Blurred Vision

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. Mark 8:22-30 ESV

In this passage, Mark combines two different incidents from the life of Jesus in order to convey an important truth. In the first, Jesus performs only the second miracle that Mark records in his gospel. In chapter 7, we have his record of Jesus healing the deaf man who also suffered from a speech impediment. And there will be some similarities between these two miraculous healings.

Jesus and His disciples have traveled from the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the town of Bethsaida, located not far from the sea’s northern-most tip. This was not the first time Jesus had been to Bethsaida. In fact, Matthew reports that Jesus has a stinging indictment against the city for the stubborn refusal of its inhabitants to repent.

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse.” – Matthew 11:20-21 NLT

This rather harsh statement from Jesus is important because it provides insight into the miracle Jesus performed. Upon His arrival in Bethsaida, Jesus was met by a group of individuals who were bringing a blind friend in need of healing. Mark says that these compassionate friends “begged him to touch the man and heal him” (Mark 8:22 NLT). And what Jesus does next is both interesting and insightful.

To fully appreciate the actions of Jesus, it is important to consider all that has happened up to this moment. Earlier that same day, Jesus had transformed seven loaves of bread and a few fish into a meal that fed thousands of people. And He had followed up this miracle with a warning to His disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The religious leaders had come to Jesus demanding that He give them a “sign from heaven” in order to prove His claim to be the Messiah. But these prideful and arrogant men had been blind to all that Jesus had done, refusing to accept His miracles as proof of identity. So, Jesus warned His disciples not to allow the teaching of the Pharisees to influence them. The unrepentant hearts of these self-righteous men were causing them to reject Jesus and encouraging others to do the same. Like yeast spreading through a batch of dough, their unbelief was beginning to permeate and influence the people of Israel. But the disciples failed to understand the meaning behind Jesus’ warning, thinking instead that He was upset that they had failed to bring enough bread. So, Jesus addressed their inability to comprehend His words.

“Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” – Mark 8:17-18 NLT

Notice the last thing Jesus said to His disciples before they left for Bethsaida.

Do you not yet understand?” – Mark 8:21 ESV

All of this sets up what happens next and reveals the sovereign hand of God behind all that Jesus did. It was no coincidence that a blind man was brought to Jesus. And the manner in which Jesus chose to heal the man was highly intentional and purposeful. First, Jesus isolated the man from his well-meaning friends by leading him outside the village. Once they were alone, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and touched him. But why? Couldn’t Jesus have simply commanded the man to receive his sight? Was it really necessary that this healing require spit and human contact? And why did Jesus’ first attempt to restore the man’s sight seem to fail?

…spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.” – Mark 8:23-24 NLT

Jesus’ methodology seems a bit odd. And it’s outcome appears less than successful. But everything Jesus did was intentional. The blind man, unable to see anything that Jesus was doing, was able to hear Jesus spit and could feel the sensation of the spit on his eyes. He could sense the hands of Jesus gently touching his eyes. Yet, when he opened his eyes, his sight was only partially restored. He could see but only as through a haze. Everything was fuzzy and indistinct. Men looked like trees walking about.

This man had gone from complete blindness to partial sight. His condition, while much-improved, was not what he had been hoping for. Blurred sight was far better than no sight at all, but it was still not ideal.

Earlier, Jesus had healed a deaf man by restoring his hearing. Now, he was restoring the sight of a blind man. Both hearing and seeing are metaphors for the human capacity to understand. That is why Jesus had said to His disciples: “You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?

They had seen Him heal the deaf man. And they had heard His warnings about the Pharisees. And yet, they still did not fully understand, just as the blind man did not fully see. But Jesus had no intention of leaving the man with imperfect sight.

Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again, and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly. – Mark 8:25 NLT

Jesus finished what He had begun. He didn’t leave the man with slightly improved sight but He completely restored his vision so that he could see everything clearly. This two-part healing provides an important lesson. It reminds us that Jesus came to restore far more than physical sight or hearing. He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind so that they might see the glory of His presence. He came to open the ears of the spiritually deaf so that they might hear the message of the good news. But what they see and hear must include the full scope of God’s redemptive message.

The disciples thought they understood who Jesus was. They saw Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They had high hopes that He was going to set up His Kingdom on earth and reward them with places of honor and prominence in His administration. But when they heard Jesus speak, they became increasingly confused by what He said. And before long, when He began to talk of His pending death in Jerusalem, they would have difficulty comprehending and accepting His words.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the plan of God is far greater than we can understand. Much of what we experience in this life appears out of step with our understanding of God’s will. We are like men with partially restored sight who view everything through distorted lenses that provide an imperfect image of reality.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

The disciples did not fully comprehend who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But Jesus was gradually opening their eyes to the truth of His ministry and mission. In time, they would see clearly and fully. But, as Paul reminds us, we will not fully understand the ways of God until His plan of redemption is complete.

