The Protection of God’s Grace

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV

There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.

But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.

Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).

David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT

David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.

But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.

“Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.

By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.

“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT

Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.

“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT

David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.

In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.

Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT

Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.

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

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

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

A Holy House-Cleaning

26 And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” 27 So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

28 When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. 29 And when it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and put him to death. And he was buried in his own house in the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2:26-35 ESV

After having dealt decisively with his half-brother’s continued deceit by having him put to death, Solomon turned his attention to the accomplices in his failed coup attempt. First, he took care of Abiathar, the priest. But rather than ordering Abiathar’s execution, Solomon decreed that this traitor be removed from his priestly role. The new king was willing to spare Abiathar’s life because he was well aware of his long and faithful service to David. But he was not willing to let the guilty go unpunished, so he humiliated Abiathar by having him defrocked. And Solomon’s decision had far greater ramifications than even he could have known. The author of 1 Kings reveals that Abiathar’s removal from the priesthood fulfilled a prophecy made by God concerning the descendants of Eli, the priest who had served at Shiloh. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served alongside their father as priests, but they were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV).

These two brothers used their priestly role to fulfill their own selfish desires, and “the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 NLT). They were even guilty of committing sexual sins with “the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2:22 NLT). Their father, fully aware of their indiscretions, tried to reprimand them but his words fell on deaf ears. They refused to listen to his warnings or change their wicked ways, so God stepped in and delivered a sobering statement of judgment against the house of Eli.

“I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age.” – 1 Samuel 2:30-31 NLT

In the short-term, God would take the lives of Hophni and Phinehas. But with Solomon’s removal of Abiathar, another descendant of Eli suffered the humiliating loss of his priestly role. He was allowed to live but would have to bear the constant shame that accompanied his fall from grace.

Having dealt with the prodigal priest, Solomon turned his attention to Joab, the former general over the armies of Israel. This man had been a close friend and ally of David, having served alongside him for many years. But Joab had fallen out of favor with the king because of insubordination. Against the wishes of King David, Joab had taken the lives of two men, Amasa and Abner, both of whom he perceived as threats to his power and prestige. Now, years later, Joab had chosen to align himself with the king’s son, Adonijah, choosing to lend his reputation and military expertise to an attempted takeover of David’s throne. And when Joab heard that Adonijah was dead and Abiathar had been stripped of his priesthood, he knew it was just a matter of time before Solomon came looking for him. So, he sought refuge in the tabernacle, just as Adonijah had done.

But Solomon was not about to show this murderer and traitor any mercy. Instead, he commanded that Joab be executed on the spot. In ordering Joab’s death, Solomon was clearing his father’s dynasty of any responsibility for the unwarranted deaths of Amasa and Abner. As long as Joab remained alive and unpunished for his crimes, his guilt would be shared by the house of David. By removing Joab, Solomon hoped to avoid the condemnation of God and restore the hope of His future blessings on Israel.

“May their blood be on Joab and his descendants forever, and may the Lord grant peace forever to David, his descendants, his dynasty, and his throne.” – 1 Kings 2:23 NLT

Unlike his father, Solomon wasted no time in dealing with the issues that surrounded him. He had just ascended to the throne but had taken decisive action to clean up the mess his father had left behind. Solomon was quick to deal with the guilty, delivering the appropriate punishment and, in doing so, ensuring the spiritual health of his kingdom. He was also faithfully fulfilling his father’s dying wishes, meting out justice, and repaying the guilty for their crimes.

But Solomon didn’t just purge the sin from their midst. He quickly filled the vacancies created by the removals of Joab and Abiathar by promoting “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army” and anointing “Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar” (1 Kings 2:35 ESV). He surrounded himself with faithful men he could trust and began the important task of establishing the identity that would mark his reign as king.

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

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

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

The Tangled Web We Weave

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). 16 Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ 18 And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. 20 And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. 23 And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. 24 And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

The spirit of disunity and division that will mark the nation of Israel’s future is already on display. King David, confined to bed because of old age, represents the weakened and dying vestiges of a bygone era. He was the king appointed and anointed by God.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

He had ruled well and had followed God faithfully. And God had made a covenant commitment to David that ensured the longevity of his dynasty.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

But there was a problem. While God had clearly ordained Solomon to be David’s successor, another one of David’s sons coveted the kingship for himself. Adonijah had already implemented his plan for dispossessing Solomon as the rightful heir to the throne. At this point, David was king in name only. His diminished physical state made it nearly impossible for him to reign and rule well. And, for whatever reason, David had not yet officially appointed Solomon as his successor. This unstable environment provided Adonijah with the perfect opportunity to stage his coup and establish himself as the next king of Israel.

But fortunately, David’s old friend and mentor, Nathan, was watching out for him. As soon as this faithful prophet of God became aware of Adonijah’s plot, he took immediate steps to protect the interests of David and to preserve the crown for Solomon. He devised a plan that would require the assistance of Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba. After informing her of Adonijah’s plot, he advised her to take the matter to David, even providing her with the exact words to say. She was to remind David of the commitment he had made to her that Solomon would be the next king of Israel. It is likely that David, in his old age, was suffering from some form of dementia and was oblivious to all that was transpiring in his kingdom. Bathsheba’s job was to help David recall the divine decree concerning Solomon. And as she was jogging the king’s memory, Nathan would enter the room and provide David with yet another reminder of God’s covenant concerning Solomon.

Bathsheba did just as Nathan had instructed her, entering the king’s chamber and informing him of all that was going on in his kingdom.

