The Inextinguishable Light

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 ESV

The cross is one of the most recognizable symbols in all of human history. And its image conjures up all kinds of emotions and associations. For some, it elicits a strong sense of reverence and veneration. Yet others are repulsed by the sight of it, seeing in its simple form a sinister reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And there are those who view the cross as an archaic religious icon that no longer holds any relevance in the more complicated and scientifically sophisticated age of post-modernity.

Yet, over the centuries, the cross has left a lasting and indelible impact on the lives of countless millions and continues to do so to this day. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John, the one who recorded those words, added the explanatory note: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV). Jesus was clearly predicting that His death would have long-lasting and life-altering implications. And it began the very day He was crucified.

This beaten and bloodied Rabbi from Nazareth hung helplessly on the cross as a wooden placard placed above His head proclaimed His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV). Jesus was being executed for being exactly who He had claimed to be: The Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. He was the long-awaited seed of Abraham and the son of David. He was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that had predicted the coming Messiah and He was the divine culmination of every promise God had made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. And yet, on that fateful day in the city of Jerusalem, the Son of God and Savior of the world hung between heaven and earth, nailed to a wooden cross. He had been beaten, spit upon, slapped, and mercilessly mocked. The skin on His back had been laid open by the sharp pieces of bone and metal attached to the flagellum or whip that was used to flog Him. He had endured the excruciating pain of having His wrists and feet pierced by the large iron spikes that were used to nail Him to the cross. And then for hours, He had been put on display and subjected to the ongoing mockery of the onlookers.

those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” – Matthew 27:39-40 ESV

So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:31-32 ESV

And as Jesus endured the pain of the cross and the unrelenting insults of His enemies, He could see below Him, the soldiers who callously gambled over His garments. Then suddenly, at Noon, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). Inexplicably and unexpectedly, the brightness of day was replaced by the darkness of night. This disconcerting cosmic display got everyone’s attention. But few would have understood the relevance of the moment, except John, the one disciple who had faithfully stayed by his Master’s side all throughout His painful ordeal. John records in his gospel account how Jesus had placed upon him the responsibility for caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. – John 19:26-27 ESV

And as John stood at the base of the cross and watched the light fade, he must have recalled the words that Jesus had spoken.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

And years later, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would open his gospel with the statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV). Yet, on the day that Jesus was crucified, he must have seen the sudden appearance of darkness as an ominous sign. The one who had declared Himself to be the light of the world was suddenly plunged into darkness and, from John’s perspective, all hope must have drained from His heart. The Light of the world was about to be extinguished – forever. Or so he must have thought. As John looked up at the cross, with tears streaming from his eyes, he heard what he believed to be the final words he would ever hear from his Master’s lips.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46 ESV

And then, Jesus died. The Light went out.

Yet even in death, Jesus made an impression. There at the foot of the cross stood a Roman centurion. We are not told his name or whether he was on official duty that day. But for some reason, he was struck by the injustice of all that he had observed, and declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV). But even more surprisingly, this pagan military commander praised Yahweh, the God of Israel. What would have possessed him to do such a thing? Could it be that this was the same Centurion whom Jesus had encountered in the city of Capernaum sometime earlier? Luke recorded that scene in chapter seven of his gospel account and revealed how this pagan military leader had approached Jesus with a request. His servant was sick and in need of healing. When Jesus had agreed to come to the Centurion’s house, the man had responded, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:6-7 NLT). And having heard this man’s humble statement, Jesus declared that his servant had been healed. Then He declared, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT).

Perhaps this Centurion had received orders to bring his troops to Jerusalem to help manage the large crowds arriving for the Passover. And while he was there he heard about the arrest of Jesus and Pilate’s order to have Jesus crucified. This man had once told Jesus, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it” (Luke 7:7-8 NLT). Now, he had just witnessed Jesus doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He had heard Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). And putting two and two together, the Centurion realized that this man truly was the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father.

Whoever this Centurion was, his life was changed. We are not told what happened to him but it seems safe to assume that he walked away transformed by what he had seen. Even in the darkness of that moment, the Light still shone forth, illuminating the heart of a hardened Roman Centurion. And he praised God.

But not far from the very spot where the Centurion stood praising the God of Israel, the followers of Jesus looked on in sadness and hopelessness. Their Messiah was dead. Their dreams had been shattered. The darkness of the moment enveloped them like a flood, and they found themselves drowning in sorrow and self-pity as the stark reality of their circumstances began to sink in. From their perspective, the Light had gone out. But what they failed to understand was that the Light, while temporarily dimmed, had not been overcome.

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 Powerful, Parenthetical Statement

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:33-43 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated part of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum upon which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation for the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt that sinful men owed to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and the subsequent separation from God for all eternity would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hope of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of painters, sculptures, and artisans. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). And Luke adds, “they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Luke 23:33 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this aspect of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance, that the deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements each of them makes to Jesus while they are being crucified, these men seem to be little more than side notes in this grand drama.

