Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Swept and In Order

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:24-28 ESV

The Jewish religious leaders, who greatly despised Jesus, had effectively spread the rumor that his power to cast out demons came from Satan himself. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus performed inexplicable miracles, so they attempted to cast doubt on their efficacy by raising concerns about their source. Not only had they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, but they had also regularly tried to expose Jesus as a violator of the Sabbath laws. Jesus had a habit of performing many of His miracles on the Sabbath, and this proclivity provided the Pharisees with plenty of evidence to accuse Him of being a law-breaker.

But Jesus had refuted their charges, stating, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8 ESV). The term, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite appellation when referring to Himself and it is a direct reference to the prophecy found in Daniel 7.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

Every time Jesus referred to Himself by that moniker, He was declaring His identity as the Messiah of Israel, the long-awaited descendant of King David who would rule and reign in righteousness and for eternity. Jesus was the Son of Man and yet, the people of Israel were having a difficult time believing His claim. And the religious leaders were even attributing His miraculous powers to Satan. But Matthew records that Jesus refuted their accusation, claiming instead that His power came from the Spirit of God.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. – Matthew 12:28 ESV

Jesus was about to use this important distinction to level a serious charge against the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin. Whether they realized it or not, they were actually committing blasphemy against the Spirit of God by attributing His works to Satan.

And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:32 ESV

They could say what they wanted about Jesus. They could reject Him and spread all kinds of lied about Him. But when they boldly declared Jesus’ Spirit-empowered miracles to be the work of Satan, they were sealing their eternal fate.

These men had determined to oppose Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man. And, in doing so, they had become His adversaries and enemies of God Almighty.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. – Luke 11:23 ESV

What these self-righteous men failed to understand was that Jesus came to do far more than free those who suffered from demon possession. The many miracles Jesus performed, while profound in nature, were all short-term solutions to temporal problems. Those whom He healed from disease would still be capable of contracting yet another ailment. The lame who received the ability to walk would one day find themselves crippled by the ravages of old age. The eyes of the blind whose sight He restored would eventually develop cataracts. And Jesus even reveals that the formerly demon-possessed were far from out of the woods when it came to their former state.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.” – Luke 11:24-25 NLT

In a sense, Jesus is saying that casting out a demon is the easy part. But creating an environment where the demon is no longer welcome is much more difficult. Notice that Jesus emphasizes a home that “is all swept and in order” (Luke 11:25 NLT). He paints a picture of someone doing all they can to put their life back together so that the demon finds their “home” an unwelcome place to occupy.

This seems to be a direct slam against the Pharisees and their legalistic devotion to law-keeping and outward displays of righteousness. In fact, just a few verses later, Jesus exposes their obsession with appearances.

“You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness!” – Luke 11:39 NLT

Casting out a demon does nothing to change the heart of a man, no more than washing the outside of a cup removes the dirt contained within it. When Jesus cast out demons, He was demonstrating His power and authenticating His identity as the Messiah. He was proving that He had God-given authority to oppose and depose Satan and His minions. But had Jesus cast out every demon In Israel and healed every individual suffering from sickness and disease, the fate of mankind would have remained unchanged. He had come to do far more than clean the outside of the cup. He came to provide cleansing from sin and deliverance from the condemnation of death.

Having their ability to walk restored was of no real benefit if the person refused to follow Jesus and have their sin-damaged heart made new. A blind person who had their eyes opened by Jesus would still find themselves living in darkness if they failed to recognize Him as the Son of God and their sole source of salvation from sin. And the individual who basked in the joy of being demon-free would soon discover that it was their unrepentant and unchanged heart that made their life the perfect habitat for evil spirits. If Jesus didn’t occupy their heart, something else would.

It’s likely that these comments from Jesus elicited a range of responses from the crowd who heard them. The Pharisees would have been enraged and offended by what they heard. They knew Jesus was accusing them of blasphemy. And they were more convinced than ever that He was a threat to their way of life and had to be eliminated. But Luke records that one anonymous woman spoke up and declared, “God bless your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27 NLT). This unnamed woman, most likely a mother herself, expressed her deep admiration for Jesus by pronouncing a blessing on the woman who bore Him for nine months and then brought Him into this world. Had Mary, the mother of Jesus, not brought her son to full term, this woman would not have enjoyed the privilege of sitting under His teaching and benefiting from His wisdom.

But Jesus took the woman’s kind and gracious statement and used it to emphasize the need for belief.

“But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” – Luke 11:28 NLT

Yes, Mary was blessed for having brought Jesus into the world. But how more blessed are all those who invite Jesus into their hearts. As grateful as that woman may have been, she needed to hear what Jesus had to say and do what He was calling her to do: Believe.

This all goes back to the heart. The formerly demon-possessed needed to have their hearts cleansed. The formerly lame needed to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The blind whose sight had been restored needed to see the glory of God’s grace made possible through the gift of His Son. And the apostle John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the crowd whom He had just miraculously fed.

“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” – John 6:26-27 NLT

Jesus told them to seek the eternal life that only He could give. Physical bread could only sustain physical life. But Jesus, as the bread that comes down from heaven, could provide them with eternal life. Yet the people failed to understand what Jesus was saying and expressed their desire to emulate His divine works.