“My lord, you made a vow before the Lord your God when you said to me, ‘Your son Solomon will surely be the next king and will sit on my throne.’ But instead, Adonijah has made himself king, and my lord the king does not even know about it. – 1 Kings 1:17-18 NLT

Evidently, David was completely oblivious to what was taking place right under his nose. Confined to bed and suffering from diminished physical and mental capacities, David had no idea of the threat to his kingdom. But Bathsheba painted a clear and compelling picture of the situation and demanded that David act by officially declaring Solomon to be his successor. His failure to do so would forfeit the kingdom to Adonijah and seal the fate of Bathsheba and their son. And when Nathan entered the king’s chamber, he echoed the words of Bathsheba, but did so by questioning whether David had changed his mind and decided to anoint Adonijah as his rightful heir to the throne.

Even in his weakened state, David’s mind must have flashed back to the day when another one of his sons had stolen the kingdom from him. Absalom had also devised a plot to usurp the throne and had succeeded, forcing David and his associates to surrender the city of Jerusalem and the throne.

A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!”

“Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” – 2 Samuel 15:13-14 NLT

Now, years later, David was having to relive that nightmare experience as he heard the news of yet another son’s attempt to steal the crown. But none of this should have come as a surprise to David. As a result of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David had been warned by God that his household would become a hotbed of division and conflict.

 “From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you.” – 2 Samuel 12:10-11 NLT

His sin with Bathsheba had proven to have long-term implications. And, even as David faced death, he was reminded that his decision to violate God’s law and satisfy his lustful desires was still impacting his home and his family – years later. Disobedience has consequences. Sin is costly. But in spite of David’s former failure and its impact on the present, God’s will would be done. What God had ordained would take place. Solomon would become the next king of Israel, but the stage has been set for the rest of the book of 1st Kings.

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

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

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

The Stage is Set

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. 1 Kings 1:5-10 ESV

The author of 1st Kings has established that David is old and nearing the end of his life. And, because he is king, his imminent death sets the stage for the selection of his successor to the throne of Israel. Under normal circumstances, the line of succession would fall to the eldest son. But in David’s case, things were a bit more complex because of his many wives and the number of sons they bore to him. Let’s just as that David had a complicated family situation.

His oldest son was Amnon, but he was dead. He had been murdered by his half-brother, Absalom, for the rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar. When David had done nothing to punish Amnon for his crime, Absalom had taken matters into his own hands. Daniel was the second son of David, but he likely died early because, other than the record of his birth in 2 Samuel 3:3, he is never mentioned again. That leaves Absalom and Adonijah as the next two in line for the throne. But Absalom was also dead. After launching what appeared to be a successful coup for his father’s throne, Absalom was killed in battle against David’s forces (2 Samuel 18). This left Adonijah as next in line for ascension to the throne.

But God had other plans. David had been given clear instructions from God regarding his heir, and it was not going to be Adonijah. Even before Solomon had been born, God had visited David and given him a message concerning the identity of the son who would continue the Davidic dynasty.

“Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

In a sense, Solomon had been a gift from God after David had been forced to suffer the loss of the son born through his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). That child had been the byproduct of David’s immoral affair with a married woman. And to complicate matters further, when David had discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, he had tried to cover up his indiscretion. When that failed, he ordered Bathsheba’s husband’s death and then took his widow to be one of his wives.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

And this complicated and confusing background sets the stage for what happens in the opening chapter of 1st Kings. As the next-oldest living son, Adonijah assumed that he was the rightful heir to the throne, and he began to prepare for the transition of power.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. – 1 Kings 1:5 ESV

It seems that Adonijah had taken notes from the playbook of his older brother Absalom. This arrogant display of pomp and circumstance was exactly what Absalom had done as part of his successful strategy to usurp David’s throne (2 Samuel 15:1). Adonijah believed he was entitled to be the next king of Israel, and it seems that he was used to getting his way. The author reveals that Adonijah had been spoiled by his father.

Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” – 1 Kings 1:6 NLT

Whether Adonijah knew of God’s plan for Solomon to be David’s successor is unclear. But it is readily apparent that Adonijah was determined to do whatever was necessary to see that he was the next king. He began by building a network of important relationships with individuals of power and influence.

Adonijah took Joab son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest into his confidence, and they agreed to help him become king. – 1 Kings 1:7 NLT

This ambitious young man was building strategic alliances that he hoped would prove helpful in his quest for Israel’s throne. But he faced significant opposition. There were those who remained loyal to David and who would see to it that the wishes of the king were fulfilled. It is likely that they were already aware of God’s plan for Solomon to be the next king of Israel.

All of this is painfully reminiscent of Absalom’s actions when he began his carefully orchestrated coup to supplant his father as king. Adonijah was not willing to wait for David’s death. He was going to take the throne by force if necessary. But to ensure that he had all the support he would need, Adonijah planned a banquet in the nearby city of En-rogel. He had a carefully crafted invitation list that included all of his brothers and half-brothers, except for Solomon. He also extended invitations to all the royal officials through the land of Judah. Adonijah made a covenant commitment with his guests at this elaborate feast, sealing their agreement to assist him in his coup d’état with blood sacrifices. 

This opening chapter of the book lays the foundation for all that is to come. David is dying. He is weak and incapable of caring for himself. God has established a plan for his succession. But the nation is already showing signs of discord and dissension. Sadly, another one of David’s sons is leading an open rebellion against his own father and creating a potentially deadly situation that could end in bloodshed and division. You can almost feel the sense of foreboding coming off the pages as the author sets the stage for all that is to follow. Israel’s nation is about to enter a new era, one that will be marked by a slow and steady spiral toward unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity. With David’s death, the man after God’s own heart, the people of Israel will find themselves suffering under a succession of shepherds whose spiritual integrity will slowly decline, leaving the nation in a progressively weakened state.