And yet the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their descriptions of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that they were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. Don’t overlook the scene as it is presented by the gospel writers. On either side of Jesus was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? It is because this scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying as a substitute for their sins and the sins of all mankind. In a sense, these two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus, the focal point of all human history, located between them.

One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, shouts at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, cries out, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two distinctly different responses to the Savior in their midst.

All three men were being executed for the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had displayed the audacity and arrogance to declare Himself as divine. And they found His boasts unthinkable and unacceptable. 

But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent. Even the words inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus were intended to describe His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

John records that the words on this placard had been placed there by the command of Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained, and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death, and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being who He claimed to be: The King of the Jews. He was dying because He was the Savior of the world. He was dying in order to save the world. He was sinless, and yet He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless, and yet He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

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

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is no coincidence that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus, and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s the way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees the suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired in sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 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

Unexpected and Undeserving Guests

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” – Luke 14:15-24 ESV

At least one of the guests who heard Jesus’ parable about the wedding feast seemed to understand that He was actually talking about the kingdom of God. Perhaps he was only trying to show off his own spiritual savviness in front of the other learned and well-respected guests. He wanted everyone to know that he understood the meaning behind the parable. But did he?

His comment, while intended to make him sound erudite and informed, was actually missing the whole point of Jesus’ lesson. His rather innocuous statement probably had everyone in the room shaking their head in agreement, except Jesus.

“What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” – Luke 14:15 NLT

His words have an air of pompousness about them. In a sense, he is subtly including himself in the list of those who will be fortunate enough to be a guest at the table of God. He fully expects to be invited to dine with God Almighty in His Kingdom. After all, he had been on the guest list to attend the dinner party put on by the ruler of the Pharisees, so it only made sense that he would be one of the fortunate few to break bread with God.

It seems obvious that this man was not one of “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13 NLT) that Jesus had mentioned. He was most likely a well-respected member of the community, even perhaps a fellow Pharisee. This man was not from the lower rungs of the societal pecking order. Yet, Jesus had said that someone who truly loved God and others would invite the lowly and the despised to be guests at their dinner.

But this unidentified man seemed to believe that God had reserved seats at His banquet for those who had earned their way into His good graces. Like the Pharisees and scribes reclining around the table beside him, this man was convinced that he was one of those who had been blessed by God. He was self-assured and confident that there was a place reserved for him at God’s table. But Jesus used another parable to expose the flaws in the man’s logic.

“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’” – Luke 14:16 NLT

The man in the story is meant to represent God, while the servant is intended to play the part of Jesus, the faithful servant. Formal invitations have been sent out in advance to a select list of guests, inviting them to join the host for a wonderful feast. It seems from the context of the story, that no date had been given for the feast. So, when all the preparations were complete and the day of feasting finally arrived, the man sent out his servant to gather all the invited guests.

“But they all began making excuses.” – Luke 14:18 NLT

Jesus does not provide any kind of timeline for His story, so it’s impossible to know how much time had passed between the sending of the invitations and the announcement by the servant. Yet it appears that the invited guests had all but forgotten about the banquet. They had made other plans. And those excuses for not attending the feast ran the gamut.

“One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” – Luke 14:18-20 NLT

All three guests mention changes in their life circumstances. While the man had been busy preparing his elaborate feast, these people had gone on with their lives. One had purchased a tract of land. Another had acquired a team of oxen with which to plow his fields. And finally, another had “bought” himself a wife. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, a groom was expected to provide compensation to the bride’s father.

In biblical times, mohar (מֹהַר), whereby the groom bought his wife from her father (Gen. 24:53; Ex. 22:15–16; Hos. 3:2), was the accepted practice. It was then customary that the groom give the bride gifts, and that she bring certain property to her husband’s home upon marriage: slaves, cattle, real estate, etc. (cf. Gen. 24:59–61; 29; Judg. 1:14ff.; I Kings 9:16).

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

So, in all three cases, these men had made some kind of financial investment that prevented them from honoring the invitation they had received. In a sense, they allowed their recent procurements to take precedence over the feast.

It was the faithful servant who was tasked with informing the invited guests that the long-awaited day of the feast had arrived. He went from home to home informing them of the exciting news, but his words were met with nothing but excuses. No one accepted his invitation to the feast. And this part of the story must have left Jesus’ audience dumbfounded. They would have been appalled by the audacity of anyone who refused an invitation to what was obviously a significant event put on by an extremely wealthy and influential person. But what they failed to realize was that Jesus was talking about them. They were the invited guests in the story. They had received an invitation from God to join Him at the great feast in the kingdom.

