The Work of the Ministry

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. – Titus 1:1-4 ESV

As the title of this letter reflects, Paul was writing to Titus, another one of his young disciples in the faith. This letter, like the ones Paul wrote to Timothy, is intended to encourage and instruct Titus as he ministers on behalf of the gospel.

Paul had left Titus in Crete with the task of ministering to the faithful living there, and had given him orders to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Now, Paul was writing to this young man with further words of encouragement and instruction. But Paul’s letter begins with a customary salutation or greeting. This was a common feature of most letters during that day. Unlike modern letters, where the sender signs their name at the end, ancient letters began with a formal introduction of the sender at the very beginning. All of Paul’s letters begin this way, with some featuring longer salutations than others. This is a particularly long one and is far more than a simple greeting or introduction. In it, Paul provides a summation of what he is going to be dealing with in the main content of his letter.

Paul begins with a dual description of himself as the servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Both are intended to establish Paul’s credentials as a minister of the gospel. He is, first of all and most importantly, a servant of God. The Greek word he used for servant is doulos and it refers to a bondservant or slave. Paul, as a former Pharisee, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been very familiar with the use of the term, servant, in association with some of the great patriarchs of the Israelites.

Moses, David, and Elijah were each referred to as servants or slaves of God. This was a designation of honor, not infamy. Each of these men had been chosen by God for His role and, in essence, they belonged to Him. Yet, they viewed their subservient status to God as a privilege and not a burden. And Paul claimed to have that same kind of relationship with the God of Moses, David, and Elijah. Yahweh had hand-picked and commissioned Paul to accomplish His will on this earth. So, Paul understood that he served God and not man. It was to God he would ultimately have to answer for his life and ministry. His was a divine calling, complete with the authority and power that had been given to Him by God Himself.

Secondly, Paul states that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is apostolos and it refers to a delegate, messenger, or one sent forth with orders (“G652 – apostolosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul was not only a chosen servant of God but he had also been delegated by Jesus Christ as His representative and had been given a very specific task to perform. The exact words of that commission recorded in the book of Acts. They are part of Paul’s testimony regarding his salvation experience on the road to Damascus.

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:15-18 ESV

Jesus had appointed Paul to be His servant, with the task of telling others all that he had seen and heard. Paul had been given the privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ. He would be anointed by Ananias and receive the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And Paul was to take this message to the Gentiles, opening their eyes to the good news of the gospel.

In the opening lines of his letter to Titus, Paul provides further clarification of the purpose behind his role as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 NLT

This point was important for Titus to hear because it applied to him as well. Paul had been sent to proclaim the message of salvation by faith in Christ so that all those whom God had chosen could hear it. And when those so chosen by God had placed their faith in Christ, Paul was obligated by God and His Son to teach them the truth, so that they might live godly lives. In other words, Paul had a dual responsibility: To play a role in the salvation of the lost, but also in the sanctification of the saved. And Titus shared that same responsibility.

As the opening line of this letter indicates, Paul had a firm belief in the doctrine of election. He uses the term, “God’s elect” in order to refer to those whom God has chosen to come to faith. The Greek word is eklektos and it means “picked out or chosen” (“G1588 – eklektosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In Paul’s understanding of the gospel, God was the acting agent behind salvation, leaving nothing up to chance. Just as God had chosen Paul for salvation, so He has pre-ordained all those who will come to faith in Christ.

Paul had played no role in his own salvation. He had not been seeking the resurrected Christ. In fact, he had been busy persecuting and eliminating all those who claimed to be followers of Christ. And yet, God had chosen him for salvation. And Paul strongly believed that fact was true for all who come to faith in Christ, past, present, or future.

The doctrine of divine election firmly establishes the believer’s eternal security. God has not left the believer’s assurance of salvation captive to changing feelings or faltering faith. Rather, the faithfulness of God demonstrated in his divine election secures the believer’s salvation in the will and purposes of God himself. – Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 265

For Paul, salvation, godliness, and eternal life were all the work of God. None of them were possible apart from God. And all of them were pre-ordained and promised by God “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2 ESV). And Paul insists that the message regarding salvation, godliness, and eternal life was given at just the right time, through men like Paul, so that the elect might come to faith through the preaching of the good news. Paul wanted Titus to know that he was nothing more than a messenger and a means by which God would accomplish His preordained will concerning the elect.

Suffice it to say, Paul saw himself as a man with divine authority and a providential responsibility to spread the gospel so that others might come to faith in Christ. But Paul also believed that he had a divine commission to ensure that those very same individuals grew in godliness. And he wanted Titus to know that he shared this very same responsibility and calling. This young man, whom Paul saw as his child in the faith, was also carrying the heavy burden of ministering the gospel to the people of Crete, carrying on what Paul and others had begun. And in the rest of his letter to Titus, Paul will provide him with much-needed guidance and encouragement for the task that lay before him.