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” – John 6:28 NLT

They were asking for the power to miraculously multiply bread and fish. In other words, they were looking for a spiritual power that they could use to meet physical needs. But Jesus was offering them so much more, and the only way they could access the gift He was offering was through belief. They didn’t need more bread, they needed the bread of life.

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

The woman in the crowd blessed Mary, but Jesus wanted to bless her with the gift of eternal life. And the only requirement was faith. The key to true life change was heart transformation and only faith in Jesus could leave a heart “all swept and in order.”

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

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

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

The Stronger Man

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Luke 11:14-23 ESV

After recording Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on the subject of prayer, Luke seems to make a rather abrupt shift in the topic. There were a lot of rumors concerning Jesus. Some believed Him to be the Messiah, while others speculated that He might be Elijah or one of the other prophets, resurrected from the dead. His miracles and messages had made a powerful impression on many people, but there were those who took exception to this enigmatic Rabbi from Nazareth. And their speculation regarding His identity had been heavily influenced by the rumors the religious leaders had begun to spread.

We know from the gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark that the Sanhedrin had begun to circulate the rumor that Jesus was demon-possessed. Even while He had been ministering in Galilee, a contingent of Pharisees had been sent from Jerusalem to the region around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was on this occasion that these men pronounced their verdict regarding the source of Jesus’ miraculous powers.

“He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:22 NLT

Matthew seems to record a similar, yet different situation in which Jesus cast a demon out of a man and was immediately accused by the Pharisees of having done so by the power of Satan.

“No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” – Matthew 12:24 NLT

These men had been trying to counteract the enthusiasm of the crowd. Some of those who had witnessed this miraculous healing had begun to wonder out loud if Jesus really was their long-awaited Messiah.

Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” – Matthew 12:23 NLT

The Pharisees could not tolerate this kind of speculation, so they began to accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan. Unable to deny His power, they decided to question its source. And in all three cases, Jesus strongly refuted their accusations, exposing the illogical nature of their claim.

In Luke’s account, it appears that the Pharisees had been successful in circulating their rumor concerning the satanic source of Jesus’ power. They had planted the seed of doubt and it had begun to take root. On this occasion, it was not a Pharisee who leveled the accusation against Jesus, but one of the onlookers.

“He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons…” – Luke 11:15 ESV

The Jewish people commonly used the name, Beelzebul, when referring to Satan. It is derived from two words, Baal, which was the name for the chief Canaanite deity, and Zebul, which means “exalted dwelling.” In the Greek New Testament, it is sometimes spelled Beelzeboul, which can be translated as “lord of dung.” It was a commonly used euphemism for Satan himself, the prince of demons.

So, on this occasion, you have some in the crowd accusing Jesus of being a tool of Satan, while others are demanding that He show them some kind of heavenly sign to prove He is the Messiah. It was a volatile and intensely polarized scene. But, just as He had done before, Jesus calmly and patiently addressed the unsubstantiated and blasphemous rumors being leveled against Him.

None of it made any sense. Why in the world, Jesus asked, would Satan cast out one of his own? That would not only be illogical but highly unproductive. And to drive home His point, Jesus forces His accusers to consider the absurd nature of their argument.

“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart. You say I am empowered by Satan. But if Satan is divided and fighting against himself, how can his kingdom survive?” – Luke 11:17-18 NLT

It would be totally irrational for Satan to provide Jesus with the power to cast out demons. To do so would be self-defeating and self-destructive. And those who had witnessed Jesus cast out demons would have recognized that the demons never left willingly or without a fight. On many occasions, they opposed Jesus, verbally acknowledging Him as the Son of God. Luke records an earlier situation in which Jesus was confronted by a disgruntled demon and his companions who fully recognized and confessed His divine power and authority.

“Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” – Luke 4:34 NLT

Jesus’ ability to cast out demons was a clear indication of His sovereign power and validation of His identity as the Messiah. He was the King and, in exorcising demons, He was exercising His divinely ordained power and authority over the enemy. The demons clearly recognized this fact, but the Pharisees could not or simply would not.

And Jesus points out the hypocrisy of it all. The exorcism of demons was not uncommon among the Jewish people. And Jesus raises the logical question that since there were others who claimed to possess the power to cast out demons, were they also in cooperation with Satan? They couldn’t have it both ways. Either exorcism was divinely empowered or it was not. It was a work of God or it was a work of Satan. But Jesus points out the most logical and significant conclusion.

“But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.” – Luke 11:20 NLT

Whether they realized it or not, those in the crowd who had demanded a sign had already received one. Jesus was operating by the power of God and, in doing so, was giving evidence that He was the King of Israel. And His arrival was proof that the long-awaited promise of the kingdom was being fulfilled. He was the Messiah, the stronger man who was defeating the strong man (Satan) by the power of God. He was the chosen one who had been sent to bring release to all those held captive by the enemy. Ever since the fall, Satan had operated as the prince of this world, enslaving and controlling mankind, and waging a relentless war against God. Even at the incarnation, Satan had attempted to destroy the Son of God through the demon-possessed efforts of Herod (Matthew 2:1-18). Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, He was led by the Holy Spirit into the Judean wilderness, where Satan launched an all-out assault designed to derail Jesus from His God-ordained mission. But he failed.