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His treasured possession. He had set them apart as His own and had blessed them with His law, the sacrificial system, and the covenant promises. The apostle Paul, a Jew and a former Pharisee, clearly articulated the unique status enjoyed by the Jews, God’s chosen people.

They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them his law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 9:4-5 NLT

And Paul went on to describe how the Israelites had turned down God’s invitation to rest in His power and provision.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. – Romans 9:31-32 NLT

Rather than trusting in Him, they had put all their hope in their ability to “purchase” their good standing with Him through good deeds. In a sense, they were turning down God’s invitation to the future banquet and filling their lives with the temporal pleasures of this world. Paul went on to explain:

For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. – Romans 10:3-4 NLT

And, in His story, Jesus reveals that the host was furious with the unacceptable behavior of His ungrateful guests. So, the son was sent out again, this time to scour the streets of the city, in search of “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21 NLT). He was to extend an invitation to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), offering them an opportunity to dine with his father at the great feast.

The son did as he was told, but when he had completed the task he informed his father, “There is still room for more” (Luke 14:22 NLT). So, the father instructed him to go out and search for others, until every seat in the banquet hall was filled. And the father warned that all those who had turned down the original invitation would find themselves on the outside looking in.

“For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 NLT

And Jesus had made a similar statement after observing the faith of a Roman centurion. He declared, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Matthew 8:10 NLT), and then He added:

“I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:11-12 NLT

The Pharisees and scribes reclining at the table with Jesus had made it clear that they were not fans of His. They refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They categorically denied any claim He had to be the Son of God. They were the guests who had received an invitation to the banquet, but who refused to listen to the words of the faithful servant. Instead, they came up with excuses. They decided to go on with the everyday affairs of life, dismissing the gracious invitation of the Host and ignoring the pleas of His Son. And, as a result, rather than being blessed to eat bread in the kingdom of God, they would find themselves as permanent outcasts from His presence.

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

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

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

The City and the Savior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stronger Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly Blessed

21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Luke 10:21-24 ESV

Jesus has just delivered a blistering indictment against the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and reminded His followers to put the hope of eternal life, not the temporal signs of His kingdom. But now, he turns His attention to to heaven. While His disciples continued to wrestle with the weight of His previous words of condemnation, Jesus spoke words of adoration and gratitude to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, whom He boldly refers to as His Father. This last designation would have seemed odd to the Jews in Jesus’ audience. This highly intimate appellation that Jesus used to refer to God was not common among the Jews. They viewed Abraham as their father and God as their sovereign Lord and ruler. Yet, Jesus blended the two titles together, declaring Himself to be the Son of the God who is Lord of heaven and earth. And Jesus made the nature of this Father/Son relationship quite clear in verse 27.

My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. – Luke 10:22 NLT

Jesus didn’t just refer to God as “the” Father, but as “my” father. And the close relationship between the two of them was like none other on earth. Remember, Jesus had just condemned the three Galilean cities for their rejection of Him as the Messiah. They had been eyewitnesses to His miracles and had heard the message of repentance, but had refused to accept Him as who He claimed to be. And yet, here is Jesus declaring that He has had divine authority granted to Him as the one and only Son of God.

The inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum stood condemned for having failed to recognize and receive Jesus as God’s Son and their own Savior. He had come to release them from their captivity to sin by paying the penalty of death that hung over each and every one of them. But they saw no need for what Jesus was offering, which is why He refered to them as “the wise and understanding” (Matthew 11:25 ESV). In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and already enjoyed a privileged relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth.

In fact, at a later point in His ministry, Jesus would confront the Jews regarding their false and highly flawed understanding of their relationship with God. The apostle John records that Jesus declared that those who were His true disciples would listen to His words and keep them. And Jesus promised His disciples, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT).

But the Jews, offended by Jesus’ words, had responded, “But we are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33 NLT).

And this is where Jesus dropped a bombshell on His predominantly Jewish audience, exploding their preconceived notions of ethnic privilege and religious piety.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” – John 8:34-38 NLT

Here, in John’s gospel, Jesus is declaring Himself to be the Son of God and fully authorized to offer them freedom from enslavement to sin and its accompanying penalty of death. He fully acknowledges that they are descendants of Abraham, but that will not be enough to save them from the divine punishment awaiting them for their rebellion against God. Jesus infers that their rejection of Him and the determination of the religious leaders to kill Him comes from Satan, not God. But they boldly claim, “Our father is Abraham!” (John 8:39 NLT).

But Jesus contradicts their assertion.

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” – John 8:40-41 NLT

They were blind to the truth. And the apostle Paul explains why.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

They were blind to the truth that could set them free. And oddly, Jesus thanks His Father “hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike” (Luke 10:21 NLT). The self-righteous and self-confident were unable to grasp the truth concerning what Jesus had come to do. But the childlike; those who were needy, dependent, and lacking any pretense of self-achieved righteousness, were able to recognize and receive the great gift being offered to them by Jesus.