That’s why Paul extends to him “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1:4 ESV). Paul knew exactly what Titus was up against. The gospel ministry was anything but easy and Titus would need to be constantly reminded of his dependence upon the grace (charis) or unmerited favor of God.

grace: the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues. – Blue Letter Bible, Outline of Biblical Usage

Titus would know the peace of God only to the extent that he understood the grace of God. His effectiveness as a minister of the gospel would be directly tied to his reliance upon God’s power and his understanding of his role as a servant. And Paul wanted Titus to never lose sight of the fact that the greatest expression of God’s grace and mercy is found in “Christ Jesus our Savior.” It was God who graciously sent His Son to suffer in the place of undeserving sinners. This was a recurring theme in Paul’s letters.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved! – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It was not Titus’ job to save anyone. He was simply to point them to the Savior, the one who had already paid the penalty for their sins and guaranteed their hope of eternal life. Titus was a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, just like Paul. And, while he had a job to do, the work had already been accomplished by Jesus.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

God’s Mysterious and Magnificent Plan

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:1-13 ESV

Chapter three is a continuation of Paul’s thoughts regarding how Christ created “in himself one new man in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus provided a means by which both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God and to one another.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

It was “for this reason” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV), that Paul was writing his letter to them while under house arrest in Rome. His faithful efforts to fulfill the commission given to him by Christ, to take the gospel to the Gentile world, had resulted in his imprisonment. Paul informs his Gentile readers that his call by Jesus to take imprisonment in Rome was the direct result of his ministry to It was Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles that had resulted in his imprisonment in Rome.

It had all begun with a trip to Jerusalem, where Paul informed James and the other apostles of his work among the Gentiles.

…he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:19-21 NLT

Jewish converts to Christianity had been spreading vicious rumors about Paul, accusing him of belittling the Mosaic Law and banning the practice of circumcision. They presented Paul as a threat to Judaism and later accused him of violating the Mosaic Law by bringing a Gentile into the temple.

They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. – Acts 21:30-31 ESV

The Jews drew up plans to assassinate Paul, but he was removed to the city of Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for two years. Eventually he was summoned to appear before Festus, the Roman-appointed governor. Festus reviewed the charges against Paul and gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. But Paul, who was a Roman citizen, requested a hearing before the emperor.

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” – Acts 25:9-12 ESV

And Paul was eventually transported to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest while awaiting a trial before the emperor. It was from Rome that he wrote his letter to the Ephesians, and he informs them that he was a prisoner “on behalf of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV). Had he not faithfully fulfilled his commission and taken the gospel to the Gentiles, he would never have ended up in chains. The whole affair in Jerusalem would have never taken place.

But his entire mission had been to proclaim the mystery that had been revealed to him by Christ. It had been Jesus Himself who had ordered Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This inclusion of non-Jews into the family of God had been hidden from the prophets. They had never realized that it had always been God’s intention to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue in the household of faith. This “mystery of Christ” … “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations” (Ephesians 3:4, 5 ESV). Even Jesus’ disciples had been blind to the fact that Jesus was destined to be the Messiah of all nations, not just the Jewish people. And Paul clearly articulates the nature of this mystery.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6 ESV

And Paul declares that it had been his duty, as a minister of God, “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). He had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). And he had fulfilled that role faithfully. Even while under house arrest in Rome, he continued to carry out the mandate given to him by Christ.

For Paul, the church was the divine manifestation of God’s glory and grace. It was like a beautiful tapestry, woven from a variety of multicolored threads, all according to a pattern established by God Himself.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 3:10 ESV

“The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique.” – Cornelius R. Stam, Acts Dispensationally Considered

The church is not a man-made institution. It was not the result of human ingenuity or insight. It was the mysterious plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world and was revealed in the atoning death of His Son on the cross. Jesus had come to save the world, not just the Jewish people. He had been born a Jew, a son of Abraham so that He might fulfill the promise made to Abraham. It would be through the seed of Abraham that God would bless all the nations of the earth. And the Gentile believers in Ephesus were proof that God had kept that promise.

And Paul reminds his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ that, together, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12 ESV). The world was no longer divided between Jews and Gentiles. Because of the finished work of Christ, the believers in Ephesus were no longer “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV).

The mystery was no longer hidden. The manifold, multi-variegated wisdom of God was on full display in the church, the body of Christ. And in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he was given of this multi-ethnic, cross-cultural assembly standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

This was how Paul viewed the church, even in his day. And he was honored to be suffering on its behalf. So, he begged the Ephesian believers to view his imprisonment as a blessing, not a curse. They had no reason to be ashamed and he had no cause for regret. It was all part of the mysterious and magnificent plan of God.