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

Lessons From the Past

1 Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. 1 Kings 1:1-4 ESV

It would be easy to assume that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings are nothing more than historical accounts that provide a chronological record of the kings of Israel and Judah. They read like a two-volume ancient history textbook, providing detailed accounts of the reigns of 40 different kings who eventually ruled over the people of God. But these two books are far more than a retelling of past historical events. They were written to tell a story and to provide an explanation for Israel’s sorry state of affairs after their return from exile.

While we don’t know the identity of the author of these two books, we do know to whom they were written. In their original form, they comprised one book that was addressed to the people of Israel who survived captivity in Babylon and were part of the remnant who returned to the land. As they made their way back to the land after 70 years of subjugation to the Babylonians, they discovered the city of Jerusalem in an abysmal state of disrepair and the beautiful temple built by King Solomon to be nothing but a pile of rubble. The gates of the city had been destroyed. The once-formidable walls were lying in ruins. The former capital of Israel was a virtual ghost town. And while the people would eventually restore the city and rebuild the temple, the nation would never enjoy a return to its glory days.

But how did this happen? What caused the fall of one of the greatest nations on earth? Why did God abandon His people and allow them to undergo such devastating destruction at the hands of their enemies?

Those are the kinds of questions that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings attempt to answer. They retell the sad story of Israel’s demise. 1st Kings begins with the coronation of King Solomon and his dedication of the temple. 2nd Kings ends with the capture of King Zedekiah and the destruction of the temple. And in between, we are given a detailed accounting of Israel’s serial unfaithfulness to God. The author provides his audience with a no-holds-barred retelling of Israel’s fall from the heights of glory to the depths of despair and devastation. And it is not a pretty picture. But it is intended to be a memorable one, providing those who read it with a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of what happens to those who forsake the Lord.

But these two books are not all doom and gloom. Yes, they paint a not-so-attractive picture of the people of God, portraying them as unfaithful and fully deserving of God’s judgment. But they also provide undeniable evidence of God’s unwavering faithfulness. After all, those who ended up reading these two books were living on the other side of the exile. They were fortunate to be among those who had been restored to the land of promise because God had kept His word. He had told them they would go into captivity for 70 years, but He had also promised that a remnant would be allowed to return. And He had been faithful to do exactly what He said He would do.

It was George Santayana who wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And God wanted His people to know and understand every sordid and sorry detail concerning their past relationship with Him. Their current state of affairs had historical precedence. For the people of God, sin will always have consequences. Unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. Disobedience will not go undisciplined. And these two books were not just intended to be a simple retelling of ancient history, but they were designed to prevent its repetition. Even today, there is much we modern westerners can learn from the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. They contain timeless lessons that bear repeating and offer the unflattering portraits of men whose examples we should avoid.

And the very first portrait we are given is of the aging King David. We are told he was “old and advanced in years” (1 Kings 1:1 ESV). The once-powerful king of Israel is shown to be a shadow of his former self. The warrior-king who helped establish Israel as one of the greatest nations on earth has been relegated from the battlefield to the bedroom. Rather than fighting the enemies of Israel, he is waging a hopeless battle with the effects of old-age and senility. The one of whom they used to sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7 ESV), is now portrayed as a feeble old man, covered in blankets and fighting to stay warm.

His body suffering the ravages of time, David is unable to produce enough body heat to keep himself warm. In his old age, the slayer of Goliath finds himself so weak that he has to rely on the body heat of a young slave girl to keep him alive. In his prime, David suffered from an inordinate attraction to beautiful women that often got him into trouble. And because David is still the king, his advisors seek out the most beautiful woman they can find. But at this point in his life, the only pleasure David can derive from Abishag the Shunammite is the warmth her body can produce.

The author makes it quite clear that David received no sexual pleasure from this arrangement. It was totally utilitarian in nature.

The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:4 NLT

As the book opens up, we are given a less-than-flattering glimpse of King David, confined to bed and constricted to mere survival. The great king of Israel is portrayed with diminished capacities and at the end of his life. His amazing rise to power and the record of his many accomplishments are found in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel. But David’s days of glory are over. His reign is coming to an end. And his death will usher in an important point of transition for the nation of Israel. The stability the nation has enjoyed under his leadership will be put to the test. The peoples’ dedication and commitment to God will be exposed for what it really is: Lacking.

In some ways, the description of David’s physical condition provides a subtle portrayal of the spiritual condition of the nation. Over time, they have grown spiritually cold and incapable of rekindling the fire they once had for God. It won’t be long until they find themselves sharing their beds with the “young women” of the pagan nations in an attempt to “heat up” their languishing spiritual lives.

David had been a good king. He was the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). but even his godly leadership had failed to produce faithfulness among the people of Israel. And, as we will see, his influence over his own children will prove to have been lacking. Even before he breathes his final breath, David will find his kingdom under siege by his own family. From the king’s palace to the peasant’s hut, the unfaithfulness of Israel will soon be on full display.

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

Filled With Faith

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 ESV

With His unidentified betrayer seated at the table with them, Jesus and His disciples began to eat the Passover meal together. As each course of this sacred meal was served, these men would have found it difficult to take their minds off of Jesus’ earlier announcement. One of them was going to do the unthinkable and betray the Lord. And the only hint that Jesus had given as to who the culprit might be was that it was “one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me” (Mark 14:20 NLT). That meant it could be any one of them.