There is an aspect to Jesus’ words that makes many of us uncomfortable. He seems to indicate that not all who hear His words will accept them. In fact, He clearly states, “no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22 NLT). He is presenting Himself as the sole point of access to God. And He later reinforced the exclusivity of His role when He stated: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

Knowledge about God was not going to be enough. Jesus came to offer a restored relationship with God. The Jews had failed to worship God faithfully. Their entire history is riddled with stories of spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. And Jesus will later indict them once again for their misplaced confidence in their position as God’s treasured possession.

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Jesus knew that the Jews in His audience were putting all their hope in their identity rather than His. Yet, their self-righteousness would prove insufficient. Their over-confident trust in their status as descendants of Abraham would leave them disappointed and undeserving of God’s grace. They were going to have to come to a place of need and dependence. They would have to recognize their own insufficiency and their need for a Savior other than self.

And Luke records that Jesus turned to His disciples and offered them a personal word of encouragement.

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you have seen. I tell you, many prophets and kings longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.” – Luke 10:22-23 NLT

He wanted His 12 disciples to understand the unique privilege they enjoyed as His followers. They had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the arrival of the Messiah, the King of Israel. The prophets had all written about the coming of the anointed one of Israel, but none of them had lived long enough to witness His arrival. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would “to bring good news to the poor… bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1 ESV). But Isaiah had died long before Jesus began to fulfill the words of that prophesy.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t realize it but they were part of the vanguard of those who would make up the coming kingdom. They were eyewitnesses to the power and glory of God as exhibited through the life of His Son. They were being given the opportunity to witness a never-before-seen event in human history: The long-awaited arrival of the Savior of the world. And while they didn’t fully grasp the significance of Jesus’ identity or the scope of the coming kingdom, they were truly blessed. And in time, they would discover the unbelievable nature of their kingdom citizenship.

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

Identity Crisis

18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:18-22 ESV

After recounting the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, Luke jumps ahead in his narrative to a scene that took place sometime later. A comparison with the other synoptic gospels reveals that Luke chose to skip over a series of other significant events that occurred before Jesus had this important conversation with His disciples. It seems that Luke was attempting to focus on the questions surrounding Jesus’ identity. It began with Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was perplexed by all the rumors he had heard concerning Jesus. One of the most concerning conclusions he had heard was that Jesus was actually the resurrected John the Baptist. That prospect would not have thrilled Herod since he was the one who had ordered John’s beheading.

There were others who were speculating that Jesus was actually the prophet Elijah. They were basing their conjecture on the prophecy recorded by Malachi.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

Another rumor circulating among the people was that Jesus was “one of the other prophets risen from the dead” (Luke 9:8 NLT). But as all these wild opinions filtered into Herod’s palace, he was left with a perplexing question:

“…who is this about whom I hear such things? – Luke 9:9 ESV

That same question filled the minds of many of those who were present at the feeding of the 5,000. They too were perplexed by this Rabbi from Nazareth. His miracles and messages intrigued them, but they were having difficulty comprehending exactly who He was. It should not be overlooked that the rumors and speculations of the people did not include Jesus being the Messiah. In fact, when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18 ESV), they too omitted any mention of Jesus being the Messiah. 

And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” – Luke 9:19 ESV

Despite the many miracles Jesus had performed, it seems that the people were not ready to crown Him as their new king. They fully recognized that there was something supernatural and other-worldly about Jesus, but He did not meet their long-held expectations concerning the Messiah. Jesus didn’t look like a conquering king. He obviously had power, but he lacked an army. He was an impressive orator, but He wouldn’t be able to talk the Romans into surrendering. In their minds, Jesus appeared to be much more like an Old Testament prophet than their long-awaited Messiah. After all, He had shown up on the scene preaching a message of repentance, and He had performed miracles much like Elijah and the other prophets had done. So, they concluded that Jesus must be the opening act for the main attraction. Since He didn’t act in a messianic manner, they assumed He must have been sent to prepare the way for the Messiah.

As always, Jesus was most concerned with the thoughts of His 12 disciples. He had chosen these men for a reason and was heavily vested in their training and preparation for the future. So, when they had answered His question, Jesus focused His attention on them, asking, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20 ESV).

These men had spent their every waking minute with Jesus. They had seen every one of His miracles and had heard all of His messages. They enjoyed intimate access to Jesus and the privilege of hearing Him explain some of His more cryptic parables. So, Jesus wanted to know who they perceived Him to be. What was their conclusion regarding His identity? And the ever-impulsive Peter was the first to respond.