After telling the newly sighted man to avoid going back to the village, Jesus and His disciples made their way north to Caesarea Philippi. On their way, Jesus struck up a conversation with His disciples, asking them, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27 ESV). His question was intended to get the disciples to wrestle with the various rumors concerning His identity. In a sense, Jesus was asking the disciples to reveal who the people understood Him to be. When they saw Jesus perform miracles, what was their conclusion? When they heard Him speak, who did they think they were listening to? And the disciples reveal that there were all kinds of opinions among the people.

“John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28 ESV

The people were like the man with partially restored sight. They could see, but imperfectly. Their view of Jesus was incomplete and inconclusive. Notice that there is no mention of Jesus being the Messiah. When the people looked at Jesus, it was like they were viewing Him through distorted lenses. He appeared indistinct and blurry.

This prompted Jesus to turn to His disciples and ask them the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 ESV). These men had spent their every waking minute with Jesus. They had seen every one of His miracles and had heard every one of His messages. They enjoyed intimate access to Jesus and the privilege of hearing Him explain some of His more cryptic parables. So, who did they understand Him to be?

And the ever-impulsive Peter was the first to respond.

“You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29 ESV

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, acknowledge 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.

“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 revealed this insight to Peter. His partially blinded eyes had been opened so that he could see the truth of who Jesus was. This statement from the lips of Peter was like an unexpected epiphane. 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.

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

Amazed At Their Disbelief

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:1-6 ESV

After healing the woman with the discharge of blood and raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Jesus and His disciples made their way to Nazareth. But there is one last thing we need to look at before leaving these two amazing miracles behind. In recording the events associated with these miracles, Mark provides two different pieces of information that, at first glance, appear to be unimportant. First, when describing the medical condition of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, Mark states that she “had had a discharge of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25 ESV). It would be logical to assume that he included this detail simply to emphasize the long-term and hopeless nature of the woman’s condition.

But then, just a few verses later, in describing the healing of Jairus’ young daughter, Mark adds another interesting detail.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age) – Mark 5:42 ESV

Once again, why did Mark feel the need to provide the girl’s age? Perhaps it was his way of explaining her ability to walk when commanded to do so. But why did he think it was so important to share her exact age? Even a toddler could have responded when Jesus called out “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41 ESV).

Could it be that Mark was attempting to use these two references to years as a way to connect these two miracles? Consider the fact that the very year the woman’s debilitating medical condition began would have been the very same year the young girl had been born. And while this woman spent the next 12 years visiting physicians and spending all her financial resources seeking a cure, the young daughter of Jairus would have been living a rather protected and privileged life. After all, her father was a well-respected leader in the local synagogue. For 12 years, the woman’s life would have been marked by pain and suffering, while the young girl most likely experienced a happy and carefree existence. But to the surprise of her family and friends, her young life would end suddenly and tragically in death. No one saw it coming. And while her anxious father had sought out the miracle worker named Jesus, his efforts would prove futile. It was too little, too late.

It would be natural to expect the older woman, who suffered from an incurable medical condition, to be the first to die. But she was spared because she placed her faith in Jesus. The one who knew her condition was fatal and was standing with one foot in the grave was delivered from death’s door. But the young girl, whose best years had been ahead of her, ended up dead, surrounded by mourners who grieved over her loss. But because of the faith of her father, Jesus raised the girl back to life. Upon hearing the devastating news that his daughter had died, Jairus was told by Jesus, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Jesus didn’t tell Jairus why or what he should believe. But the distraught father followed Jesus and, along with his wife and three of the disciples, watched as his 12-year-old daughter was miraculously restored to life.

Two women – one old and one young. One sick and the other whole. One anticipating death and the other completely surprised by it. And yet, both women were delivered from death by the same man. The one who was near death was prevented from having to experience it. The one who experienced death was brought back from it. And all through the power and authority of Jesus. This reminds us once again of the words He spoke to Martha, just before He raises her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

When we read the words, “…though he die, yet shall he live,” we should think of the 12-year-old girl. When we read the words, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” we should think of the woman who had been sick for 12 long years. These two women provide us with living proof of Jesus’ statement. Yes, both would end up dying at some later date. But, in healing them and delivering them from death when He did, Jesus was demonstrating for His disciples that He had power over death and the grave. And, one day, He would prove it with His own death and resurrection.

But back to today’s passage. Jesus and HIs disciples made their way to Nazareth, the town where He had grown up. This is where Mary and Joseph had settled and raised their family. After the birth of Jesus, they had gone on to have additional children, and, unlike Jesus, they had all chosen to remain in Nazareth.

But on the next Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue where Jesus was honored as a visiting Rabbi or teacher. He was given the opportunity to address the congregation, and what He had to say that day made a huge impression on those in the room. But it seems that His words received mixed reviews.

“Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” – Mark 6:2-3 NLT

Some were blown away by Jesus’ eloquence and His ability to perform such incredible miracles. Likely, the news about His most recent demonstrations of power had already made its way to Capernaum. But there were others in the crowd that day who were unimpressed because they viewed Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter. They knew His family and were probably aware that even His own brothers thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Even His own family refused to believe Him to be the Messiah of Israel (John 7:5). It seems likely that Jesus’ siblings had shared their own opinions regarding their famous brother. And all of this negative publicity appears to have jaded the minds of those who had known Jesus since He had been a little boy. Mark reveals that the opinion of the naysayers prevailed that day.

They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. – Mark 6:3 NLT

Mark goes on to note that Jesus was amazed at the level of disbelief among those who knew Him best. It is clear that they had heard the rumors concerning His miracles. They had just heard Him speak and expressed their amazement at His wisdom. But they just couldn’t get past the fact that this was the same man whom they had seen running and playing in the streets of Nazareth as a boy. He was the son of a carpenter. How could He be the long-awaited Messiah? The old adage, “familiarity breeds contempt,” comes to mind. They knew too much, and their knowledge blinded them to the truth.

And sensing their disbelief and outright rejection of His message and ministry, Jesus commented, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” (Mark 6:4 NLT). Even the prophets of old found it difficult to get those who knew them best to listen to their words. Their claims to spokesmen for God went unheeded, and their calls to repentance fell on deaf ears. And Jesus includes Himself among the rejected and disrespected prophets of God. He was in good company and experiencing the same bad outcome.

And the refusal of the citizens of Nazareth to accept Jesus as the Son of God prevented them from experiencing the power of God in their midst. The miracles of Jesus would continue to be nothing more than rumors. The healings they had heard about would not take place in their community. The sick would find no relief. The demon-possessed would experience no release. The blind would remain sightless and doomed to walk in darkness. And the citizens of Nazareth would allow the Light of the world to walk away, leaving them wandering in the darkness of their own sin.

Mark paints a rather pathetic and pitiable picture of the scene that took place as Jesus prepared to leave His hometown.

And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. – Mark 6:5 NLT

There was an absence of faith in Nazareth. Despite everything they had heard and seen, they couldn’t get past the fact that this was Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He was just a man. He was no better than they were. So, why should they honor Him? Why should they believe Him? Sadly, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, had grown up among them, but their stubborn pride and sin would prevent them from recognizing Him. And while Jesus would mercifully heal a few, the rest would be left to die in their sins. Their refusal to believe would have dire and deadly consequences, just as Jesus would later tell Martha.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

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

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

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

The Touch of Faith

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:21-34 ESV

The disciples sailed back to the opposite shore with their minds filled with the images of the herd of demon-possessed swine plummeting over the cliff into the sea and the former demoniac sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours. They had witnessed Jesus calm a violent storm and restore a demon-possessed man to sanity. In addition, they had heard those demons refer to their master as the “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7 ESV). In a sense, with the testimony of the demons still ringing in their ears, they had unknowingly received the answer they had posed earlier. When they had witnessed the miracle of Jesus calming the storm, they had asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

They should have had their answer. But Jesus was not done revealing the true nature of His identity. There would be more God-ordained encounters in the days ahead that would provide further proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be and who the demons confessed Him to be.

Having returned from their brief but eventful trip to the region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples found themselves immediately surrounded by a large crowd. Mark gives the impression that, before Jesus could even disembark from the boat, the masses of people had been lined the shoreline. And Luke supports that idea by adding,, “they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40 ESV).

Still standing by the sea and surrounded by a mass of people, Jesus was approached by a man named Jairus, who was a ruler in the local synagogue. This man was not a professional priest, but a layman who was responsible for conducting Sabbath services and for the ongoing care of the synagogue. His role would have made him a recognized and well-respected member of the local community. And his high-visibility position most likely resulted in some familiarity with the Pharisees and other religious rulers of Israel. So, when he kneeled at the feet of Jesus, in front of a large gathering of his own neighbors and friends, he was taking a great risk – not only personally but professionally.

We know from John’s gospel that the religious leaders of Israel were intensifying their efforts to discredit Jesus and to pressure the people from following Him. John records an occasion when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees interrogated the man’s parents, attempting to discern whether he had truly been born blind, they were racked with fear. And John tells us why.

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. – John 9:22 ESV

Yet, here was Jairus, a ruler in the local synagogue, kneeling before Jesus and begging Him to heal His daughter.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

Mark tries to convey the intensity of the man’s desperation when he writes, “he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” (Mark 5:22-23 ESV). Mark uses the same Greek word, parakaleō, that he used to describe how the demons begged Jesus not to torment them, but to cast them into the swine. And it was the same word he used to describe the fearful townspeople begging Jesus to leave their community.

This man was emotionally distraught and willing to do anything to save the life of his dying daughter. She meant far more to him than his career or reputation. And if expressing faith in Jesus could preserve her life, the loss of his job was a price he was willing to pay. And much to his relief, Jesus agreed to go with him. But they didn’t go alone. Mark reports that “a great crowd followed him and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24 ESV). The crowd moved en masse, pressing in on Jesus and the anxious father as they made their way to the man’s home. But before they could reach their destination, something else took place.