But, acting as the head of the family in their shared Passover celebration, Jesus administered the various rites associated with this traditional meal to His 12 “sons.” And on this night, this annual and highly familiar event took on new meaning for these men. Little did they understand at the time that their Lord and Master was standing before them as the Pascal Lamb. He was as John the Baptist had said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). And He was “the bread of God…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 ESV).

These declarations concerning Jesus’ true identity were being illustrated right before their eyes. Jesus used the various elements associated with the Passover meal to point to His God-ordained mission as their deliverer. This meal, which they had eaten every year throughout their lives, had always been a foreshadowing of something greater to come. Yes, it was a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But it had also been given as a sign of the deliverance Jesus would bring when He came to earth as the sacrificial Lamb. Through the offering of His sinless body and the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus would provide mankind with a way to be delivered from its captivity to sin and death.

So, during the meal, Jesus took some of the unleavened bread (a symbol of sinlessness) and “after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’” (Mark 14:22 ESV). And Luke records that Jesus added, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). He offered them the bread and invited them to consume it, as a symbol of their faith in the sacrificial offering He was about to make on their behalf. It seems likely that the disciples recalled an earlier statement made by Jesus concerning the bread from heaven.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

As they held the broken pieces of bread in their hands, the disciples had to wrestle with the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. But before they had tie to take in what Jesus was saying, He “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23 ESV). And according to Matthew’s account, Jesus told them, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Once again, the minds of the disciples must have been filled with memories of Jesus’ earlier teachings concerning the bread and the blood. At that time, His words had made little sense. But now, they were coming into clearer focus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 ESV

Just as the disciples consumed the bread and the wine that night, they would have to ingest the body and blood of Jesus. In order to benefit from what Jesus was about to do for them, they would have to make His life a part of their own. In an act of faith, they would need to take in the gift of His body and blood, believing that these sacred elements would provide them with eternal life. The eating of bread and wine is an act of faith, It is an outward demonstration of trust that their consumption will provide nourishment to the physical body, In the same way, the body and blood of Christ are “consumed” as an act of faith, a willful display of faith in the efficacious nature of Jesus’ death on our behalf. He becomes part of us. He comes to live within us. That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV).

In time, the disciples would understand the nature of Jesus’ words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would be given the power to grasp and appreciate all that they had heard Jesus say to them. The apostle Paul would later describe the memorial aspect of what Jesus had done that fateful night. The church would go on to establish the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine as a regularly occurring part of their corporate worship experience.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

And the proclamation of His death is to continue until He returns again. It is His death that brings life. It was the sacrifice of His body and blood that made forgiveness of sin and freedom from death possible. But we must never forget that His death was followed by His resurrection. He was restored to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But, one day, He will return. And Jesus told His disciples, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25 ESV). Jesus was assuring His disciples that His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension would be followed by His return. When He comes back, He will establish His Kingdom on earth and once again share a cup of celebration with His faithful followers.

The apostle John provides us with a glimpse into this future day when Jesus will share another meal with His disciples. On this occasion, there will be no bread broken as a sign of death or wine consumed as a symbol of His shed blood. This will be a victory meal, a time of joyous celebration as the people of God rejoice in the finished work of the Son of God.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” – Revelation 19:6-9 ESV

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

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

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

Take Sin Seriously

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:42-50 ESV

John had chosen to ignore the young boy Jesus was holding in His arms and, instead, had attempted to change the subject of conversation. He had wanted to divert attention away from Jesus’ object lesson on leadership and raise the issue of an unexpected and uninvited competitor, who was casting out demons without permission. This entire conversation had begun with an argument among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. And Jesus had picked up the little boy to use him as an object lesson for His ego-driven disciples.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3-4 ESV

Now, after John’s attempted diversion, Jesus refocuses their attention back on the boy. Jesus expected His followers to reflect the humility of a helpless and powerless child. Their lives were to be marked by innocence and trustworthiness. They were to exhibit a child-like faith, a willingness to be led and cared for by others. But at the same time, the disciples were to understand their role as caretakers. They were going to be given the sobering responsibility of caring for the sheep of God. So, Jesus provides them with a stern warning.

“But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.” – Mark 9:42 NLT

What the disciples failed to understand was that their role as leaders came with serious responsibilities. They coveted the authority and notoriety that came with a position of prominence but were oblivious to the risk involved. Little did they know that their quest for power could have a devastating impact on those under their care. Years later, the apostle Paul would later warn the believers in Philippi:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3 ESV

And Paul would give an even more stark warning to the believers in Rome.

…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:8 ESV

The believers in Galatia would receive a similar word from Paul.

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:26 ESV

And Jesus warned His disciples that an agonizing death would be preferable to a life of leading the innocent astray. God would hold His shepherds accountable for the care and feeding of His sheep. The disciples, driven by envy and jealousy, were upset that some unknown individual was stealing their thunder by casting out demons in the name of Jesus. But Jesus viewed him as an ally. What faith it must have taken for this man to perform miracles in Jesus’ name? He had not been chosen or trained by Jesus. He had not received any kind of commission from Jesus. But He was faithfully following the example of Jesus and setting free all those who were being held captive by the power of Satan.

But the disciples had tried to prevent this man from doing the very thing Jesus had commissioned them to do. And Jesus wants them to know that their jealousy-induced actions could have easily led this man into sin. He could have taken their words as a rebuke from Jesus Himself and chosen to stop following Him. What he needed was encouragement and a willingness on the part of the disciples to guide and instruct him.