“The Christ of God.” – Luke 9:20 ESV

The term “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” Peter was confessing that Jesus was the Messiah. And in his gospel account, Mathew records that Peter added the further description: “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples, acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah but also the Son of God. His words revealed a level of understanding and insight that the rest of the people did not share. But Matthew lets us know that Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own. Jesus reveals that Peter had received divine insight from God the Father.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 16:17 ESV

God had opened Peter’s partially blinded eyes so that he could see the truth of who Jesus was. This statement from the lips of Peter was like an unexpected epiphany. Even as the words came out of his mouth, Peter must have wondered whether he truly believed them. And He would go on to reveal that his understanding of who Jesus was and what He had come to do was still cloudy and indistinct. He would continue to wrestle with the weight of his own words and the expectations of his own heart. But the time would come when he and his fellow disciples would see everything clearly and distinctly.

This confession earned Peter a blessing from Jesus and yet, Jesus warned the disciples to keep this news to themselves.

he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. – Matthew 16:20 NET

Luke adds, “he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one” (Luke 9:21 ESV). But why? What prompted Jesus to command His disciples not to disclose His true identity to the people? If He was the Messiah of Israel, why would He not want everyone to know?

It all had to do with expectations. Jesus knew that the Israelites were longing for the coming of the Messiah, but their understanding of the Messiah’s role was misguided. They had been raised to believe that the Messiah would come as a conquering king and a powerful military figure who would set them free from their oppressive Roman overlords. Even the 12 disciples were hoping and praying that Jesus was the kind of Messiah they had been taught to expect. It’s likely that Peter hoped his confession would prompt Jesus to get down to business. It was time to stop performing miracles and delivering messages. Like the rest of his companions, Peter wanted Jesus to start acting like a Messiah.

But what Peter failed to understand was that Jesus came to suffer and die, not rule and reign. He had come to sacrifice His life so that they might be freed from their captivity to sin and death. Little did they know that their real problem was not the presence of the Romans but the pervading presence of sin in their lives. Their enemy was not a foreign power but their own fallen natures. And Jesus disclosed to them the part of His mission they had failed to understand.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22 ESV

We know from Matthew’s account, that Peter did not take this news well.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

Peter was appalled by Jesus’ disclosure. He found it so reprehensible and unacceptable that he basically vowed to keep it from happening. And Jesus delivered a stern rebuke to His impulsive, yet well-meaning disciple.

“Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Peter did not realize that his rash response reflected a total disregard for the will of God. In a matter of seconds, he had gone from speaking under the influence of God to contradicting the very will of God. He had let his own personal opinion and perspective get in the way. Peter had preconceived agenda for the Messiah and it did not match that of God Almighty. None of the disciples had a concept of the Messiah as a suffering servant. They had no need for a martyred Messiah. What good would a rejected and murdered Messiah do for their dreams of national deliverance and personal prominence?

But Jesus was beginning to reveal the true nature of His incarnation. He was disclosing the part of His coming that they had failed to comprehend. And even as Jesus began to open their eyes to the reality of His mission, they were unable to hear the most important part. He clearly told them that He would die but be raised again on the third day, but all they heard was the bad news. His disclosure regarding His coming resurrection went in one ear and out the other. And these men would continue to wrestle with the news that their Messiah was destined to suffer and die. They had no way of knowing that Jesus’ glorification as the Messiah must be preceded by His humiliation and execution. His death would be the key to eternal life. His sacrifice would result in deliverance. And His ultimate victory would be over sin and death, not the Romans. But Peter and his companions still had a lot to learn.

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

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

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

Free Indeed

26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. – Luke 8:26-39 ESV

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

The disciples, exhausted from all the rowing and bailing of water they had done during the storm, were probably glad to be on dry land. But before they had time to relax, they found themselves in yet another tense and potentially dangerous situation. Luke records that as soon as Jesus stepped out of the boat, “there met him a man from the city who had demons” (Luke 8:27 ESV). On this occasion, there are no crowds of people eager to watch Jesus perform yet another miracle. There are no scribes or Pharisees dogging His steps and anxiously seeking evidence to use against Him. 

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

Luke provides a rather brief description of the man whom Jesus and the disciples encountered upon their arrival in the country of the Gerasenes.

For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. – Luke 8:27 ESV

Mark describes the man in greater detail, in an effort to help his readers understand the violent nature of the situation.

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

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

As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. – Luke 8:28 ESV

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

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

Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Luke 8:287 ESV

Whatever spark of humanity remained in this man was overwhelmed by the presence and power of the demonic forces that had taken up residence within him. And Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew what was wrong as soon as He saw the man. He didn’t need to hear the demon speak to know that the man was possessed. In fact, according to Luke’s account, “Jesus had already commanded the evil spirit to come out of him.” (Luke 8:29 NLT). It seems that as soon as the man had kneeled before Him, Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8 ESV). And it was this forceful command that had led the demon to speak up.