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

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

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

 

A Powerful Prayer for God’s People

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:9-14 ESV

Paul’s response upon hearing of the Colossians’ ongoing display of faith, hope, and love was to let them know that this was an answer to his prayers for them. He states that he and Timothy had regularly and zealously prayed that God would fill them with “the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV).

The prayers of Paul, many of which are recorded in his letters, reveal a shepherd’s heart for his dispersed and ever-increasing flock. These prayers provide a rare glimpse into the approach to ministry and discipleship of this great 1st-Century apostle, missionary, and church planter. Paul had a passion for the gospel and a love for people that revealed itself in how he prayed for them. While it’s likely that he received many personal requests from Christians he met along the way during his many journeys, his recorded prayers are more universal in nature and deal with the spiritual needs of the congregations to which he wrote. There is little doubt that he faithfully lifted up to the Lord the personal requests of individual believers, his real passion for people went way beyond the surface needs, wants, and desires they may have had. While he took their physical needs seriously and cared deeply about their health and well-being, his real concern was for their spiritual lives and their relationship with God.

In the opening lines of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul encourages them by informing them that they have been in his prayers – constantly. He tells them that he and Timothy have not ceased to pray for them. What a blessing it is to hear that someone has been praying for you. What an encouragement to know that someone cares enough about you to lift you up before the throne of God. And Paul reveals to them the content of his prayers. This is where it gets interesting and revealing.

Paul says that his request to God for them was that they would have a knowledge of His will. Paul has been asking God to give them knowledge or awareness of His will. But he is doing much more than just asking. Paul is begging. The Greek word, proseuchomai,  carries much more force behind it than our English word for prayer. It means “to pray earnestly for” and reflects Paul’s strong desire for God to provide the believers in Colossae knowledge of His will for them. Not only that, he wants God to fill them with that knowledge.

Once again, the original Greek language is much more rich and forceful in its meaning. When Paul asks God to fill them, he means “to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim.” In other words, he is asking God to fill them so fully that there isn’t room for anything else – including their own wills. For the believer, knowing the will of God is essential. It is what directs our actions and influences our attitudes. It is what gives us direction in our lives. As we live life in this world, we will be constantly influenced by our own sin nature and the world around us. We will constantly be tempted to control our lives according to our own will.

Paul warned the believers in Rome, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT). So there is a sense in which we have to turn our attention from the things of this world and concentrate on God’s will as revealed in His Word. God is out to transform us by influencing our thinking and altering our behavior – from the inside out.

But Paul goes on to qualify his request. He says that he is asking that they be filled with a knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. In other words, God’s will must be spiritually discerned. It is not of this world. In fact, the wisdom of God will often, if not always, stand in conflict with the ways of this world. It will make no sense from a human perspective. It will appear illogical. To know God’s will requires spiritual wisdom and understanding, which can only be provided by the Spirit of God. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Then he reminded them, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV). We have the mind of Christ because we have the Spirit of Christ living within us. We are spiritual creatures with a God-given capacity to understand and know His will. And Paul’s prayer was that his brothers and sisters in Christ be filled to overflowing with that knowledge.

But for Paul, to be aware of and filled with the knowledge of God was not enough. Knowing the will of God is useless if it is not put into action. That is why Paul states that his prayers for them had an objective. He wanted them “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 ESV). The knowledge of God should produce obedience to God. Knowing His will should produce a desire to live it out in daily life.

While the Greek word, peripateō, can be translated as “walk,” it can also convey the idea of conducting one’s life. Paul is expressing his prayerful desire that the Colossians live their daily lives in submission to and in keeping with God’s will. Doing so will please the Father, produce a life of spiritual fruitfulness, and result in an even greater awareness of His will. Paul wanted them to know that, as they expended energy in doing God’s will, they would tap into an inexhaustible supply of power based on His “glorious might” (Colossians 1:11 ESV). Rather than growing weak or weary, they would find themselves with an overabundance of endurance and patience even amid the trials of life. God would supply them with strength for the task and they would respond with joyful thanksgiving. 

Paul desperately desired for the Colossian believers to understand the magnitude of the gift they had received upon placing their faith in Jesus. Something truly remarkable had taken place when they accepted the free gift of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. They had been immediately “delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 ESV). As a result, they shared in the inheritance of the saints in light. They had a permanent place reserved for them in God’s eternal kingdom. The apostle Peter expressed it this way:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

The author of Hebrews also wrote of this inheritance of the saints. In his great “Hall of Faith,” he mentions such Old Testament luminaries as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, and describes how they were distinguished by their faith in God.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16 NLT

And when Paul tells the Colossians that God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 ESV), he is letting them know that they are as good as there. The promises of God are so sure and certain that the Colossians can live in perfect peace in the here-and-now because their hereafter has been guaranteed by God. They were already citizens of that eternal kingdom, even while living their lives here on earth.