And now Jesus was waging war on Satan. With every exorcism He performed, Jesus was giving evidence that Satan’s power was waning and his days were numbered. In Jesus, Satan, the strong man, had more than met his match. And Jesus informs His accusers that their disbelief was tantamount to insurrection. By accusing Jesus of operating by the power of Satan, they were actually illustrating their own cooperation with the enemy.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. – Luke 11:23 NLT

This is essentially the same message Peter had received when he had rebuked Jesus for speaking of His coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. Jesus had strongly admonished His well-meaning but misinformed friend, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). In opposing Jesus’ declaration of God’s will, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the aims of the enemy. He had essentially become the tool of Satan, trying to thwart the redemptive plan that God had ordained for His Son. What Peter failed to realize was that Jesus’ death was going to be the key to breaking Satan’s power over mankind. With Jesus’ crucifixion, Satan would assume he had won the victory. But he would be wrong – dead wrong. The sacrificial death of Jesus would bring about the emancipation of all those who were held captive by the enemy. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

And the apostle John adds, “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 NLT). While Jesus walked this earth, He demonstrated His power over the enemy. But it was on the cross, as He breathed His last breath, that Jesus delivered the death blow to Satan. With the willful sacrifice of His life, Jesus fulfilled the curse that God had placed upon Satan as a result of his temptation of Adam and Eve.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

Jesus, the stronger man, has defeated Satan. Yes, he still wields his power and displays an open disdain for God and His people, but he is a defeated foe. His days are numbered and his future is sealed. He fights a futile war with a preordained outcome. All because Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the will of God and gave His life as a ransom for many.

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

Believing and Belonging

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

One of the keys to understanding this rather abrupt and bizarre statement from Jesus regarding His family is to consider the context provided by the other gospel authors. An examination of Matthew’s gospel reveals that there was an important encounter that had taken place between Jesus and the religious leaders that Luke chose to leave out of his account. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. This man’s miraculous restoration by Jesus was met with amazement from those who witnessed it, except for the Pharisees. These men accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alluded to the fact that He would die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Luke describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His parables concerning the soils and the lamps. But an examination of the other Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. News of His recent activities would have done little to validate the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. It seems certain that Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and had heard the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the accusations leveled against Her son by the Pharisees, including that He was demon-possessed and a pawn of Satan. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But Mark records, that upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be. That is why Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21 ESV).

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with 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 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, or educational achievements, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. And that included His own relatives. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

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

Kingdoms In Conflict

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13 ESV

After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV

The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV

Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV

It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).

Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.

Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV

Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.

Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.

“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 10:18 NLT

Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.

“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

Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.

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 Change of Perspective

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 ESV

When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought Him to be, Peter quickly responded with the correct answer: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29 ESV). But Jesus knew that Peter had a somewhat cloudy understanding of what his statement even meant. Like the blind man Jesus had just healed, Peter was experiencing blurry vision – a fuzzy and incomplete understanding of Jesus’ identity. And Peter was not the only one of the disciples who was suffering from a foggy perspective concerning Jesus.

So, in an attempt to add context and clarity to Peter’s answer, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31 ESV).

When Peter had announced that Jesus was the Christ, he had none of these things in mind. The suffering, rejection, and murder of Jesus were not on his radar screen. His concept of the Messiah did not include such things. And without them, there was certainly no need for a resurrection.

This announcement from Jesus would have made no sense to the disciples. They knew He and the religious leaders didn’t get along, but they would never have dreamed that these holy men would attempt to kill the Messiah of Israel. Yet Jesus made it clear that “the elders and the chief priests and the scribes” would be the ones behind His death. These three groups comprised the Sanhedrin, the high council of Israel which consisted of 70 members. The men who sat on this council were powerful, influential, and revered by the people. They were considered the spiritual elite of the day. And to think that they would conspire to kill Jesus was incomprehensible to the disciples.

Peter was appalled by this grim announcement and responded by pulling Jesus aside and rebuking Him. Matthew tells us what Peter said to Jesus.

“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

It is difficult to fully appreciate the force behind Peter’s statement. The NET Bible provides a better and more literal translation that lets us see how shocked and upset Peter was by Jesus’ words.

“God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NET

This time, Peter didn’t understand what he was saying. He meant well, but his words were spoken rashly and without any thought as to their import. But Jesus responded quickly and harshly. Mark indicates that Jesus looked at His disciples. It is likely that He gazed into eyes filled with fear and confusion. He could see the state of turmoil they were in and knew that they shared Peter’s concern. But He quickly turned His attention to Peter and rebuked him in front of his peers.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Mark 8:33 ESV

Jesus accused the very man who had just confessed Him to be the Christ of being “Satan.” This public rebuke was meant to send a message, not just to Peter but to every one of the disciples. By declaring his opposition to the revealed will of God, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the enemy. When Peter had shouted, “God forbid,” it was almost as if he was demanding that God alter His plans. Jesus had just revealed the Father’s will for His life but Peter didn’t approve. He found any mention of suffering, rejection, and death to be unfathomable and, therefore, unacceptable.