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

Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, for he was filled with many demons. – Luke 8:30 NLT

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

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

Neither Luke or Mark provide any details regarding this man’s past. We don’t know how he came to be possessed or how long he had suffered under this condition. But his circumstances were aggravated by the presence of many demons. Yet, as plentiful and powerful as these demonic forces may have been, they were no match for Jesus, and they knew it. They begged Jesus not to cast them out, and they allude to the fact that they knew a day would come when God would punish them. They were fully aware that their days were numbered, but had no desire to suffer their future fate prematurely.

The demons kept begging Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit. – Luke 8:31 NLT

According to Peter, the bottomless pit is the place where those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God were confined.

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness… – 2 Peter 2:4 NLT

The Greek word that is translated as “hell” is actually tartarus and can be better translated as “abyss.” It is not hell, but a holding place for demons and the place where Satan will be confined during the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:7-10). These demons, who have enjoyed the freedom to roam the earth, tormenting human beings, do not want to be confined in the abyss. And it’s interesting to note that, according to Mark, the demon(s) pleaded with Jesus not to send them there, and they did so by the name of God.

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

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

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

Fearing the worst, the demons beg Jesus to allow them to leave the man and possess a herd of swine. It seems that their greatest fear was that Jesus would consign them to their future fate too soon. Rather than having to face eternal torment, they begged that Jesus would let them take up residence in the pigs. And when Jesus agreed to their request, the results were immediate. The pigs, two thousand in number (Mark 5:13), suddenly possessed by demons, hurled themselves off a nearby cliff. As Jesus had alluded to in His address to the scribes and Pharisees, a dispossessed demon is left to wander until it can find another soul to possess. These demons would be forced to seek out another host to torment.

But Luke indicates that after Jesus cast the demons out of this men, he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35 ESV). He had been radically transformed. So much so, that when Jesus prepared to leave, the man begged that he might be allowed to go with Him. But Jesus had other plans.

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” – Luke 8:39 ESV

And the man obeyed the words of Jesus, immediately setting off, “proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39 ESV). And he had his work cut out for him because the people from a nearby town were upset at what Jesus had done to their herd of swine. They even begged Jesus to leave, fearing that He might do more damage.

It’s interesting to note that Luke refers to several different times in this story where Jesus was approached by those who begged or pleaded with Him. The first instance was when the demons begged (parakaleō) Jesus not to torment them. The second is when they begged Jesus not to cast them out of the country, but allow them to possess the swine. The third was when the townspeople begged Jesus to leave the region. And the fourth and final instance was when the man begged Jesus to allow him to become His disciple. It’s interesting to note that everyone got exactly what they requested from Jesus, except the man. The demons were cast into the swine just as they had asked. Jesus ended up leaving the region, just as the townspeople had requested. But the man was not allowed to go with Jesus. Instead, he was given a commission to carry the news of what Jesus had done: “tell them everything God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39 ESV). This formerly demon-possessed man now possessed a calling from Jesus Himself. For the first time in years, he had a purpose for his life. He had a mission to spread the good news of all that Jesus had done for Him. 

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

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

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

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

Where Is Your Faith?

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:22-25 ESV

Luke has made it quite clear that by this time in His ministry, Jesus had garnered a large following. There were people coming from all over Galilee and even as far away as Jerusalem to witness the miracles and listen to the preaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus had even attracted the attention of the Jewish religious leaders, including the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin. They were watching Him like a hawk, carefully scrutinizing everything He said and did. His growing popularity among the common people had become especially concerning to these powerful men because it threatened their power and control. Until Jesus had appeared on the scene, the Pharisees and other religious sects had enjoyed a kind of religious celebrity status. They were viewed as the spiritual superstars of their day and they had enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their elite standing among the people.

There were others who followed Jesus out of curiosity. They found Him to be intriguing and profoundly interesting, but they weren’t quite sure what to make of Him. His miracles amazed them and His preaching entertained them, but they weren’t quite ready to accept His claim to be the Son of God or the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

As news of Jesus’ miracles began to spread, the sick, diseased, disabled, and demon-possessed began to flock to Jesus like moths to a flame. They showed up in droves, some requiring the assistance of friends or family members. In Jesus, they saw hope for healing. He became a light that attracted all those who were trapped in the darkness and despair that accompanied their physical condition. They were social outcasts, forced to live in solitude and separation from their community because they were considered unclean and cursed by God. But they had heard that Jesus healed the sick, restored the lame, and even freed those who were under the control of demons – no questions asked. He had even raised the dead back to life. To these people, the debate over whether Jesus was the Messiah took a backseat to their physical and emotional needs. They were far less interested in whether Jesus had come to restore the kingdom of Israel than if He could restore them to health.