And Paul lets them know that this kingdom to come belongs to Jesus Christ, the one who made possible their redemption and forgiveness from sin. Jesus was not only their Savior but their coming King. Their redemption and justification would one day result in their glorification. And Paul’s ongoing prayer for them was that they might continue to grow in their knowledge of the full scope of God’s grand redemptive plan for them.

It would seem that this prayer of Paul is a great example of how we should be praying for one another. There is nothing wrong with praying for someone’s physical healing, for their marriage, their financial needs, or any other concern they may have. But how much more important it is to desire that they grow in their knowledge of God’s will. One of the problems believers face is understanding what it is we’re supposed to do in life. We need to know how we are to use our time, talents, and resources. We need to know what it is that God is trying to teach us through the trials and troubles we face in life. How God would have us respond to the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves? It is not difficult to discern our will. That comes easy. But knowing the will of God takes intention. It requires listening to the Spirit of God and patiently waiting to hear God speak. But what greater prayer could anyone pray for a friend or family member than that God would fill them with a knowledge of His will – his good, pleasing, and perfect will?

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

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

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

 

Cleansed As By Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is he of whom it is written,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

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

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

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

We’re In This Together

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV

Peter spoke to his audience, not so much as individuals, but as a corporate community. In verse two he addressed them as “newborn infants,” using the plural designation rather than the singular. Together, they represented a collection of “born again” people who all shared a common bond as the children of God. And it was together that they were to “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). The walk of faith is not a solo sport, but a community event in which God’s people engage in a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship with one another. And Peter emphasizes the communal nature of that relationship by switching to a building metaphor.

Each believer shared a common story. They had come to faith in Jesus “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). It was their individual relationships with Jesus that bonded them together into one family in which they shared God as their Heavenly Father. These people probably came from different economic, social, and even ethnic backgrounds. Yet, they each had come to Jesus “the living cornerstone of God’s temple,” who was “rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor” (1 Peter 2:4 NLT).

Jesus was the foundation of their shared faith story. Their new lives were being built upon and around Him. A cornerstone was a massive piece of cut stone that, when put in place, established the pattern for all the other stone to come. It provided a guide for the builder, determining the right angles necessary for laying perfectly perpendicular rows of stones. Without the cornerstone, the walls could become easily misaligned, leaving the final structure unsightly and even unsafe for use.

But Peter describes his readers as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT). At one time, each of them had been an unfinished, rough-hewn stone. But God had chosen and carefully prepared them to fit into the plan for His holy temple. They were in the process of having their rough edges smoothed away. Their shape was being reformed by the Builder, so that they might become a seamless and integral part of God’s glorious House. Peter’s point seems to be that you can’t build a house with a single stone. Even Jesus Himself was the “cornerstone” and not the house itself. And while it is true that every believer has the Holy Spirit living within them, Paul pointed out that it is the collective body of Christ that forms the temple of God.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT

Back in verse nine of 1 Corinthians, Paul declared to the believers in Corinth: “You are God’s building.” Then in verse 17, he re-emphasizes their collective status as God’s temple.

God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:17 NLT

And Paul used this same building metaphor when writing to the believers in Ephesus.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying.

Together, we are his house…

We are carefully joined together

We are being made part of this dwelling where God lives…

Paul is stressing our unity and shared sense of identity and purpose. The temple was the place where God’s glory dwelt, and as His “spiritual house,” we serve as the dwelling place of His presence and power in this day and age. This spiritual structure, like the Old Testament temple, is meant to be the place where the priests of God mediate on behalf of the people of God. In this holy place, sinners can discover the grace of God and receive cleansing from their sins. The church, the body of Christ, is to be the place where the condemned can find full acquittal for their sins. They are the messengers of God’s gracious act of redemption made possible through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. It is the place where the holy priesthood “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). Peter is not inferring that additional blood sacrifices must be made to atone for sin, but that the church was to be a place marked by selfless and sacrificial service to God. That’s exactly what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome.

I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

This is the same thought that Paul had expressed earlier in the same letter.

…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 NLT

After stressing the communal aspect of their faith and their corporate status as God’s dwelling place, Peter returned to the metaphor of the cornerstone. Quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22, Peter discloses that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus had been the cornerstone whom God had promised, but the Jewish people ended up rejecting Him. They set aside the One who had been destined to be the source of their hope and salvation. They cast Him aside like an ill-formed stone, refusing to recognize Him as “chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6 ESV). And quoting from another Old Testament passage (Isaiah 8:14), Peter makes the sad assessment that the Jews had ended up turning the cornerstone into “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8 ESV). The One who could have offered them salvation became a cause of their stumbling and eventual fall.