Matthew adds that Jesus accused Peter of being a skandalon, a stumbling block. Rather than assisting Jesus in His God-ordained mission, Peter was acting as an impediment. His well-meaning desire that Jesus avoid suffering and death was more in line with the will of Satan than it was with God’s divine redemptive plan. Satan had been trying to derail the mission of Jesus from the beginning. All the way back to the birth of Jesus, Satan had attempted to use King Herod to eliminate the Christ child. And more than 30 years later, after Jesus was baptized by John and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Satan repeatedly tempted Jesus, trying to convince Him to abandon His mission.

Now, here was Peter, one of the 12, declaring his opposition to the divinely-ordained ministry of Jesus the Christ. Jesus had made it plain and simple. He must suffer, die, and then rise again. Every aspect of God’s plan non-negotiable and completely necessary. Jesus had come to fulfill the will of His Father. And Jesus revealed to Peter that his perspective was skewed.

“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Mark 8:33 NLT

Without realizing it, Peter had been demanding that his will be done. He had put his expectations and desires ahead of God’s. He could see no personal benefit from Jesus suffering and dying. He had no need for a dead Messiah. Or so he thought.

Peter didn’t realize that his wish for Jesus to escape death was actually a nightmare waiting to happen. Little did he know that, without Jesus’ death, there would be no kingdom. There would be no forgiveness of sin. As Jesus had made clear, He had to be “lifted up.” Just as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and brought healing to all those who were guilty of sin and facing death, so Jesus must be lifted up on the cross so that mankind’s sin debt might be paid in full. It was only through Jesus’ sacrificial death that sinful men and women could find restoration and redemption. Clinging to a living Jesus was not going to save Peter. He was going to have to embrace the crucified Christ as his only hope of being reconciled to God.

Having rebuked Peter in front of his peers, Jesus expanded His audience by calling a crowd to join them. And the message He delivered to them was intended to provide Peter and the disciples with further insight into His mission and their role in it.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” – Mark 8:34-35 NLT

Jesus was calling Peter and his companions to abandon their agendas. He knew they had all kinds of expectations concerning His role as the Messiah. When Jesus finally got around to establishing His Kingdom on earth, they were hoping to play vital roles in His royal administration. But Jesus was letting them know that His Kingdom would not come without sacrifice. He was going to be required to take up His cross, and they would have to do the same. He was going to willingly lay down His life so that He might take it up again (John 10:17-18), and He was expecting them to follow His example.

Peter and the rest of the disciples couldn’t help but focus all their attention on the present. They were in it for what they thought they could get out of it. But Jesus had a much-longer perspective. He realized that humiliation must precede glorification. Death had to come before life. Sacrifice was the key to obtaining the riches of God’s goodness and grace.

The disciples had short-term outlooks. They were interested in immediate gratification and were hoping to enjoy their best life in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. Jesus’ emphasis on the soul was meant to realign their thinking by reminding them that there was a spiritual dimension to their lives. Their souls would outlast their physical bodies. They were eternal creatures living in a temporal world, and Jesus was trying to clarify their vision so that they might embrace God’s plan of redemption with open arms and willing hearts.

Years later, long after Jesus had suffered, died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would write these powerful words of admonition and encouragement. His audience was made up of believers living near the end of the 1st-Century who were facing persecution, suffering, and even death because of their faith in Christ. They were living out in daily life what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. But they were constantly being tempted to lose sight of the future and to pursue the pleasures of the present. So, John warned them:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Jesus closes out His message with a sobering word that was clearly intended for the ears of His disciples.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:38 NLT

Jesus was not insinuating that Peter was in danger of losing his status as one of God’s chosen. He was simply warning Peter and the other disciples that they were about to face a difficult period of time that was going to test their allegiance and tempt them to abandon all hope. But notice that Jesus assures them that, in spite of all that will happen, He will be coming back. That is to be their focus. Yes, they will see Him arrested, tried, humiliated, crucified, killed, and buried. But they will also see Him raised back to life and watch Him ascend into heaven. And He will leave with comforting words concerning His eventual return.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 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

Free to Tell

1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. Mark 5:1-20 ESV

After their harrowing night on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples sailed to the eastern shore, arriving at a region known as Gerasene. It seems unlikely that this would have been their original destination when they had set sail, but the storm must have blown them off course. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, He had orchestrated all that had happened, including their arrival at this desolate location.

The disciples, exhausted from all the rowing and bailing of water they had done during the storm, were probably glad to be on dry land. But before they had time to relax, they found themselves in yet another tense and potentially dangerous situation. Mark records that as soon as Jesus stepped out of the boat, “immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2 ESV). There are no crowds of people eager to watch Jesus perform yet another miracle. There are no scribes or Pharisees dogging His steps and anxiously seeking evidence to use against Him. 

Jesus was welcomed by a greeting party of one. And this man was possessed by a demon. In his gospel account, Matthew describes a second demon-possessed man, while Mark and Luke only mention one. This seeming discrepancy is likely nothing more than Mark and Luke focusing on the one man who exhibited the greatest transformation after his encounter with Jesus. While Matthew records Jesus casting out the demons from these two men, he provides no details regarding what happened next. Yet, Mark and Luke recount that one of the men was dramatically impacted by his deliverance by Jesus.

In an effort to help his readers understand the violent nature of the situation, Mark describes the man with great detail.