Jesus found Himself surrounded by people of all kinds and their interest in Him ran the gamut. Some were simply curious. Others were convinced that He was the Messiah they had long hoped for. Still, others were like rubber-neckers at a car wreck, hoping to witness the next confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders. To them, Jesus was a rabble-rouser and trouble maker who was upsetting the status quo and irritating the ruling elite, and they loved it.

And in the midst of this mass of different individuals with varying agendas, there were the 12 men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples. Since choosing to follow the Rabbi from Nazareth, these men had been His constant companions. They had been eyewitnesses to every miracle. They had listened to every word He had spoken, questioned the meaning of every parable He had told, and wondered why He had not yet set up His kingdom on earth. These men were committed but they were also confused. Jesus was an enigma to them. They knew He possessed great power because they had witnessed it firsthand. They were convinced that He was wise and spoke with an authority greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. And yet, they couldn’t understand why the Messiah was wasting His time up in the rural region of Galilee rather than entering Jerusalem, ousting the Romans, and restoring Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus was fully aware of His disciples’ confusion and growing consternation. He understood their frustration and knew they were anxious to see Him take His show on the road – all the way to the gates of Jerusalem. But there was much more they needed to understand. Their concept of the Messiah had been skewed by centuries of misguided expectations. They were longing for a political and military leader who would conquer Israel’s enemies and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. But Jesus seemed to be spending all His time in the backwater towns of Galilee, wasting His power on the helpless and the hopeless. When was He going to get serious about His mission to be Israel’s Messiah?

This sets up Luke’s record of Jesus’ calming of the storm. After yet another full day of performing miracles among the “least of these,” Jesus and His disciples got into a boat and began to sail to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And this little excursion was Jesus’ idea.

“Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” – Luke 8:22 ESV

Mark indicates that they began their journey at the end of the day and were accompanied by other boats. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds attempted to follow Him. And it would not be long before they realized that following Him was going to prove costly and potentially dangerous.

As the disciples guided the boat along the shore of the sea, Jesus, exhausted by the activities of the day, fell asleep. But while He slept, a storm suddenly appeared as if out of nowhere. In no time at all, the disciples found themselves battling gale-force winds that turned the sea into a boiling cauldron of waves that threatened to sink their small vessel. Luke indicates that “they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23 ESV). Despite the fact that at least four of the disciples were experienced fishermen, the severity of the storm caused these men to panic. They were in fear for their lives. So, in desperation, they decided to wake up Jesus and elicit His help.

“Master, Master, we are perishing!” – Luke 8:24 ESV

Mark reveals that they were more than a bit put out with Jesus’ apparent apathy. How could He sleep through such a life-threatening circumstance? They even questioned His concern for their well-being.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

Whether they realized it or not, these men were expressing their doubt in the goodness and compassion of the Son of God. They were accusing the Messiah of complacency and callousness. In the heat of the moment, they allowed their less-than-ideal circumstances to cloud their thinking and dictate their view of Jesus. In the midst of the storm, their faith in the Messiah evaporated and was replaced with incredulity and doubt. Without even realizing it, they had suddenly become the hopeless and the helpless. They found themselves in desperate circumstances and in need of rescue. The storm was more than they could handle and they realized they couldn’t save themselves. But notice that these men didn’t call out to Jesus in faith. Compare their response to that of the Roman centurion: “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7 ESV). Or consider the statement made by the man who suffered from the incurable disease of leprosy: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12 ESV).

The disciples express no faith in Jesus. They question His integrity and empathy. But rather than read the disciples the riot act for their faithlessness, Jesus “rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Jesus attacked the source of their doubt: The storm. They had allowed the circumstances of life to determine their faith in Jesus. As the storm raged, their faith faltered. For a brief moment, they ceased to believe in Jesus.

But notice that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves, not the disciples. He addressed the problem. He used His power to alleviate the source of their doubt. But then, He turned to His fearful and faithless disciples and asked, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV). The presence of the storm had caused an absence of faith. In the face of adversity, the disciples had displayed a lack of fidelity. Trials have a way of testing the quality of our faith. Difficulties put our faith to the test and reveal its efficacy and stability. For the disciples, the sudden storm had exposed the anemic nature of their faith. In the face of adversity, fear had replaced faith. Confronted with what appeared to be a life-threatening scenario, the disciples had displayed a fickle faith that had been blown away by the winds of the storm. 

Luke reports that they were fearful and amazed. For some reason, this episode made a greater impact on them than Jesus raising a dead man back to life. Maybe it was because this particular miracle had a personal touch to it. It was their lives that had been threatened, and the words of Jesus had suddenly turned certain death into life. And this unexpected but highly appreciated miracle left them wrestling with new questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:25 ESV

These are the same men who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But His ability to command the wind and the water left them baffled. They believed Him to be their deliverer from the Romans but were blown away to learn that He had the power to control nature. In doing so, Jesus had clearly displayed His divinity. And the disciples were not sure what to make of this powerful demonstration of Jesus’ deity. Jesus had done what only God could do, and the disciples were forced to wrestle with the implications of this mind-blowing experience. Just when they thought they knew who Jesus was, they had to rethink all their presuppositions and could only ask, “Who then is this?”