It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV). Because Jesus didn’t appear in the form they were expecting or produce the outcome they were anticipating, they stumbled over Him. And Peter points out the cause of their fall.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. – 1 Peter 2:8 NLT

John the Baptist had appeared on the scene, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mark 3:2 ESV), and Jesus had picked up on that same message when He began His earthly ministry. But the majority of the Jewish people refused to heed the message and ended up rejecting the King for whom they had long been waiting. And Peter pointed out that they met “the fate that was planned for them.”

But Peter had good news for the believers to whom he wrote his letter.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Peter borrows from Old Testament imagery that was most often associated with the people of Israel. Because they had rejected the cornerstone, the message concerning the good news of the Kingdom was taken to the Gentiles. And when they accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, they became the chosen people of God, His royal priests, a holy nation, and His chosen possession. And Peter stressed the amazing nature of this transformation in their status. They had once been living in darkness, but God had graciously called them out and exposed them to the wonderful light of life – His Son.

And Peter goes out of his way to remind them of the staggering implications of their spiritual rags-to-riches story. And, once again, he uses an Old Testament passage, most often associated with the people of Israel to make his point.

Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.  – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT

The apostle Paul provides another reminder of this remarkable and undeserved transformation that has taken place in the life of every believer.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

And as Peter will point out, that transformation should produce a complete renovation of our character and conduct.

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

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

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

 

Living and Loving Like Christ

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:20-25 ESV

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Who and what is Peter talking about? Obviously, the “he” to which Peter refers is Jesus. But what does he mean when he says that Jesus was “foreknown?” Isn’t Jesus part of the Godhead and, therefore, a non-created being who is eternal in nature? So, in what sense was He foreknown?

The answer is found in the preceding verse, where Peter refers to Jesus as the lamb whose precious blood was shed. It was John the Baptist who, upon seeing Jesus, stated, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It was Jesus’ incarnation that had been foreknown by God. In other words, it was His assumption of humanity that God preordained, long before He spoke the universe into being. And it was in His role as a man that Jesus would serve as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The incarnation was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. The fall did not catch God off guard and force Him to implement an alternative strategy. In fact, at no point in the unfolding of the human story has God ever been surprised or forced to come up with a plan B. His Son’s invasion of earth as the sinless Lamb of God had been in place long before Adam and Eve were create or had the opportunity to sin.

And Peter drives the home the point that the preordained plan for Jesus’ incarnation was ultimately fulfilled in time and space. He actually showed up, on time, and according to plan. And Peter reminds his readers that, “in these last days he has been revealed for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Jesus, the Son of God, became a man living, breathing man and made Himself known and knowable. The apostle John put it this way:

…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:29 ESV

Yet, as Peter stated earlier, his readers had never had the privilege of seeing Jesus with their own eyes.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. – 1 Peter 1:8 NLT

But it was Jesus’ preordained and predetermined incarnation that made possible His death, burial, and resurrection. Had Jesus not taken on human flesh, He could not have lived a fully obedient life and fulfilled the requirement of a sinless sacrifice. It was only as the unblemished Lamb that Jesus could offer His life as an acceptable payment for the sins of mankind. And His resurrection was proof that God the Father was fully satisfied with His sacrifice. That lead Peter to announce:

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. – 1 Peter 1:21 NLT

The apostle Paul echoed Peter’s sentiments when he wrote:

being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Both Peter and Paul stressed the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Had Jesus not been raised from the dead, there would be no hope of forgiveness for sin or any chance of being restored to a right relationship with God. It was Paul who repeatedly warned the believers in Corinth of the vital nature of the resurrection.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV

And Peter reminds his readers that because Jesus was raised from the dead, their sins truly were forgiven.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth – 1 Peter 1:22 NLT

Having never seen the resurrected Lord themselves, they still placed their faith and hope in the reality of His resurrection. They believed the truth concerning His sacrificial death and the miraculous news of His restoration to life.

This is where Peter takes the inexplicable doctrine of the resurrection and makes it practical. Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed their transformation, and their transformation was expected to result in tangible manifestations of love for one another. They were expected to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). Their new lives in Christ were expected to bear fruit. The “seed” had been planted and the expectation was for that seed to produce fruit. This statement from Peter is reminiscent of the words of Jesus.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. – John 12:24 NLT

God had spoken His plan of redemption into existence long before He created the sun, moon, stars, the earth, or any living thing that lives on it. His Word concerning mankind’s salvation had included the death of the Seed – His Son. But with Jesus’ resurrection, He became the first of many who would experience newness of life. Or as Paul put it in one of his sermons recorded in the book of Acts: “…the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike” (Acts 26:23 NLT).