And to make sure His disciples don’t miss the seriousness of what He is trying to tell them, Jesus provides them with some shocking illustrations involving self-mutilation. This little section was meant to get their attention. He wanted them to recognize the danger of indwelling sin and the deadly consequences it could have. Their jealousy could have caused this man to stumble. Their greed for greatness could easily create division among them and hamper their future mission. Personal sin had a way of infecting others. So, Jesus provided them with three graphic illustrations designed to encourage the self-purging of sin.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” – Mark 9:43-47 NLT

Hand. Foot. Eye. Jesus chose three body parts that were essential to living a normal life. The loss of any one of them could greatly diminish the capacity to perform the everyday functions of life. To lose a hand, a foot, or an eye would render someone lame and partially blind, and reduce them to the lowly role of a beggar. Just consider the miracles Jesus has performed. He healed the man with the withered hand. He restored the ability to walk to a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. He gave sight to a man who was born blind.

And yet, Jesus was telling His disciples that it would be better to lose a body part if doing so could prevent further sin. This hyperbolic language by Jesus was meant to shock and to drive home to His disciples the devastating nature of sin. Of course, it is not one’s hands, feet, or eyes that cause him to sin. It is his heart. This is exactly what Jesus had taught the disciples earlier.

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

But Jesus is using these extreme illustrations of physical dismemberment to make sure His disciples get the point. They were not to tolerate sin in their lives and were expected to take whatever measures necessary to eradicate its influence. Because it was deadly. And three different times, Jesus refers to the ultimate destination of all those who allow sin to control their lives.

the unquenchable fires of hell… – vs 44 (NLT)

thrown into hell – vs 46 (NLT)

thrown into hell – vs 47 (NLT)

And then, Jesus provides a graphic depiction of this final abode of the wicked.

where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out – vs 48 (NLT)

The Greek word that is translated as “hell” is gehenna, and it is the transliteration of the Hebrew word, hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom was just south of Jerusalem and it had a sordid reputation. Jeremiah records that the apostate people of Israel had used this valley as a sacred location where they worshiped their false gods.

They have also built places of worship in a place called Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom so that they can sacrifice their sons and daughters by fire. – Jeremiah 7:31 NLT

In Jesus’ day, the valley had been relegated as a landfill where all the refuse from the city was dumped. It was said that the fires never stopped burning in gehenna. The stench was horrific and the maggots were ever-present. It became the visual representation of the place of eternal punishment. The average Jew avoided gehenna at all costs. And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that hell was real and far more repulsive than a human landfill. And a life of sin would render someone fit for the fires of hell.

Jesus was not teaching His disciples that they could lose their salvation. He was warning them to consider the seriousness of sin. There was no place for sin in the heart of a Christ-follower, because sin leads to death and Jesus had come to set them free from sin and death. As His disciples, John and the others were to develop a growing distaste for sin. And much later, long after Jesus had died and resurrected, John would write to Christians, providing them with a warning about allowing sin to influence their lives.

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

Notice the role the hands, the feet, and the eyes play in our pursuit of pleasure, achievement, and possessions. It begins with our eyes. With them, we lust and covet. We see things we desire and then begin to long for them. That’s where our feet come in. We pursue these things, chasing after them in a sad attempt to fulfill our heart’s desire. Then we use our hands to take hold of them. We make them our own. But in doing so, we replace the will of the Father with the desires of the heart. We make worldliness our goal, rather than godliness.

The last few sentences of Jesus’ teaching are difficult to understand. He moves from discussing amputation and disfigurement to talking about saltiness.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” – Mark 9:49-50 ESV

It seems that Jesus had shifted from talking about the unquenchable fires of hell to a different kind of fire that is present in this life. Rather than a fire of everlasting punishment for sin, it is a purifying kind of fire. He compares it to salt, which was used as a natural preservative in that day. Jesus describes a kind of purging, purifying fire that is meant to expose and remove the dross of sin in our lives. It is to be cut out and eliminated. This process is to be expected and appreciated by the Christ-follower. Jesus even encourages His disciples to “have salt in yourselves.”

They were to welcome the preserving and purifying nature of God’s work in their lives. Peter would later refer to the “fiery trials” that every believer would encounter during their time on this earth.

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. – 1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT

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

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

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

A Serious Heart Condition

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-23 ESV

A small contingent of scribes and Pharisees had confronted Jesus with an accusation presented in the form of a question. They were demanding that Jesus explain the “shocking” behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:5 ESV

What shocked these pious religious leaders was the sight of Jesus’ disciples consuming food without having first cleansed their hands properly.  The word “defiled” is a translation of the Greek word, aniptos which means “unwashed.”  Mark provides a clue as to what was motivating the religious leaders.

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders… – Mark 7:3 ESV

According to these men, the disciples had violated established protocol. The “tradition of the elders” or oral law, required that all Jews go through a ceremonial cleansing of the hands before eating. Jews were required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that included bread. The ritual was known as netilat yadayim, and involved the use of a cup that was used to pour water onto the hands and allowing it to flow down to the elbows. The ritual had nothing to do with personal hygiene but was done for ritualistic purposes.

According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, this was nothing more than a ceremony that had little pragmatic value.