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

When Circumstances Cause Our Faith to Stumble

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:18-23 ESV

All the while Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and performing miracles, John the Baptist was locked in a dungeon, the prisoner of Herod Antipas. John had gotten himself in hot water with the Tetrarch of Galilee for having boldly confronted him about his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife.

Herod had arrested and imprisoned John as a favor to his wife Herodias (the former wife of Herod’s brother Philip). John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:3-5 NLT

During his imprisonment, John’s disciples had been keeping up with the activities of Jesus and relaying to their master all that they had seen and heard. Evidently, they had been in Nain when Jesus raised the dead man back to life and they delivered a full report on this unprecedented miracle to John. They probably included the reactions of the crowd.

“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” – Luke 7:16 ESV

But this news left John in conflict. He had clearly believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. He had declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). After his baptism of Jesus, John had confidently proclaimed, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 ESV). Yet, now John found himself locked in a prison cell and he must have wondered about the prophetic promises regarding the coming Messiah. He had plenty of time to think about how his own circumstances seemed to contradict what Isaiah had said would happen when the Messiah appeared in Israel.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. – Isaiah 61:1 ESV

As John looked around at his less-than-ideal surroundings he must have begun to have second thoughts about Jesus’ identity. During his confinement, he had become conflicted and his former confidence in who Jesus was had begun to weaken. At one point, John had boldly proclaimed his unwavering belief in Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God.

“I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” – John 3:28-36 ESV

But as John languished in prison, his certainty was shaken. So, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus with a message.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” – Luke 7:19 ESV

You can sense John’s confusion and concern. He is not denying the supernatural nature of Jesus’ miracles. But he is simply trying to reconcile what he has been told about Jesus’ activities with what he had been expecting of the Messiah. There was little doubt that Jesus had been doing Messianic-like miracles. He had fulfilled all of the prophetic predictions concerning the anointed one of God.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness. – Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV

It is easy to understand John’s conflicted state. While he knew that his role would greatly diminish with the coming of the Messiah, he had never considered that it would include his imprisonment. Like every other Jew, John was looking for a Messiah who was going to re-establish the David dynasty and return Israel to power and prominence. John was looking for the Kingdom of God on earth. And while Jesus’ miracles were impressive and provided undeniable evidence of God’s power, John seems to have been waiting for proof that Jesus was the Warrior-King who would put an end to Roman rule and reinvigorate the fortunes of God’s chosen people.

Luke indicates that when John’s disciples arrived and delivered his question to Jesus, they were treated to a demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power.

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. – Luke 7:21 NLT

Jesus seemed to be answering John’s question with visible, tangible proof. But just to make sure that the two disciples of John understood what they had seen, Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22 NLT).

Jesus provides John with a list of miracles He had performed that clearly demonstrate His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. All of these things were meant to provide evidence of His Messianic role. But it seems clear that John had been looking for something more. He had a clear expectation that the Messiah would come in judgment, delivering the wrath of God against the enemies of Israel. But Jesus would later clarify the nature of His first advent.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

Like most Jews of his day, John had conflated the predictions concerning the Messiah’s first and second comings. He had been expecting Jesus’ miracles to be followed up by military action against the Roman occupiers of Israel. He had been hoping that Jesus would use His growing popularity among the people and His divine power to lead an insurrection that would finally put an end to Israel’s misery.

But Jesus encouraged John to remain patient and not lose hope.

“…blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Luke 7:23 ESV

Jesus could sense that John was beginning to have doubts. So, He encouraged Him not to be offended by what he saw. The Greek word translated as “offended” is skandalizō, which carries the idea of stumbling over a rock or impediment. John was not to allow his unfulfilled expectations concerning the Messiah to trip him up. Jesus was fully aware of John’s predicament and most likely knew that John would never leave the prison alive. But He did not want John to lose heart. John was allowing his personal circumstances to determine his belief in the Messiah. And Jesus was encouraging him to do just the opposite. John was to examine his circumstances based on the clear evidence of Jesus’ Messianic power and authority. No, John had not personally experienced deliverance from the dungeon in which he was imprisoned but that did not negate the fact that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Not every lame person in Israel had been healed. Not every blind person had received sight. There were still countless people suffering from deafness and leprosy. And it’s unlikely that John was the only occupant of Herod’s prison.

Jesus was not yet done. His ministry had just begun. And all those who would continue to believe would not be disappointed. In fact, they would be blessed. In time, they would find that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. But for now, they were going to have to trust and believe, regardless of the circumstances.

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