This new life should produce a new way of living. Those who have placed their faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ have received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God. And the Spirit provides them with a radical new capacity to live and love like Jesus did.

Peter seems to be attempting to refocus their attention from their sufferings in this earthly life to the joys of eternal life in Christ. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, their lives were to be marked by joy, hope, and love. Even the trials and difficulties of this life were powerless to thwart the preordained will of God. Earthly troubles were incapable of thwarting God’s sovereign plan of redemption or robbing believers of “the gracious salvation that will come…when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT).

Peter reminded them of the fleeting nature of this life.

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
   But the word of the Lord remains forever.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25 NLT

The trials of life will one day end, and those who perpetrated them will pass away as well. But the word of the Lord remains forever. His promise of eternal life will never end. The resurrection of Jesus remains historically true and eternally significant. And, as followers of Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that God’s promises will all be fulfilled.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

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

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

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

 

You Shall Be Holy

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV

Peter is writing to those whom he considers to be “elect exiles.” They were predominantly Gentile believers living in Asia Minor who, while having been chosen by God, were undergoing unexpected suffering for their faith. Peter has acknowledged that they have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV), but he has also reminded them that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV). And, as a result, they are the heirs of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV).

Peter’s emphasis on this future reality was meant to encourage and motivate the recipients of his letter. He wanted them to understand that their salvation was far from over. While their current experience was marked by suffering and persecution, it would also include their ongoing sanctification and, ultimately, their future glorification. That is why he challenged them to live with the end in mind.

Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.” – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

Peter knew that by fixing their hope on the final phase of God’s redemptive plan, they would find the strength to endure the trials of this life. God had set them apart as His own and had something truly remarkable in store for them. In a sense, they were no longer citizens of this world. In fact, later in this same letter, Peter refers to them as “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They were to consider themselves to be strangers living in a strange land. Like the Israelites living in exile in Babylon, these Gentile believers were to consider their living arrangements in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia as temporary. They were not to get comfortable or to compromise their convictions.

Peter wanted them to understand that they were “a chosen people…royal priests…a holy nation…God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). Their unique status as God’s holy or set-apart people was to impact the way they lived in this life. And Peter made sure they understood the implications of their foreordained inclusion into God’s family.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

Chosen and set apart by God, these people were faced with a choice of their own. Each day they had to decide whether they would live out their new identity in Christ or revert back to their old ways of living. God had called them out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9), and their behavior was to illustrate that reality. Peter’s words of admonition mirror those of the apostle Paul, written to the believers in Corinth.

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 NLT

And using the Hebrew scriptures, Paul quotes the words of God Himself in order to emphasize the distinctiveness of the Father-Child relationship the Corinthians believers enjoyed.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
    and walk among them.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
    and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
    and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NLT

Peter uses one word to describe this idea of separation and set-apartness: Holy.

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

The Greek word Peter used is hagios, and it carries the idea of sacredness or consecration. It was used to refer to anything that had been set apart for God and deemed to be His exclusive possession. What made something holy was not its inherent value, but its status as God’s possession. The temple was just a building, but because it had been set apart for God, it was considered holy and sacred. Everything in it was dedicated to God and was to be used for His glory alone. There was nothing special about the bowls and utensils that were used as part of the sacrificial system. What made them holy was their designation as God’s possessions. Once they had been set apart for the service of God, they were considered sacred and off-limits for any other use. The same was true of the priests whom God had consecrated to serve in His house. Yes, they were mere men, but they had been set apart as God’s servants, charged with caring for the temple and serving as mediators on behalf of the people.

Peter’s charge to “be holy” was meant to remind his readers of their set-apart status as God’s children. Whether they realized it or not, their identity was no longer the same. While much about their lives remained unchanged, they had undergone a radical transformation. God had set them apart as His own and they were now considered holy in His eyes. What Peter wanted them to realize was that their new status was going to require a new way of living. That is why he wrote, “you must be holy in everything you do” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). As God’s chosen people, they could no longer live as they liked. There could be no sacred-secular split in their lives. They now belonged to God and, as His children, they were to reflect His character.

“You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:16 NLT

Holiness is not something we become. It is who we already are as God’s chosen people. He has set us apart as His own. And as His possession, we are expected to reflect His character and be dedicated to His service – in all that we do.

The thought of God as our Father should bring us comfort and peace. But we should never lose sight of the fact that God is also the righteous Judge “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Peter did not intend this statement as a threat but as a reminder of God’s expectations concerning His children. The Greek word krinō, which is translated as “judges,” carries the idea of approval or esteem. In a sense, Peter is suggesting that God is looking for holy behavior among His children. He is “judging“ them in order to find something good. He is not looking for behavior that might make us holy, but He is looking for behavior that reflects our holiness.