When, therefore, some of the Pharisees remarked that our Lord’s disciples ate with “unwashen hands,” it is not to be understood literally that they did not at all wash their hands, but that they did not wash them ceremonially according to their own practice. And this was expected of them only as the disciples of a religious teacher; for these refinements were not practised by the class of people from which the disciples were chiefly drawn. – Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

And Jesus was well aware of the intentions of His accusers. These men were trying to label He and His disciples as law-breakers. But Jesus took the opportunity to teach His followers a valuable lesson on hygiene and holiness.

While the Pharisees had focused all their attention on the outward practice of hand-washing, Jesus took the conversation deeper. To put it another way, He went to the “heart” of the matter. Gathering the people around Him, Jesus said, “All of you listen…and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:14-15 NLT).

And that was all He said. As usual, Jesus’ reply was short and succinct, but not exactly clear. And Mark indicates that even the 12 disciples had a difficult time understanding the meaning behind Jesus’ abbreviated lesson. When they were able to be alone with Jesus, they asked Him to explain the meaning behind what they understood to be another one of His parables. But this was less a parable than it was a moral object lesson. What had precipitated Jesus’ comment was the emphasis of the scribes and Pharisees on ritualistic cleansing. These men were all about appearances and used their lengthy list of man-made rules as a way to promote and prove their own righteousness. Their behavior became their badge of honor. Rule-keeping became their primary means for measuring righteousness. But Jesus was much more interested in the inside than the outside. On another occasion, He would level a stinging accusation against the Pharisees, exposing the farcical nature of all their religious rule-keeping.

“you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

These attacks on the well-respected religious leaders always left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Weren’t the scribes and Pharisees to be revered for their obvious displays of righteousness? How could Jesus get away with calling them hypocrites and blind guides? Why did He feel the constant need to anger them?

But Jesus was attempting to teach His disciples that the problem mankind faced was not of a physical nature but of a spiritual one. It all had to do with the condition of the heart. And no amount of outward cleansing or ritual purification could result in a holy heart. So, He reiterated His original statement one more time, but with further clarification.

“Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” – Mark 7:18 NLT

Food was little more than fuel, taken into the body as a source of energy, then passed out as human waste. The washing of hands, pots, pans, and the food itself, while beneficial from a personal hygiene perspective, had no value when it came to a person’s spiritual condition. Food may help power the human heart, but it can do nothing to influence the moral state of the human soul, either positively or negatively. Drinking from a ritualistically cleansed cup may make one feel purer, but it was nothing more than a  facade, an exercise in self-deception.

Mark adds another important parenthetical statement intended to provide further clarification for the readers of his gospel.

By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes. – Mark 7:19 NLT

This expanded explanation most likely escaped the disciples. But it would become clearer to them when Jesus had ascended back into heaven after His resurrection. In the days after Jesus departed and the Holy Spirit ascended, the disciples would obey His commission and take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And, before long, there would be Gentiles accepting the free gift of God’s grace made possible through faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. The addition of Gentile converts to the early church would produce an important debate among the disciples about the role of the Mosaic law in the lives of these former pagans. There were those, like Peter, who believed that any Gentiles who came to faith should be required to keep the Jewish religious laws, just as they did. But Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would push back strongly against this unnecessary requirement. In doing so, he was not denigrating God’s law, but simply denying that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone, with no other requirements necessary. Paul would argue vehemently that the law had no place in the lives of these Gentile converts. The Jewish dietary laws no longer applied. And even the Jewish rite of circumcision was to be set aside.

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

It was all about the heart. And that was the very point Jesus was trying to make with His disciples. And knowing that their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52), making it difficult for them to grasp the meaning behind His teaching, Jesus made it plain and simple.

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

This less-than-flattering list is similar to one found in Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

These ungodly, unholy, and unrighteous actions are not the result of unwashed hands but an unregenerate heart. Man’s heart is wicked and controlled by his sinful nature. It is not the byproduct of poor living conditions, improper hygiene, insufficient education, or the failure to keep a set of religious rules.

James reminds us that “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-16 NLT). The prophet Jeremiah adds, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

So, Jesus was trying to communicate a deep and abiding truth regarding the nature of man’s sinful state. No amount of ritual cleansing was going to solve the problem. The Pharisees could cleanse the outside of “the cup,” but they would be missing the real problem. Like all men, they were suffering from a serious heart condition that was untreatable by human means. Even their strict adherence to the laws of Moses and their faithful keeping of the traditions of the fathers could do nothing to render their hearts holy and acceptable to God.

And as Paul would later tell the Galatian believers, “it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Galatians 3:11 NLT).

This was news to the disciples and it went against everything they had been taught as young boys receiving training in the local synagogue. Jesus was letting them know that the problem of sin was far greater and more pervasive than they realized. Man’s defilement and condemnation before God was an internal problem, not an external one, and there would be only one solution. And He was standing right in front of them.

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

Convicted and Conflicted

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:14-29 ESV

Right in the middle of his recounting of Jesus’ commissioning and sending of the 12 disciples on their first official missionary journey, Mark decides to insert the story of the death of John the Baptist. At first glance, his placement of this event at this particular part of his gospel narrative seems rather odd and out of place. But it provides an important insight into the overall atmosphere surrounding Jesus and His ministry.

Jesus had warned His 12 disciples that they would encounter a wide range of reactions as they preached and performed miracles throughout Galilee. Some would gladly receive them, while others would refuse to have anything to do with them. While the reputation of Jesus had spread throughout the region, there was still a great deal of confusion and even conflict over His identity. Some believed Him to be their long-anticipated Messiah. Others concluded that He must be a prophet sent by God, with some declaring that He was actually Elijah. According to the book of 2 Kings, Elijah did not die but was taken up to heaven by God (2 Kings 2:11-12). So, some assumed that Elijah had simply reappeared on earth.