This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. – Mark 5:3-5 NLT

His mention of chains and shackles reveals that this man had probably become a threat to the community. Their attempts to bind him had failed and this poor man spent all his time wandering among the dead and despised by the living. Mark wants us to understand the hopeless state of this man’s situation. He was out of control. His life was not his own. And yet, when the man saw Jesus, he ran and threw himself at Jesus’ feet.

when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. – Mark 5:6 ESV

You can almost sense the battle going on within this man. He saw Jesus, and in his desperation, ran to him for help. Somehow, the man was able to recognize that Jesus could do something about his hopeless condition. Probably naked, filthy, and covered in scars, the man must have been a frightful sight to behold. His sudden appearance and shocking condition would have caused the disciples to step back in revulsion and fear.

But as the man kneeled before Jesus, a voice came from his body that was not his own. The demon who controlled him spoke in place of him.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” – Mark 5:7 ESV

Whatever spark of humanity remained in this man was overwhelmed by the presence and power of the demonic forces that had taken up residence within him. And Mark makes it clear that Jesus knew what was wrong as soon as He saw the man. He didn’t need to hear the demon speak to know that the man was possessed. It seems that as soon as the man had kneeled before Him, Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8 ESV). And it was this forceful command that had led the demon to speak up.

And just as Jesus had recognized the presence of a demon, the demon had recognized the presence of the Most His God. He addressed Jesus by His proper title and revealed his understanding that Jesus possessed a power greater than his own. In Jesus, the demon had met his match. And when Jesus addressed the demon, demanding to know his name, the demon revealed that he was not alone.

“My name is Legion, for we are many.” – Mark 5:9 ESV

This poor man was being tormented by a host of demonic beings, which helps to explain the extreme nature of his condition. Jesus alluded to this very kind of situation in an address He gave to the scribes and Pharisees. In attempting to expose the unrepentant and adulterous condition of the people of Israel, Jesus compared them to a man possessed by a demon. Even if they could somehow have the demon removed, they would find themselves worse off than before. Their unrepentant hearts would leave them exposed and an easy target for the enemy.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 NLT

Mark provides no details regarding this man’s past. We don’t know how he came to be possessed or how long he had suffered under this condition. But his circumstances were aggravated by the presence of many demons. Yet, as plentiful and powerful as these demonic forces may have been, they were no match for Jesus, and they knew it. They begged Jesus not to cast them out, and they allude to the fact that they knew a day would come when God would punish them. They were fully aware that their days were numbered, but had no desire to suffer their future fate prematurely. It is interesting to note that the demon(s) pleaded with Jesus by the name of God.

“In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Mark 5:7 NLT

The demons knew that God had a future judgment in store for them. And the apostle John was given a vision of what will happen to Satan and all those who aligned themselves with him. The day will come when Jesus, according to the will of God the Father, will deliver a final blow to Satan and his minions, casting them into hell where they will remain for eternity.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 21:10 NLT

Fearing the worst, the demons beg Jesus to allow them to leave the man and possess a herd of swine. It seems that their greatest fear was that Jesus would consign them to their future fate too soon. Rather than having to face eternal torment, they begged that Jesus would let them take up residence in the pigs. And when Jesus agreed to their request, the results were immediate. The pigs, two thousand in number, suddenly possessed by demons, hurled themselves off a nearby cliff. As Jesus alluded to in His address to the scribes and Pharisees, a dispossessed demon is left to wander until it can find another soul to possess. These demons would be forced to seek out another host to torment.

But the man the demons formerly possessed “was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane” (Mark 5:15 NLT). He had been radically transformed. So much so, that when Jesus prepared to leave, the man begged that he might be allowed to go with Him. But Jesus had other plans.

“No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” – Mark 5:19 NLT

And the man obeyed the words of Jesus, immediately setting off to the surrounding towns and villages, “to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them” (Mark 5:20 NLT). And he had his work cut out for him because the people from a nearby town were upset at what Jesus had done to their herd of swine. They even begged Jesus to leave, fearing that He might do more damage.

It’s interesting to note that Mark refers to several different times in this story where Jesus was approached by those who begged or pleaded with Him. The first instance was when the demons who begged (parakaleō) Jesus not to torment them. The second is when they begged Jesus not to cast them out of the country, but allow them to possess the swine. The third was when the townspeople begged Jesus to leave the region. And the fourth and final instance was when the man begged Jesus to allow him to become His disciple. It’s interesting to note that everyone got exactly what they requested from Jesus, except the man. The demons were cast into the swine just as they had asked. Jesus ended up leaving the region, just as the townspeople had requested. But the man was not allowed to go with Jesus. Instead, he was given a commission to carry the news of what Jesus had done: “tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19 ESV). This formerly demon-possessed man now possessed a calling from Jesus Himself. He had purpose in life. He had a mission to spread the good news of all that Jesus had done for Him. 

The demons were forced to wander until they found another victim. The townspeople could only talk about their loss. But the man who had been healed could use his restored voice to shout the praises of the One who had set him free.

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

Risky Business

23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:13-30 ESV

“He’s an amazing miracle worker.”

“He’s crazy!”

“He’s demon-possessed.”