What God sets apart as His own, He fully expects to remain set apart as His sole possession. That is why Peter states, “you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as ‘temporary residents’” (1 Peter 1:17 NLT). As long as they lived on this planet, they were to remember that they belonged to God. They were His children, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, and His very own possession. The apostle Paul gave the believers in Corinth a similar pep talk.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

God’s possession of His people did not come without a cost. As Paul states, God paid a high price, and Peter describes the exorbitant nature of the payment He made: “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT). The apostle John put it this way: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV).

God sacrificed His own Son so that He might ransom sinful men and women out of their captivity to sin and death. Jesus had even said of Himself, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). And Paul would pick up on this theme in his first letter to Timothy.

He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. – 1 Timothy 2:6 NLT

Peter desperately wanted his readers to understand that their lives were no longer their own. They belonged to God. They had been purchased at a high price and set apart for His glory. They now belonged to Him and were to consider their lives as dedicated to Him alone. But God did not view them as property. He considered them His progeny – His beloved children and the heirs of “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance…pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). And as God’s heirs, they were to emulate their Father’s character through their conduct.

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

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

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

 

Sufferings and Subsequent Glories

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:10-13 ESV

According to Peter, the trials and difficulties of this life become more understandable and even endurable when one considers “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ESV). He doesn’t mean that the sufferings we endure while living in the present age will be any less difficult but he provides a way to put them in the perspective of eternity. He encourages us to keep our eye on the prize, just as the apostle Paul did.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And this ultimate salvation of our souls, as Peter puts it, is something about which the prophets spoke and wrote. As Peter penned this section of his letter, he must have reflected back on the scene that took place just days after Jesus’ resurrection. He and the other disciples were gathered together in a locked room somewhere in the city of Jerusalem. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Jesus was standing in the room with them.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

Their resurrected Lord and Savior gave them a whirlwind Old Testament survey class, providing them with a comprehensive overview of the Law, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms. Jesus went methodically through the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out all the prophecies and predictions concerning Himself. For the first time in their lives, the disciples were able to see the full scope of God’s plan concerning the Messiah. Like all Jews, they had focused all their attention and hopes on those passages that predicted the glorification of the Messiah, while failing to recognize the many references to His suffering. For centuries, the Jewish people had waited for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

They had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this descendant of David who would restore the fortunes of Israel and bring peace to the world. But they had conveniently overlooked the other prophecies of Isaiah that told of “a man of sorrows… acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV), who would endure tremendous pain and humiliation on behalf of His people.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:5-7 NLT

When Isaiah penned these words, he had no idea of their full import. Peter indicates that all the prophets “wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward” (1 Peter 1:11 NLT). These men had no way of understanding how all these prophecies fit together. They were operating under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but that did not mean that they were given insight into God’s timeline concerning the Messiah. Even Jesus Himself spoke of how the prophets and the Old Testament saints would have longed to see and hear all that to which the disciples were given access.

“I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it. – Matthew 13:17 NLT

What Peter wanted his readers to understand was that the prophets had provided a comprehensive and detailed overview of Jesus’ life, writing of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:11 ESV). In other words, they had not left out the unattractive and unappealing parts of His life’s story. Yes, there would be glorification, but not before He endured great humiliation. That is exactly what Jesus had told the disciples as He stood before them in His glorified body.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. – Luke 24:46 NLT

And the apostle Paul would later explain the sequence of events that unfolded in the life of Jesus. There had been a non-negotiable order to all that had taken place, and it had begun with His humiliation.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

Jesus was required to leave His Father’s side in glory and take on “the humble position of a slave.” Yet, He did so willingly. He gave up His divine rights and privileges so that He might take on human flesh and dwell among men. And while in human form, He suffered greatly. He was regularly rejected and ridiculed. He went without food and sleep. Jesus even said of Himself, “the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NLT). And the downward trajectory of His life culminated with His death on a Roman cross. Yet, Paul went on to explain that Jesus’ humiliation was followed by glorification.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

Humiliation preceded glorification. Jesus had to be lifted up on a cross before He could be elevated to the place of highest honor. It was necessary that His character be slandered before His name could be honored. He had to be vilified before He could be glorified.

And Peter reminds his readers that “this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). Through the Spirit-inspired preaching of the apostles, the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia had heard the gospel message and had responded in faith. They had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). And that priceless inheritance was being “kept in heaven…pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT).

