharisees. They believed themselves to be the select sheep of Yahweh’s flock. They were pristine, pure, and spiritually healthy. But in the story, the shepherd leaves those sheep in the wilderness and turns his sole attention on the one missing sheep. And when he finds it, he returns and announces his discovery with great fanfare and joy. But Jesus discloses the real point of His story.

“I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” – Luke 15:7 NET

This statement was meant as an unflattering slam of the Pharisees. They wrongly believed themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance. In their minds, they were already right with God and had no need of a Savior. But Jesus exposes their faulty self-assessment. In the long run, it was they who were really lost, wandering in the wilderness of their prideful self-righteousness.

The second parable Jesus told involved a woman who discovered that one of her ten Greek coins was missing. Like the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, this woman instigated a desperate search of her home in an attempt to find that one missing coin. Its recovery was important to her. And Jesus indicated that her diligent search resulted in a positive outcome, causing her to declare her joy to her neighbors and friends. Then Jesus reveals that point of His story.

“In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” – Luke 15:10 NLT

The woman turned her attention away from the nine “non-lost” coins in order to discover the whereabouts of the one that was missing. What’s fascinating about this story is that Jesus seems to describe the lost coin as the sinner who repents of his sins and returns to its rightful place. But it was the woman who sought out the coin, not the other way around. Once again, Jesus was attempting to expose the uncaring nature of the Pharisees. They failed to share God’s love for sinners because they refused to admit that they were sinners themselves. But a few chapters later in his gospel, Luke records an encounter that Jesus had with a man named Zacchaeus, whom Luke describes as “the chief tax collector in the region” (Luke 19:2 NLT). Much to the disgust of the Jews, Jesus decided to share a meal with his notorious sinner, and He would later shock the self-righteous and prideful religious leaders by announcing, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:9-10 NLT).

Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and other religious leaders, was dedicated to seeking the lost and offering them God’s unmerited gift of salvation. That was why He had come to earth in the first place. And Jesus repeatedly went out of His way to go where the sinners were. He spent His time in places like Galilee, far from the environs of Jerusalem where the religious leaders sat in the wealthy homes and enjoyed the perks that came with their privileged positions. Jesus even made forays into the region of Samaria, ministering to those whom the Jews considered little more than dogs and considered to be impure and idolatrous half-breeds.

So, that is what makes this surprising detour by Jesus so significant. He had been on His way to Jerusalem, the headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jewish religious leaders, when all of the sudden, He turned away and headed back into no-man’s land – the despised region of Samaria. Luke describes that Jesus traveled all the way to its northern border with Galilee, where He entered a village and was immediately confronted by ten men who suffered from the dreaded disease of leprosy. Notice how many men there were: Ten. How many coins did the woman in Jesus’ parable have? Ten. I don’t believe this is merely an interesting coincidence. This dramatic real-life encounter was meant to be a living illustration to Jesus’ disciples of all that He had been trying to teach them.

Upon seeing Jesus, all ten men cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV). They each shared the same common problem: leprosy. And none of them could do anything about it. As a result of this devasting and potentially deadly disease, they were social outcasts and even prevented from participating in services at the local synagogue. These men were all equally despised, rejected, and hopeless. So, in their desperation, they called out to Jesus for help. And He responded. But notice what Jesus did. Rather than immediately heal them, He gave them instructions.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” – Luke 17:14 ESV

Jesus gave them something to do. At this point, they each remain infected with the disease. Nothing has changed. But Luke reports that “as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14 ESV). They received their healing as they faithfully obeyed the command of Jesus. Even before they made it all the way to the priest, they received the mercy they had requested. But what happened next is revealing and the point of the whole story.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. – Luke 17:15 ESV

Don’t miss this. All ten of the men received healing, but only one of them returned to thank Jesus for what He had done. The other nine would have immediately recognized the miraculous change that had come over their bodies. They too would have experienced the inexpressible joy of finding themselves completely healed and whole for the first time in a long time. But only one seems to have recognized that his healing had been the work of Jesus. It almost appears as if the others believed themselves to be the source of their miraculous transformation. They had received a command and had obeyed it. It was their faithful obedience that had led to their healing – or so they must have speculated. But one man knew that he had someone to thank for his remarkable restoration. And that man just happened to be a Samaritan.

The fact that Luke points out this man’s ethnic identity is critical to the story. It seems to suggest that the other nine men were all Jews. They were card-carrying members of the Hebrew race. But not a single one of them was willing to give Jesus credit for his healing. They simply walked away.

What’s interesting to consider is that this one man, a Samaritan, had suffered a double liability. He was both a leper and a Samaritan. He was avoided for his disease and despised for his ethnic identity. And even after receiving healing from leprosy, he would remain a member of a people group whom the Jews considered sub-human and undeserving of sympathy and love.

And Jesus points out the obvious when He asks, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 NLT). Nine had received mercy but had refused to give God glory. Only one man took the effort to return and express his gratitude to Jesus and offer praise to God the Father. 

At this point, Jesus makes a fascinating statement that requires some unpacking. He responds to the Samaritan by stating, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV). The Greek word in this passage is sōzō and it conveys the idea of wholeness. What Jesus seems to be implying is that this one man received more than just healing from a disease. Each of the others had also been healed. But this one man, by returning and expressing glory to God and gratitude to Jesus, had received wholeness of life. This despised member of the Samaritan race didn’t just receive physical healing, but he was spiritually restored to a right relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In obeying the words of Jesus, the other nine men had exhibited a form of faith. But because they refused to express glory to God or gratitude to Jesus, it appears that they saw their healing as somehow their doing. They had obeyed and, as a result, they had been healed. But sadly, their physical healing was the only reward that they received. They had been healed but had not been made whole.