The opinions about Jesus were all over the proverbial map. Some people loved Him, while others, like the Pharisees, harbored an intense and intensifying hatred for Him. But regardless of the diversity of opinions about Him, everyone would have agreed that this man from Nazareth was impossible to ignore. They couldn’t explain Him but neither could they dismiss Him.

And Mark indicates that a group of scribes had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee just to investigate this rural Rabbi was causing such a stir. It is likely that these men had been sent by the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and given the responsibility to find legal evidence to use against Jesus. As experts in the Mosaic law, as well as the oral and traditional regulations of the Jews, these men would have been well-qualified for their task.

Yet, despite their knowledge of the law, their initial assessment of Jesus was that He was possessed by a demon and under the control of Satan.

“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” – Mark 3:22 ESV

They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus did supernatural wonders and signs. It was obvious that He had powers and abilities that were not of this world. But rather than admit that Jesus was the Son of God, they accused Him of being in league with Satan.

By declaring that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” they were hoping to link Jesus to the demonic realm. The Greek name “Beelzebul” means “lord of the house or dwelling,” and it was used to refer to Satan, who was lord over the dwelling place of evil spirits. This accusation would have been well-understood by all those who heard it, and it would have shocked and surprised them.

Matthew and Luke provide additional context for this scene. The pronouncement by the scribes didn’t come out of the blue but was based on their assessment of a miracle Jesus had just performed.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” – Matthew 12:22-23 ESV

The people were so impressed by what Jesus had done that they questioned whether Jesus might be the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David, and the heir to his throne. But Matthew records the quick and calculated rebuttal of the religious leaders.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

They were hoping to dispel any thoughts that this man, Jesus, had been sent by God. By linking His activities to Satan, they were attempting to tarnish His reputation and turn the people against Him.

Rather than wasting their time gathering forensic evidence providing that Jesus had violated their written and oral laws, they simply accused Him of being under the influence of Satan. In doing so, they put their argument against Jesus in terms the common people could understand. The scribes and Pharisees had little respect for the average Jew because they viewed them as being ignorant of the law. John records a very blunt assessment made by these very same religious leaders of their own people.

“…this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” – John 7:49 NLT

But if there was one thing these uneducated and superstitious people could understand, it was the difference between good and evil. By associating Jesus with Satan, the scribes explained His power and, at the same time, maligned His character.

Yet rather than responding in anger, Jesus simply answered their accusation with a parable. He provided a well-reasoned response to their assertion that quickly exposed its absurdity and their own lack of judgment.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive.”  – Mark 3:23-26 NLT

Through the use of simple reasoning, Jesus dismantled the very foundation of their argument. And He did so in terms the people could understand. You can almost see them looking at one another as Jesus spoke, nodding their heads in approval. The things He was saying made sense to them.

But Jesus was not done. He continued to point out the flawed logic behind their accusation.

“Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” – Mark 3:27 NLT

Why would Satan cast out one of his own demons? That would be counter-productive. And how could anyone cast out a demon unless he possessed a power greater than that of the demon?

Whether the religious leaders realized it or not, Jesus was taking them to school. He was providing them with a lesson on divine power and authority. Jesus had subtly moved the point of emphasis from casting out demons to the plundering of the home of “a strong man.”  It would seem that Jesus has shifted His focus to the religious leaders and the powerful hold they had over the nation of Israel. It explains what happened when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw how the priests of God had transformed His Father’s house into a carnival-like atmosphere.

He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” – John 2:14-16 NLT

Jesus had come to do the will of His Father, and He was operating under the power of the Holy Spirit. He had God-given authority and Spirit-enabled power to do what He did. But when these pride-filled men accused Jesus of operating under the influence and power of Satan, they had crossed the line. And Jesus clearly warned them that they were walking on thin ice.

“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” – Mark 3:28-29 NLT

Their flippant and poorly-reasoned accusation against Jesus had been a dangerous mistake. Whether they realized it or not, He was the Son of God, and they had just accused Him of fraternizing with the enemy. They had also attributed the work of the Spirit of God to the prince of this world. And in doing so, they had refused to accept the will of God. In essence, they had offended all three members of the Holy Trinity. And Jesus calls it exactly what it is: blasphemy.

And while blasphemy was normally a forgivable sin, in this case, Jesus was describing a condition in which men willingly and repeatedly reject the will of God, the claims of His Son, and the power of His Spirit. These men had been given ample evidence of who Jesus was. In a sense, the entire Godhead had provided testimony that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The Son of God. But these men had refused to believe. And it would be their stubborn disbelief that would prove to be the unpardonable sin.

Blasphemy is nothing more than speaking of God in terms that are disrespectful and derogatory. It is to dismiss the word of God and to reject the will of God. In denying Jesus as the Son of God, the religious leaders were snubbing their noses at God Almighty. They were rejecting the truth as found in His Word. And by attributing the power of the Spirit of God to Satan, they were robbing God of glory.

Blasphemy is a sin, and all sin is forgivable by God. But the one who repeatedly rejects the testimony of God regarding His Son runs the risk of committing the unpardonable and unforgivable sin. The apostle John put it in rather stark but understandable terms:

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

The religious leaders stood condemned because they refused to believe the testimony of God concerning His Son. Not only that, they had dismissed the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power displayed through the life of the Son, falsely attributing it to the enemy.