There was another individual in the crowd that day. But, unlike the ruler of the synagogue, this person held no high position in the community. It was an obscure, unnamed woman who had made her way to the seashore that day with the desperate hope of receiving healing from this man named Jesus. But she was just one among many, struggling to fight her way through the crowd in an effort to get close enough to touch the hem of His garment.

This woman had what appears to be an incurable medical condition that Mark describes as “a discharge of blood” (Mark 5:25 ESV). And she had suffered with it for 12 long years. Not only that, she had exhausted all her resources seeking a cure through traditional medical treatments. But nothing had worked. In fact, her condition had grown worse, leaving her in a state of desperation. But unlike Jairus, the crowds were not going to part and allow her access to Jesus. She was going to have to fight and claw her way through the bustling crowd just to get close enough to see Jesus.

But what stands out is the woman’s faith. She fully believed that if she could only touch Jesus’ robe, she would be healed.

If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” – Mark 5:28 ESV

Jairus was convinced that if Jesus would only touch his daughter, she would be made well. This woman believed that if she could just touch Jesus, she would be healed. Both believed that Jesus was the solution to their particular problem.

Somehow, this frail and physically weakened woman forced her way through the crowd and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. And Mark describes that “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:29 ESV). Her healing was immediate, and she knew it. But no one else in the crowd was even aware of her presence., and they had no idea that a miracle had even taken place. Yet, Jesus did.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” – Mark 5:30 NLT

Luke reports that Jesus informed His disciples, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s identity. He could have said nothing and simply allowed the woman to walk away unnoticed and rejoicing in her renewed health. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know what had happened. And He was willing to postpone his trip to Jairus’ house in order to reveal the miracle that had just taken place.

Suddenly exposed and unable to extricate herself from the crowd, the woman timidly and guiltily stepped forward. She “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33 ESV). Once again, her confession was not for Jesus’ benefit. He already knew what had happened. But this woman’s remarkable testimony was meant to encourage the disciples and provide them with further proof of who Jesus was. It was also meant to illustrate the kind of faith they were supposed to have. Notice what Jesus said to the woman.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:34 ESV

Jesus had not spoken her healing into existence. He had not even touched her.  And yet, she stood before Him completely whole. It was her faith in Jesus that had brought about her remarkable transformation. He wants to correct a dangerous misconception in the woman’s thinking. She had reasoned that there must be some kind of power emanating from Jesus, and this power must be transferable. But Jesus insists that her healing was a result of faith, not superstition or some kind of supernatural force field.

As incredible as it may sound, at the moment the woman touched the edge of His robe, Jesus was aware of the woman’s presence, the purpose of her action, and He willingly released His power to heal her. This was not some kind of automatic outflow of energy that was outside of Jesus’ control or volition. There were countless people who touched Him that day, many of whom longed to receive healing. But it was only this woman who received that for which she had hoped. And Jesus describes her action as an example of faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). This woman hoped to be healed, and was fully assured it would happen if she could only manage to get close enough to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to talk to Him. She believed His power was so great that a simple touch of His garment could do what countless physicians had been unable to do. And her faith was rewarded.

And when Jesus said, “be healed of your disease,” He was confirming the veracity of her testimony and the source of her healing. It had been Him.

But before the crowds could take in all that had just happened or the disciples could ask any questions, the mood of the moment was about to take a dramatically dark turn. The focus was going to shift from healing to death, from joy to sorrow, and from hope to despair. But Jesus was far from done.

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

Faith and Family

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 ESV

An examination of the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke reveals that Mark has taken some liberties concerning the timeline of this event. Both of the other two gospel writers indicate that Jesus had other things to say after His response to the accusation that He was demon-possessed. According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

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

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). These are the same men who had accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. They had flatly stated, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22 ESV). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. His actions would not have validated the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest for the Weary

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28 ESV

The disciples of John had come to Jesus, wanting to know why He and His disciples didn’t follow their lead and keep the fast days appointed by the Pharisees. Their question has a certain sense of superiority about it because the brand of Judaism under which they were raised placed a heavy emphasis on religious performance. In a sense, the practice of one’s faith had become competitive rather than contemplative. It had become more about outward appearances than the inner disposition of the heart.

That is why Jesus dedicated a large portion of His sermon on the mount addressing the hypocrisy associated with a performance-based religion.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Jesus had come to free the people from this dead-end existence of religious ritualism and rule-keeping. Not long after delivering His sermon on the mount, Jesus had issued what has come to be known as His Great Invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Jesus was offering rest to those who were worn out by the constant pressure to measure up and keep up with all the rules, regulations, rituals, and rites associated with their religion. It was a non-stop and never-ending treadmill of existence based on effort and earning. But Jesus had come to offer something far better: rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

Which brings us to today’s passage. The scene is a wheat field somewhere in Galilee.  Mark describes Jesus and His disciples taking a short-cut through the field and as they did, the disciples were casually plucking off the heads of grain and eating them as a snack. They were not doing anything illegal because the Mosaic Law had made allowances for such behavior.