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

Fear God, Not Man

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:1-12 ESV

It seems that the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the intensity of the exchanges between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased exponentially. The Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, was headquartered in the capital city and they were particularly wary of this renegade Rabbi peddling His influence on their turf. And the religious leaders had reason to worry because Jesus was proving to be just as popular in Judea as He had been in Galilee. Luke reveals that wherever Jesus went, “the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

And wherever the crowds gathered, the Pharisees and scribes tended to show up like carrion circling a corpse. They never let Jesus out of their sight and were constantly trying to trick Him into saying or doing something that they could use against Him.

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

But Jesus refused to shy away from the confrontation, choosing instead to warn His disciples about the true intentions of these well-respected religious leaders. To the average Jew, the Pharisees and Sadduccees were considered the spiritual upper class of society. They were wealthy, influential, and powerful. And they were also revered for their apparent religious superiority. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of personal piety and fervent law-keeping. He knew their hearts and wanted His disciples to know the truth about these pseudo-spiritual elitists, which led Him to say, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

This kind of talk must have shocked His disciples. Not only would they have viewed it as disrespectful, but they would have deemed it to be highly dangerous. It had already become clear to them that the Pharisees were not big fans of Jesus, so why would He poke the bear? What possible good could come from making such incendiary statements about such powerful individuals? But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was preparing His followers for life in His absence. His earthly mission was quickly coming to a close and it would not be long before He had to leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His disciples. So, He wanted them to know the truth.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to emulate the ways of men – even those who appeared to be the icons of religious virtue. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and their peers were nothing more than hypocrites. The Greek word He used to describe them is hypokrisis, which was commonly used to describe actors in a play. Jesus was exposing the Pharisees as nothing more than pretenders. Like thespians in a Greek drama, they wore masks to disguise their true identity and fool the audience into thinking they were someone else. It was all a cleverly orchestrated charade. But unlike actors in a play, the Pharisees had become self-deceived, believing that they were exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this delusional mindset was contagious and dangerous. Like yeast that spreads through a batch of dough, the fake faith of the Pharisees had begun to permeate its way through the nation of Israel. The religion of the Jews had become all about outward displays of righteousness with very little emphasis on the true condition of the heart. And Jesus was fully aware that this mentality had already crept into the thinking of His disciples. They had a pharisaical outlook on life, measuring their spirituality by actions rather than attitude. But Jesus wanted them to know that behavior was always a byproduct of belief and not the other way around.

This led Him to state, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2 NLT). Jesus is revealing that the true condition of the Pharisees’ hearts will soon be exposed. With His coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the disciples will get an up-close and personal glimpse into the dark recesses of these men’s hearts. Their true intentions will be put on display for all to see, and it will not be a pretty picture. 

The sinister and secretive planning of the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin will become readily apparent. Their obsession to eliminate Jesus will finally come to fruition and all their carefully crafted questions and well-orchestrated encounters with Jesus will be exposed for what they were all along: Hypocritical lies motivated by hate and emanating from sin-darkened hearts.

What the disciples needed to know was that the day was coming when the roles would be reversed. They had been living in fear of the animosity of the religious leaders. They knew these men were powerful and could make or break the ministry of Jesus. But according to Jesus, the disciples would soon be declaring the good news of the kingdom of God from the housetops. Despite the threat of persecution, they would carry the message of the Gospel to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

This led Jesus to encourage His disciples to live fearlessly and faithfully even in the present hour. They had no reason to fear the high priest or the rest of the Sanhedrin. Yes, these men were powerful, but they were nothing when compared with God Almighty.

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:4-5 NLT

Jesus clearly acknowledges that the religious leaders had the power and authority to take a man’s life. He was well aware that they would play a major role in determining His own death. But He wanted the disciples to understand that God was sovereign. The influence of these men was purely physical and temporal. They could take a man’s life but had no power over his eternal life. They could kill but they couldn’t condemn. They could cast a man into the grave but had no authority to cast a man into hell. But God could. He was sovereign over all things, including a man’s death and the fate of his eternity.

The Pharisees could have cared less about Jesus and His disciples. They viewed them as little more than thorns in their side that needed to be removed and disposed of. But God placed a high value on Jesus’ followers. The Creator-God who cares for the insignificant sparrow cared for them. So much so, that He was aware of the number of hairs on each of their heads. The Pharisees didn’t know a single disciple’s name, but God knew everything about them, including their eternal state.

With that amazing reality in mind, Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus their attention on the mission at hand. They were not to be distracted or deterred by the threats of the Pharisees. Instead, they were to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus’ Messiahship to the ends of the earth.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12: 8 NLT

Their faithfulness to follow through on their commission would reap significant rewards. And while the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would threaten and oppose them, the disciples would one day hear the words of Jesus, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

But the Pharisees faced a far different fate.

“But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:9-10 NLT

They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. As a result, they would be denied access to God’s Kingdom. The very men who believed themselves to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual mountain would one day find themselves barred from God’s presence. These men would pay dearly for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and for attributing His Spirit-enabled power to Satan.

But Jesus encourages His disciples by telling them that the very same Spirit would indwell and empower them in the days to come.

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:12 NLT

He didn’t sugarcoat the future. He clearly warned them that persecution and literal trials were going to be a part of their experience. But they would find themselves empowered by the Spirit of God. Despite the threats of the Pharisees, the disciples would boldly confess Jesus before men. No pretending. No pretext. No play-acting. These men would discover the truth behind the promise Jesus made to them just prior to His ascension into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 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