They had accused Jesus of being possessed of a demon. But there are those who accuse Jesus of being nothing more than a man. Others claim He was a moral teacher who had the ability to perform miracles. But they deny that He was the Son of God. Some deny that He ever existed at all. And over the centuries, there have been those who have denied His virgin birth, His sinless life, His death and resurrection, and His atoning work on behalf of man. And in doing so, they have committed blasphemy. And all those who persist in rejecting the Son of God as the Savior sent by God, will be “guilty of an eternal sin.”

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

Despised by the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27 ESV

From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus faced opposition. It began immediately after His baptism when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus, who had just received the blessing of His Heavenly Father, found Himself in a face-to-face confrontation with the prince of this world.

God had just pronounced Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but Satan saw Jesus as a powerful enemy who had to be distracted from His God-given mission or be destroyed. Satan attempted to disqualify Jesus by offering Him tempting alternatives to the will of God. He proffered a range of attractive options that were designed to distract Jesus from His ministry objective and render Him useless to God. But Jesus did not take the bait. As the author of Hebrews states, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). 

But while Jesus had won the battle over Satan in the wilderness, the war was far from over. Satan simply shifted his tactics. Almost immediately, the enemy implemented a new and less direct strategy that utilized guerrilla warfare tactics. He called upon all the weapons at his disposal to wage war against God and His Son. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah and had been sent by God to free humanity from their life of bondage under his merciless rule. This was, as Paul made clear, a spiritual battle of epic proportions.

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

But that does not mean that the battle remained invisible and relegated to the spiritual realm. This spiritual conflict quickly spilled over into the natural world as the enemy put into play those human agents who were under his control. The gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus faced human opposition to His ministry. And His most formidable and vehement foes proved to be the religious leaders of Israel. It is no coincidence that Jesus labeled these men as the sons of Satan.

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

These men were revered by the common people as icons of righteousness and virtue. Yet, Jesus saw through their pious-looking facades and recognized them for what they were: deceptive hypocrites who stood opposed to His mission because they were enemies of God. Jesus exposed them for what they were.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from GodAnyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 8:42, 47 NLT

They may have fooled the people, but Jesus was fully aware of their true identity and intentions.

“You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him.” – John 8:52 NLT

And His exposure of them only enraged them further. The more they saw of Jesus, the more angry they became. His messages and miracles failed to impress or persuade them. Ironically, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and under the influence of Satan. And their growing revulsion to Jesus turned into an obsession to kill Him. They would stop at nothing to see to it that this madman from Nazareth was put to death.

Now, just hours from that perverted wish becoming a reality, Jesus informs His disciples that they could expect more of the same. As if all He has told them so far had not been enough, Jesus reveals that their relationship with Him has put a target on their backs. They were guilty by association, and they would find themselves hated for His sake. And while Jesus refers to the world as the source of that hatred, He is speaking of the same Jewish religious leaders who would orchestrate His death. And these men were representatives of the nation of Israel at large. That is why John opened his gospel account with the statement: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).

Throughout this passage, Jesus uses the pronoun, “they.”

“…they will also persecute you…” – John 15:20 ESV

“…all these things they will do to you on account of my name.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:23 ESV

“…they have seen and hated both me and my Father. – John 15:24 ESV

Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus reveals the identity of these individuals.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies. – Psalm 69:4 ESV

The “world” to which Jesus was referring was the nation of Israel. His own people hated Him without cause, and they were out to destroy Him. So, He wanted His disciples to know that they would suffer the same treatment because of His name.

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

The battle that had been raging since the beginning had always been about the identity of Jesus. That is what He means by “my name.” Jesus was the Son of God and everything He had done from the day of His baptism until that very moment had been intended to reveal His identity as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the disciples, because they would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus in His absence, would find themselves facing the same level of animosity and opposition.

And because Jesus would later command them be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), they would face even greater opposition as Satan turned the entire world order against them. The disciples would eventually take the Gospel to the non-Jewish world and discover that the enemies of God were made up of Jews and Gentiles. While they would find those eager to hear and accept the message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they would also encounter fierce opposition. It is believed that all of the disciples eventually died as martyrs, after having faithfully spread the good news concerning Jesus to the world.

But as the disciples stood in the darkness of the garden, listening to these foreboding words from Jesus, they must have been filled with fear and trepidation. Jesus had just told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). This must have brought to mind an earlier warning He had given them.

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” – Luke 21:12-13 NLT

What Jesus was describing was unsettling and disturbing. It must have filled His poor disciples with despair and disillusionment. But Jesus wanted them to know that their relationship with Him had dramatically altered their lives for eternity. Nothing would ever be the same. Just three years ago, they had each been minding their own business, when an unknown and unimpressive Rabbi from Nazareth made their acquaintance. And their lives would never be the same. Little did they know at the time, that in choosing to follow Jesus they were leaving the world behind. Yes, they would still live in it, but they would no longer be part of it. By becoming friends with Jesus they had become enemies of the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

The Jewish religious leaders would turn their hatred for Jesus onto the disciples and any others who chose to follow Him. And as this small group of men and women grew in number and spread their influence from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth, Satan would throw everything in his arsenal against them. But little would he know that he was fighting a losing cause. The victory had been won. With Jesus’ death on the cross, He would bring an end to Satan’s vice-like grip on humanity. Jesus would conquer sin and death, bringing salvation to all those who would accept it.