“When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, but you must not carry any away in a basket. And when you enter your neighbor’s field of grain, you may pluck the heads of grain with your hand, but you must not harvest it with a sickle.” – Deuteronomy 23:24-25 NLT

But as Mark reveals, the problem wasn’t what they were doing, it was when they were doing it. It was the Sabbath. And there were all kinds of rules associated with this particular day of the week. God had originally established the Sabbath as a day of rest and had included its observance as part of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.” – Exodus 20:8-10 NLT

And God had provided the people of Israel with the rationale behind His setting apart of this one day above all the other days of the week.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:11 NLT

It was to be a day of commemoration, on which the people were to set aside all their normal daily activities so that they might recall what God had done on their behalf. He was the Creator-God, who made the universe and all that it contained, including them. Observing the Sabbath was intended to remind them of their complete dependence upon God. Their human effort was of no real value. Their very existence was totally dependent upon God and by resting on the seventh day, they were placing all their hope in Him. He would meet their needs. And God had illustrated this principle to the people of Israel long before He set apart the seventh day as holy.

When the Israelites had been making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, God had graciously provided them with “bread from heaven.”

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:4-5 ESV

This bread from heaven (manna), was to collected daily, but on the sixth day, they were to collect enough to meet their needs for two days. On the seventh day, they were to “rest” from their gathering of manna.  God had provided all that they needed.

The Sabbath was to have been a reminder of God’s provision for all their needs. But over time, the religious leaders of Israel had managed to turn the Sabbath into a rule-laden, performance-driven day where everything was measured by human effort. They had transformed the God-ordained mandate to rest into a form of work. And the religious leaders had created a litany of man-made laws that were used to measure the peoples’ observance of this day of rest. It had become all about their ability to keep all the laws that had been placed on this one particular day.

According to the Mishnah (the oral law of Israel), there were 39 different categories of laws associated with the keeping of the Sabbath. They included laws concerning carrying, burning, cooking, washing, harvesting, and threshing. According to this oral law, a Jew was forbidden to light a candle on the Sabbath but could hire a Gentile to do so. It was also considered Sabbath-breaking to gaze at one’s image in a mirror. So, this day of rest had actually become a day of wearisome and burdensome rule-keeping.

So, when the Pharisees observed Jesus’ disciples plucking wheat, they condemned them for “reaping” on the Sabbath. And they confronted Jesus for allowing His disciples to violate their oral laws.

“Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” – Mark 2:24 NLT

And Jesus, knowing these men prided themselves on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, used a story contained in the writings of Samuel, to justify the actions of His disciples (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Jesus recounts how David, who was on the run from King Saul, had arrived at the town of Nob and asked the high priest to provide food for him and his soldiers. The only bread available was “the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 21:6 ESV).

According to the Mosaic Law, this bread was reserved for the priests alone. Yet, Jesus points out that when David “was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him…entered the house of God…and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him” (Mark 2:25-26 ESV). In doing so, David was actually violating the law, but in this case, it was acceptable because David was the Lord’s anointed. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. He was to be the God-ordained replacement for the disobedient and disappointing King Saul.

And Jesus points out a major flaw in their understanding of the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27 ESV

God had set apart the Sabbath as a reminder to the people of Israel that He was their provider. He would care for them. It was to be the day on which they rested from all their vain efforts at self-provision and relied completely on the One who made the universe and all it contains. God had allowed the feeding of David and his men because David was the Lord’s anointed. The physical needs of David had taken precedence over the laws concerning the holy bread.

And Jesus points out to the Pharisees that he, as the Son of Man, was “lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV). As God’s anointed, Jesus had the full authority to allow the behavior of His disciples. He was placing their well-being above the oral law of the Pharisees. God had made the Sabbath and, as the Son of God, Jesus had every right to do what He deemed to be holy and acceptable on the Sabbath. 

Jesus had come to bring rest to the weary and to remove the burden of performance and religious rule-keeping. For the average Jew, the Sabbath had become a burdensome and tiring 24 hours marked by constant vigilance and fear of violating the rules. There was no rest. But Jesus had come to change all that.

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

Which is Easier?

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12 ESV

Mark has noted that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 ESV). One of the miracles He performed on that ministry junket was the healing of the man with leprosy. Jesus had physically touched the unclean man, removing all traces of the disease and leaving him completely whole and ceremonially pure. And while he had been warned by Jesus to tell no one, the man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Eager to spread the news about his restored condition, “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45 ESV).

Eventually, Jesus returned to Capernaum, the small town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He had established His base of operations. But as news of His miracles continued to spread throughout the region, the crowds grew in number and intensity. They had heard the rumors describing how Jesus had “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). 

These fantastic reports created a sense of hope and longing among others suffering from sickness and affliction. Their desperate desire for healing and restoration drove them to seek out this miracle-working Rabbi from Nazareth. And Mark indicates that they showed up in Capernaum, surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. This was most likely the home of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.