Just as the prophets were unable to comprehend every last detail of their own writings, so Christ-followers will not fully understand the significance of God’s eternal plan for their lives. While we have been given access to the full Canon of Scripture and provided insights into God’s future plans for His creation, there is much we will never understand until it actually happens. And Peter indicates that it’s all “so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (1 Peter 1:12 NLT). The plan of God is unfolding all around us and all according to His sovereign, immutable will. Nothing can stop it and no one can delay it. So, what should we do in the meantime? Peter answers that question in a single sentence.

…prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

And he will spend the rest of his letter unpacking and explaining what that should look like in everyday life. Once again, we are to live with our eyes on the prize. We are to focus our hope on the gracious salvation to come. But as we wait for the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world, we must live with the same attitude He displayed in His earthly life.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2 BSB

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

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

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

 

The Best Is Yet To Come

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49 ESV

Just as the two disciples were sharing about their recent encounter with Jesus, the eyes of everyone in the room were suddenly drawn away by the sudden and unexpected appearance of Jesus. The majority of the people in the room had not yet seen Jesus, so His arrival caught them completely off guard. According to John’s gospel account, “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19 NLT), and yet Jesus had no trouble gaining access. He just appeared out of nowhere. And in that moment, the rumors became reality.  The claims of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the two disciples from Emmaus were miraculously corroborated by Jesus Himself. The could see Him with their own eyes and hear the sound of His voice as He said, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36 ESV).

But His words fell on deaf ears and His inexplicable appearance produced fear rather than joy. Their dazed and confused minds wrestled to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing. Unable to mentally process the scene taking place before them, they concluded that they were seeing things – specifically, a ghost. This was the same conclusion they had reached when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:26). They had no mental category for dealing with what they were seeing. Even though many of them had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were having a difficult time believing that Jesus was truly alive. They were quick to write off His appearance as little more than an apparition.

But the ever-compassionate Jesus, lovingly asked them, “Why are you frightened?…Why are your hearts filled with doubt?” (Luke 24:38 NLT). The sound of His voice was meant to reassure them that He was real and not a figment of their imaginations. They were not experiencing a mass hallucination. There was no reason for them to fear and no cause for them to doubt. His appearance was living proof of what the angel had said. “He is risen from the dead!” (Luke 24:6 NLT). Jesus was standing right in front of them – in the flesh. And to prove He was anything but a ghost, Jesus showed them His wounds, stating, “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39 NLT).

Even in His resurrected body, Jesus retained the wounds He had received as part of His crucifixion. The holes from the nails were still evident. The wound caused by the spear still marred His side. The punctures from the thorny crown still adorned His head. The ragged stripes from HIs flogging were clearly visible for all to see. He retained all the marks associated with His sacrificial death. And yet, He was alive. In a sense, He still bore on His body the evidence of mankind’s sin debt. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). His wounds remained but man’s sin debt had been removed – as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

But even as they tried to take it all in, the disciples wrestled with an odd mix of joy and disbelief. They were ecstatic and skeptical at the same time. Their hearts were overjoyed and their brains were overtaxed. It was just too much to take in. Recognizing their troubled state, Jesus graciously provided them with further proof of His physicality. He asked for something to eat. And as the disciples looked on in awkward silence, Jesus ate the piece of broiled fish they had offered Him.

Having finished His meal, Jesus turned His attention once again to His disciples. His time on earth was coming to an end and He had much to tell them before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, just as He had done with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 ESV). Using the Old Testament Scriptures as His text, Jesus revealed how everything that had happened since the day of His incarnation had been all according to the sovereign plan of God the Father. He declared, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). And not long after He spoke these words, the last part of this phase of His mission would be fulfilled. He would ascend back to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers. All in keeping with and in fulfillment of the will of His Heavenly Father.

Jesus assured His disciples that His death had all been part of the plan.

“Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” – Luke 24:46 NLT

The Sanhedrin and the Romans had been little more than tools in the hands of God Almighty. They had been His instruments for fulfilling the divine plan of redemption through the selfless sacrifice of His one and only Son. Then Jesus reminded them of the role they would play in His absence. He would be leaving them but they would carry on His ministry.

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” – Luke 24:47 NLT

They were to be a light to the nations. These men and women who had gathered behind locked doors out of fear for their lives would become the vanguard of a might movement of God that would shake the world. They were about to discover the truth of the promise Jesus had made to them.

“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. – John 14:12 NLT

When He returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come, and with His arrival, they would experience a source of power that would transform them into agents of change who would revolutionize the world. And as He prepared to depart, He once again assured them that He would not leave them alone or powerless to face the future.

“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 24:49 NLT

All they had to do was wait and believe. Jesus wasn’t demanding that they be successful. He was simply reminding them to be faithful. Wait and watch. Rest and be ready. They were about to become instruments in the hands of God Almighty, accomplishing His divine will through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit. They were about to grasp the reality that Jesus death had been the beginning and not the end. The best was yet to come.

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

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

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