And, anticipating His disciples’ sense of fear and foreboding, Jesus reminds them once again that they will not be alone.

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15:26-27 NLT

They were going to face intense opposition, but they would do so in the power of God. The world would hate them, but the love of God for them would protect them and flow from them. They would pick up the mantel of ministry given to them by Jesus and proclaim His name with boldness and joy – even in the face of persecution and the threat of death.

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

All Part of the Plan

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 ESV

What immediately followed Jesus’ washing is His disciples’ feet was His betrayal by Judas. But this shocking and unexpected event did not catch Jesus by surprise because He had always known it was part of His Father’s plan. In fact, all the way back in chapter six, John recorded Jesus’ first allusion to this fateful but necessary event.

Jesus had just finished delivering a very revealing yet confusing message regarding His pending death. He left the audience in the synagogue stunned when He described Himself as the bread of life and told them that their consumption of His body and blood would be the key to eternal life.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:55-58 ESV

As a result of this rather strange pronouncement, many of Jesus’ followers left Him. And once again, Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He simply stated, “there are some of you who do not believe” and John added an aside, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus had always been aware that there would be unbelievers, even among His 12 disciples. And He reminded these men that true believers were those who had been called by His Father.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Even the ability to believe in Jesus was a gift from God. That is why Jesus had told them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). 

So, as Jesus watched His former “followers” walk away, He asked His disciples if they wanted to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of the 11 other disciples, declared their belief in Jesus as the Son of God. But Jesus knew something Peter did not know. One of the 12 was an imposter and an unbeliever.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

This news did not register with Peter or the other disciples. It is even possible that Judas was nonplussed by this announcement because he had yet to make his fateful decision to betray Jesus. But the point Jesus seemed to be making is that He knew exactly what was going to happen because it had always been a part of God’s sovereign plan. Even Jesus’ choosing of Judas had been for his future role as a betrayer, not as a believer. It was all part of the preordained will of God and it had been foretold by the prophets of God. Jesus made this point clear that evening in the upper room.

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ – John 13:18 ESV

The role Judas would play had been foreordained by God and would be in fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Psalm 41:9. And Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully aware of this aspect of His Father’s plan and unsurprised by what was about to take place.

Yet John described Jesus as being “troubled in his spirit” (John 13:21 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus’ was visibly moved by the thought of all that was about to take place and His outward demeanor was evident to the disciples. This would be His final meal with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. And while Jesus was fully God and completely aware of how things would turn out, He was also fully human and impacted by the thought of all that faced Him in the hours ahead. He was about to be betrayed by one who had spent three years at His side. The rest of His disciples would end up deserting Him. And He would undergo a series of humiliating trials, brutal beatings, and an excruciating death on a Roman cross.

And Jesus, moved in spirit, announced to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21 ESV). As expected, His disciples were shocked by this news and began to speculate who among them would dare to do such a thing. Matthew records in his gospel that the disciples were saddened by this news “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22 ESV).

And Peter, anxious to know who the guilty party might be, got the attention of John, who was reclining at Jesus’ right side at the table. John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 ESV), leaned back against Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25 ESV). To which Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (John 13:26 ESV). This was in direct fulfillment of Psalm 41:9.

There are some scholars who believe that Judas was seated to Jesus’ left hand, a place of honor. So, all Jesus had to do was dip the morsel of unleavened bread into the paschal stew and hand it to His betrayer. And John reports that as soon as Jesus gave the bread to Judas, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27 ESV).

Metaphorically, Jesus, as the bread of life, personally handed Himself over to His betrayer. In passing the morsel of bread to Judas, Jesus was symbolically offering His life to the very one who would reject His offer of eternal life in exchange for “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19 ESV). Judas was going to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.

In his first letter, John would warn of the danger of allowing a love of the world to replace our love for God and His Son.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

And he would go on to describe the destructive and unfulfilling nature of this love affair with the world.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Judas was a sell-out. It seems likely that his decision to follow Jesus had been motivated by what he thought he could get out of it. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the conquering warrior and made no effort to establish His kingdom on earth, Judas lost interest. He was driven by a love of the world and a desire for fame and fortune. And knowing that the religious leaders were anxious to arrest Jesus, Judas had decided to turn his wasted three years into a financial windfall. But Jesus warned that this decision by Judas would have deadly consequences, and not just for Him.

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Both men were fated for death. Jesus would be betrayed by Judas so that He might fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father and suffer for the sins of mankind by His death on a tree. And Judas, after selling out the sinless Lamb of God, would also suffer an ignoble death by hanging himself from a tree. His crime and its punishment would be remembered throughout the centuries.

Jesus, after handing the bread to Judas, whispered to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). His hour had come and it was important that Judas fulfill his role. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was going to set into motion the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan. And John simply records: “after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30 ESV).

Darkness descended. The night had come. With the last four words of verse 30, John reminds his readers of the words spoken by Jesus in regards to His pending death.

“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT

The time had come for the light to be extinquished. The moment for Jesus’ death was fast approaching. But it was all part of the divine plan to bring salvation to sin-darkened 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