Then there was the rumor that Jesus was actually the resurrected John the Baptist. And this is why Mark chose to insert the story of John’s death at this point in his narrative. In order for the rumor regarding John’s return to make sense, Mark had to explain how John had died. Mark’s last mention of John the Baptist was all the way back in chapter 1.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

In that same chapter, Mark recounts how John baptized Jesus, but then he never mentions him again until this point. The apostle John revealed that John the Baptist knew his ministry and mission were short-term in nature. He had been given the divine privilege to announce the coming of the Messiah. But once Jesus appeared on the scene, John the Baptist knew his job was done. He even rejoiced in the diminishing nature of his role.

“I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” – John 3:29-30 NLT

But John the Baptist didn’t just hang up his camel-hair coat and retire. He was decommissioned by God. And Mark provides the details concerning his fate. In order for Mark to explain why people assumed that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead, he had to reveal how Mark died in the first place. And as the story makes clear, John’s death was tragic and unexpected.

It’s at this point that Mark introduces us to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch over Galilee and Perea. Herod was the Roman-appointed ruler over these northern regions of Israel. Mark refers to Herod as a king, which was not uncommon in that day. But Herod was not a descendant of David and was not recognized by most Jews as the official king of Israel. He was little more than a puppet king, who served at the discretion of Caesar. And this pseudo-sovereign will end up playing a significant role in the life of Jesus as the story unfolds.

Herod was a particularly wicked man who coveted power and would do anything to solidify and maintain his lofty position. He was one of the sons of Herod the Great, who ruled over Israel when Jesus was born. At the death of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and his brother, Philip, were appointed by the Romans to rule over a portion of their father’s former lands. In a sense, these two brothers became competitors, with each vying for the favor of Caesar and hoping to expand and solidify their power and influence. The Jewish historian, Josephus records how Herod Antipas fell in love with his brother’s wife, Herodias. He ended up divorcing his own wife and convinced Herodias to leave Philip and marry him instead. This kind of behavior by a “king” of Israel was unacceptable and John the Baptist had publicly called out Herod for this and other indiscretions.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

John the Baptist had publicly accused Herod of violating God’s laws concerning divorce and remarriage.

“It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” – Matthew 14:4 NLT

But his outspoken criticism of this powerful man resulted in his imprisonment. Herod had heard enough from John and decided to have him silenced by locking him away.

And we know from Matthew’s gospel, that this turn of events left John confused and questioning the very nature of Jesus’ identity. He began to have second thoughts about whether Jesus was who he had thought Him to be. He even sent some of his disciples for clarification.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” – Matthew 11:2-3 NLT

John had fully believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But his sudden and unexpected imprisonment seems to have caught him off guard. Perhaps John did not think things were supposed to end this way. If Jesus was the  King of Israel, would He not defeat the Romans and remove Herod from power? John was having a difficult time reconciling his imprisonment with his belief that Jesus was the anointed one of God. But all of this was part of God’s sovereign plan. In His wisdom and according to His providential will, God had orchestrated all the events surrounding John’s life. Without realizing it, John was living out his very statement, “I must become less and less.” Little did John know that he would end up sacrificing his own life so there would be no chance of his ministry distracting from that of Jesus. His role had been that of a herald, declaring the news of the Messiah’s arrival. But now that Jesus was here, John’s job was complete and God was going to call him home.

John’s death reveals volumes about the decadence and immoral nature of Herod and his stolen wife. This woman was furious with John over his humiliating comments about her and she longed to see him dead. And when she discovered that her husband had imprisoned John, she began to scheme how she might take advantage of the situation and ensure that John never left the prison alive. Her chance came when Herod threw himself a lavish birthday party to which he invited “his court officials, military commanders, and leaders of Galilee” (Mark 6:21 NLT). Part of the night’s entertainment was a dance performed by his own step-daughter, Salome. It seems likely that this young girl was put up to this by her mother. It was all part of a carefully orchestrated plot to do away with John the Baptist. Pleased by Salome’s dancing, Herod offered her a reward,

“Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” He swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” – Mark 6:22-23 NLT

When Salome asked her mother for advice, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herodias saw her opportunity to seek revenge and took full advantage of it. She knew that Herod would have to keep his word, having made his brash and unwise offer in the hearing of all his guests. And, reluctantly, Herod gave in to Salome’s strange request. He immediately ordered John’s execution and had his head placed on a platter and presented to his stepdaughter as a reward for her dancing. And ultimately, the gruesome gift made its way to Herodias.

And this brings Mark’s little diversion full circle. The death of John the Baptist must have haunted Herod for some time. Because when he heard all the rumors about Jesus, he began to question whether John had returned from the dead.

“John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” – Mark 6:26 NLT

This statement is filled with fear and foreboding. Herod must have had nightmares about what he had done to John. He had ordered the execution of a man who had simply spoken the truth. Herod had been a convert to Judaism and knew that his marriage to Herodias was unlawful. All that John had said had been true. And yet, due to his own pride and arrogance, Herod had made a rash vow and unintentionally sealed the fate of this innocent man. Now, he was having to live with the consequences.

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

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

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

A Sinner Condemned and Unclean

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.  Mark 1:35-45 ESV

Mark has clearly established that Jesus exuded a certain power and authority that revealed itself in His words and actions. When spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people took notice, but when He cast out the demon, they were blown away. Jesus simply spoke a word of command and the demon was forced to leave the man he had been tormenting. The same thing happened when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. With nothing more than a spoken word, Jesus exorcised her debilitating fever and restored her to health.