The emboldened crowd pushed its way into the home, filling it to capacity and spilling out into the street. And Jesus took advantage of this captive audience by “preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2 ESV). The Greek word is logos and it can literally be translated as “word.” But it refers to the communication of a particular concept or idea. Earlier in his gospel, Mark indicated that Jesus had picked up the ministry that John the Baptist had begun by “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).

So, those who had crowded their way into the home of Simon and Andrew were forced to hear a sermon from Jesus. They had come seeking healing but were given a lesson on their need for repentance. The good news was that the kingdom of God was near. The bad news was that they were not prepared to enter that kingdom. They had sins for which they needed to repent. That had been the whole purpose behind John the Baptist’s ministry in the Judean wilderness.

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

And it seems likely that “the word” that Jesus spoke that day contained ample references to the need for confession of sin. But confession without forgiveness is incomplete. As John wrote in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Confession and repentance, while necessary, will not provide anyone with entrance God’s kingdom. Without forgiveness, the stain of their sins will remain, leaving them unworthy to enter into God’s presence. The whole sacrificial system of the Jews was based on the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Sacrifices had to be made. An innocent life had to be taken. Blood had to be spilled.

So, as Jesus preached to the people, He likely declared their need for forgiveness. They had come seeking physical healing but He made sure that they understood their need for something far more significant. And in the sovereign will of God, an opportunity presented itself to demonstrate just what Jesus was trying to communicate.

As Jesus was preaching, four men showed up carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet. When they found it impossible to get through the mass of people crowded into the small home, they made their way to the roof. In an act of desperation, they created a hole in the roof and lowered the pallet into the room where Jesus was speaking. The noise they made and the debris that rained down as a result of their frantic efforts must have brought Jesus’ sermon to an abrupt end. All eyes were fixed on the ceiling as the bed containing the paralyzed man was lowered into the room.

What happens next is significant. Mark states that upon “seeing” the faith of the friends who had lowered the man into the room, Jesus spoke. But before we look at what Jesus said, it’s essential that we examine how He “saw” their faith. Like everyone else in the room that day, these men had come with a specific purpose in mind. They had gone through all the effort to carry their friend to the home, dig a hole in the roof, and lower him into the room because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Their faith was clearly evident. They longed to see their friend made whole and they believed that Jesus had the power and authority to make it happen.

They believed that Jesus could heal. But what they did not know was that Jesus could also forgive sin. And, upon seeing their faith, Jesus spoke. He turned to the man laying on the pallet and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than offering the man physical healing, Jesus declared him to be spiritually whole. Jesus gave him something no one in the room had ever expected to receive that day.  And this statement left the crowd in stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say.

But Mark lets us know that there were some scribes in the room who heard what Jesus said and immediately declared Him to be a blasphemer.

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:7 ESV

They had come expecting to see Jesus perform some miracles. They were curious as to whether the rumors about Jesus were true. But when Jesus offered the paralyzed man forgiveness for his sins, they were shocked and appalled. In the minds of the Jews, sickness was directly correlated to sin. Sickness and disease were considered punishments from God for sins committed against Him. And the worse the disease was, the more egregious the sin that caused it must have been. They considered this man’s debilitating paralysis a punishment from God and here was Jesus declaring that his sins were forgiven. And yet, they must have keenly observed, the man remained completely immobilized and unable to move from his pallet.

Jesus, well aware of the debate that His words had stirred up, posed a question to the scribes:

“Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” – Mark 2:8-9 ESV

In their minds, Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin. He had dared to place Himself on equal standing with God, who alone could offer forgiveness for sins. But Jesus pointed out that offering forgiveness of sins was easy. Anyone could do it. The question was, did He have the power and authority to do so. If given the chance, they would have responded with a categorically emphatic, “No!”

But to prove that He had the power and authority to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus proceeded to do what was obviously the more “difficult” thing. And He makes sure they understand the motive behind the miracle He is about to perform.

“So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Mark 2:10 NLT

Then He proceeded to do something that was going to leave everyone in the room slack-jawed and surprised.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” – Mark 2:10-11 NLT

Again, speaking those words was easy. Anyone could have done it. But when Jesus spoke amazing things happened, and this time would be no different than all the others. As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth, “the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers” (Mark 2:12 NLT). In a split second, the man’s paralysis was completely gone. He had been miraculously restored to full health and vitality. And, if this man’s sickness had been the result of sin, then his sins must have been forgiven. It would have been obvious that he was no longer under any form of divine punishment or condemnation.

By doing what He did, Jesus was not confirming the scribes’ belief that the man’s illness was a result of sin. He was demonstrating that He had the God-given power and authority to restore both physical and spiritual health. He could irradicate the effects of sickness and eliminate the condemnation of sin.