But in today’s verses, Mark provides a glimpse into the source behind Jesus’ power and authority. After a very full day of activities, Jesus rose very early the next morning, well before dawn. It is likely that His disciples were still fast asleep when Jesus rose and “went out to an isolated place to pray” (Mark 1:35 NLT).

Mark provides no details concerning Jesus’ destination or the content of His prayer.  But this early-morning excursion by Jesus reveals His intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father and His desire for fellowship and instruction. We know from the four gospels that Jesus made a habit of getting alone with His Father. He regularly sought the companionship of the Father and, in doing so, revealed His humble dependence upon His Father’s will. Jesus repeatedly expressed His complete reliance upon God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 NLT

“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.”  – John 5:30 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” – John 12:49-50 NLT

Jesus, the Son of God, regularly sought time alone with God, but not just for fellowship. He also sought to know the Father’s will. Isaiah provided a Spirit-inspired, prophetic glimpse into this unique relationship between the Father and His Son.

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
    so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened. – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Mark gives no indication as to how long Jesus was gone but by the time His disciples woke up, they began to wonder where He was. They immediately began a search for Him, and when they found Him they inquired as to where He had been. This scene is reminiscent of one recorded in the gospel of Luke. It took place in Jerusalem when Jesus was only 12-years-old. He had made a trip to the capital city with the rest of His family for the annual Feast of Passover. But when the feast was over and His family had begun their return trip home, they discovered Jesus was missing. So, they returned to Jerusalem, and three days later they finally found Jesus at the temple, “sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46 NLT).

When Mary and Joseph expressed their frustration and concern to Jesus, He responded, “But why did you need to search?…Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NLT). This was actually a Hebrew idiom that could best be translated, “Didn’t you know that I must be in the [things] of my Father?” Even at 12-years-of-age, Jesus was seeking those things that concerned His Father. And more than 17 years later, Jesus was still seeking to be “in the things of” His Father.

Upon finding Jesus, the disciples informed Him, ““Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37 ESV). Jesus was in great demand. But while the disciples and the crowds were desperately seeking Jesus, He had been spending some much-needed time alone with God.

This time, Jesus didn’t explain His actions, but simply replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came” (Mark 1:38 NLT). Notice that Jesus puts the emphasis on preaching. This ties directly back to what Mark wrote in verses 14-15.

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

It was for this reason that Jesus had been sent to earth by His Father. He would spend just over three years declaring the Good News of God’s Kingdom and then offer His own life as the atoning sacrifice that would make it possible for sinful men and women to enter into that Kingdom.

It’s interesting to note how Mark describes what happened next: “So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 NLT). He describes Jesus as preaching the Good News but also casting out demons. Jesus was declaring the coming of God’s Kingdom while, at the same time, singlehandedly and systematically dismantling the kingdom of Satan. In a sense, Jesus was telegraphing the future impact and import of His coming death. With His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus would destroy Satan’s monopoly over the lives of men. The apostle Paul put it this way:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

While Mark indicates that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee preaching in synagogues and casting our demons, the first miracle he describes Jesus performing involves a leper, not a demon. This man, who was obviously a Jew, suffered from a horrible disease that left him in pain and agony but also ostracized him from his faith community. Lepers were considered ceremonially unclean and the very visible symptoms of the disease would have made him an object of scorn and derision.

But this man made his way to Jesus, expressing his desperate need for help and his firm belief that Jesus could heal him.

“If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” – Mark 1:40 NLT

Mark provides no explanation for this man’s remarkable expression of faith. It is most likely that news of Jesus’ healing power had spread to his community and this man saw in Jesus a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be freed from his disfiguring and, ultimately, deadly disease.

And with great specificity, Mark describes what happened next:

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” – Mark 1:41 NLT

Jesus probably saw in this man a tangible illustration of every Israelite’s predicament. In a real sense, they were all unclean and condemned to a life of permanent separation. But, unlike this man, their separation was spiritual and left them alienated from God. They carried about them the scars and mars of their sins, which made them unacceptable and unclean to a holy and righteous God. And like the leper, there was nothing they could do to help themselves. But Jesus had compassion. He cared.

And this time, rather than just speak, Jesus reached out and touched. In spite of the man’s condition, Jesus willingly and deliberately touched the man. According to the law, this action would have rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean. But He was willing to take that risk. In a sense, Jesus took on the man’s leprosy and left the man with wholeness. Once again, this foreshadows what Jesus would accomplish with His death on the cross.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows… – Isaiah 53:4 BSB

And Mark reveals that the man’s condition was changed instantaneously.

Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. – Mark 1:42 NLT

And Jesus commanded the man to tell no one but to go straight to the temple where he was to seek confirmation of his healing from the priest. Then he was to present a thanks offering. According to the Mosaic law, it was required that a leper be examined and declared free of the disease before he or she could be restored to fellowship within the community. Jesus also warned the man to refrain from telling anyone about what had happened. This may come across as a rather strange and unnecessary command but when the man violated it, it is easy to see why Jesus gave it in the first place. Of course, no one can blame the man for his enthusiasm and excitement. He wanted everyone to know that he had been healed and was absolutely clean for the first time in a long time.

But as the news of his healing spread, the crowds grew, forcing Jesus to take His ministry outside the crowded confines of the cities. But His relocation did little to stop the steady flow of people seeking healing, help, and hope.

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