The formerly paralyzed man was not made sinless by Jesus’ actions. He was made physically whole. The sad reality is that, in his newly restored state, that man went on to live a life marked by sin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. But by healing the man, Jesus was demonstrating His divine power. If He could restore a paralyzed man’s capacity to walk, He could also restore the spiritual health of a humanity paralyzed by sin. And that is exactly why Jesus had come to earth.

The people “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12 ESV). But which was easier, “to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 NLT).

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

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

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

A Mission Validated, Tested, and Begun

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark dedicates no part of his gospel to the birth of Jesus. Instead, he opens with very brief descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and His testing by Satan in the wilderness. Even when covering these two significant events, Mark is stingy with the details. He seems to use them as further proofs of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah but then moves quickly past them in order to focus on the actual ministry of Jesus.

Mark mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was from Nazareth. Since Mark does not cover the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. For Mark, the most important details concerning Jesus began with His adult life. He is not negating the importance of the incarnation but is simply concentrating the focus of his gospel on the launch of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had spent His life growing up in Nazareth, a nondescript town in Galilee. Even among the Jews, Nazareth was a town of little import and low estimation. In fact, when Philip met Jesus for the first time, he told his friend Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). To which Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV). Yet, it was out of this unlikely and unimpressive town that the Savior of the world would come.

Luke reveals that Jesus was 30-years-old when He left Nazareth and made His way to the wilderness of Judea where John was baptizing (Luke 3:23). And Jesus chose to inaugurate the official launch of His ministry by being baptized. Now Mark has made it clear that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). It was intended to be a public expression of the individual’s admission of their sin and need for forgiveness. By submitting themselves to being baptized, they were indicating their willingness to repent and be cleansed of their sins, so that they might be ready for the Messiah and His coming Kingdom. 

But why was Jesus baptized? The Scriptures make it clear that He was sinless. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 BSB). And Paul adds that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

The author of Hebrews provides some much-needed insight into the motivation behind Jesus’ decision to be baptized that day.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

Not only had Jesus taken on human flesh and become one of us, He was willing to undergo the same ritual of baptism in order to associate Himself with sinful humanity. Even though He was sinless, He willingly submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is the same reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Though He was sinless, He willingly died the death that we deserved. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB). And Paul succinctly states that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT).

Jesus became one of us – in every way – so that He might give His life on behalf of us. And in being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the will of His Father. Matthew records that when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River and asked John to baptize him, John was reticent.

John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” – Matthew 3:14 NLT

But Jesus insisted, telling John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15 NLT). Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will. He would later claim, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And He described His faithful adherence to His Father’s will as a form of nourishment and sustenance.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” – John 4:34 BSB

Another reason behind His baptism was that it foreshadowed another kind of baptism He would undergo as a part of God’s sovereign will. Sometime later, Jesus would have a difficult exchange with two of His disciples. He had just told all of His disciples about what was going to take place in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:34-35 NLT

And in response, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus soberly responded:

You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

Jesus was going to be “immersed” in an overwhelming form of suffering that would no one else could have endured. And it would be the will of God for Him to do so. Jesus later described the unbearable nature of this baptism of suffering.

“I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.” – Luke 12:50 NLT

It was the Father’s will, so Jesus was determined to carry it out. It was also the Father’s will that the people of Israel come to John in the wilderness and submit to the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had clearly called them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And they were expected to obey the will of God. So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus was providing them with an example of faithful obedience, even though He had no sins that needed forgiving.

And Jesus had fulfilled the will of His Father, Mark records that something incredible happened.

…when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11 ESV

An amazing, supernatural sign from heaven appeared. And it culminated with the sound of the voice of God, calling out from heaven and declaring His pleasure with His Son. This scene provided a divine seal of approval on Jesus. God the Father was validating Jesus’ identity as His Son and declaring His complete satisfaction with all that was about to happen. The next three-and-a-half years of Jesus’ life would have the full blessing and approval of God.

But this fantastic scene is followed by the rather strange statement: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV). Yet, even what follows is to be clearly understood as the will of God for Jesus’ life. Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit of God in order to do the will of God. And His destination was the wilderness where He would undergo a series of temptations by Satan over a period of 40 days. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Jesus went without food and water the entire time He was in the wilderness. He would have been weak and famished. His physical condition would have deteriorated. But, as Jesus told His disciples, His nourishment came from doing the will of His Father.

And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And His suffering allowed Him to fully undertand and empathize with those whom He came to save.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:18 NLT

Jesus survived His baptism by fire. He overcame the temptations of the enemy and emerged from the wilderness 40 days later completely sinless and fully obedient to His Heavenly Father. And now, His real earthly ministry could begin.

tEnglish 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

Prepare the Way

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8 ESV

While the author never refers to himself by name anywhere in his gospel account, there was a strong consensus among early church fathers believed that John Mark was the one who provided this chronicle of the life and ministry of Jesus.

One of the earliest references to John Mark as the book’s author is found in The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Written in the 4th-Century, this landmark work provides a chronological history of early Christianity that spans the 1st through the 4th-Century. In it, Eusebius records that John Mark, while not a disciple of Jesus, based his gospel on eyewitness accounts, including those of the Apostle Peter.

There are additional records from the early church fathers that also mention John Mark as the book’s author. These include the mid-1st-Century to early-2nd-Century writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. In one of the earliest prologues to the Gospel of Mark, written somewhere between 160-180 A.D., it describes John Mark as the author and states that he wrote his gospel account while in Italy. In his classic work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus, adds that John Mark completed his work sometime after the death of Peter.

John Mark is mentioned repeatedly in the book of Acts, where his relationship with the Apostle Paul is described in great detail. John Mark was one of Paul’s disciples, who accompanied him and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Later, he would prove to be of great help and comfort to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome as he awaited trial before the emperor Nero. So, due to his close relationship with Paul, John Mark would have access to the original disciples and other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

One of the first encounters between Peter and John Mark is recorded in the book of Acts. Under pressure from the Jewish religious leaders, Herod, the king who had been placed on the throne of Israel by the Romans, had begun to round up the disciples of Jesus. He had already killed James the brother of John and had Peter thrown in prison. But God miraculously rescued Peter from his imprisonment and, upon his release, Peter made his way to the home of John Mark.

…he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. – Acts 12:12 ESV

Luke, the author of Acts, also records that John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but left them when they arrived in Pamphylia. He returned to Jerusalem and would later travel with Barnabas, his cousin, to Cyprus. So, John Mark was very involved in those early days of the church as the apostles took the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. He had been able to travel with and sit under the teaching of such luminaries of the faith as Paul, Peter, and Barnabas.

There is still much debate as to the dating of Mark’s gospel. If it was written after the deaths of Paul and Peter, that would place its publication somewhere around A.D. 67-68. Since there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, it seems likely that the book had to have written before that date.

From the content of the gospel, it appears that Mark with a Gentile audience in mind. If he wrote it from Italy, as believed by many of the early church fathers, the Gentile-oriented focus of his gospel makes more sense. He takes great pains to explain certain Jewish customs and rituals that would have been unfamiliar and strange to a Gentile readership. He incorporated Latin words and phrases that seemed aimed at a Roman audience. But his emphasis was on Gentile believers living under persecution in a predominantly Roman world. The early church found itself facing attack from the Jews as well as the pagan world. Mark would have experienced firsthand the persecution that Paul encountered from the dispersed Jewish community and the pagan cultures of the cities they visited on their first missionary journey.

Yet, despite Mark’s emphasis on a predominantly Gentile audience and his effort to communicate to them in language and terms with which they would be familiar, he opens his gospel with a quote from the Hebrew scriptures.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’” – Mark 1:2-3 ESV

This is actually a combination of three separate passages: Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. He blends the words of three Old Testament prophets: Moses, Malachi, and Isaiah, but attributes the quote the latter. For Mark, a proper understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry had to begin with prophecy. And these three prophetic passages each spoke of the coming Messiah of Israel. These men, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the coming of the Anointed One of God. But they also foretold of the one who would “prepare the way” for His coming. Before the Messiah would appear on the scene, His arrival would be prefaced by another, a messenger who would warn the people of His imminent arrival.

Like the other gospel writers, Mark was interested in establishing from the outset the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. He was Jesus the Christ or Messiah (the word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah). Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He was Jesus, a man was born in the city of Bethlehem, but He was also the Christ, the Son of God. Which means He was fully divine.

According to Mark, God had sent a messenger or, literally, an angel (angelos) to prepare the way for the Messiah. And he describes exactly who this “angel” was. He was a man and not a heavenly being. His name was John and he appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching a baptism of repentance. In essence, John was calling the people to be baptized, but it was a baptism characterized by repentance. In the Greek language, the word “repentance” is metanoia and it means “to change the mind.” He was calling the Jews to change their minds concerning a wide range of issues, including their concept of what it means to be righteous, their expectations concerning the Messiah, their understanding of their relationship with God, and their need for forgiveness.

We know from Matthew’s gospel the basic content of John’s message.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2 ESV

And upon His arrival, Jesus would pick up this very same message.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 ESV

The basic gist of their message was that the long-awaited Messiah had finally appeared and was bringing His Kingdom with Him. And Mark indicates that John’s preliminary declaration that the Kingdom of God was near was met with an enthusiastic response.

…all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:5 ESV

For the Jews, the coming of the Kingdom of God would be accompanied by the arrival of the Messiah. For them, the coming Messiah would be a king, just like the great warrior-king, David. He would be a deliverer and a military leader who would restore Israel’s fortunes. For centuries, the people of Israel had suffered under the heavy hand of a litany of foreign powers who had subjugated and persecuted them. The most recent iteration of Gentile domination over the people of God was the Romans. The land of Judah was occupied by Roman soldiers who enforced the laws of the empire, protected the interests of the emperor, and ensured that the Jews remained compliant and docile.

So, the people of Israel longed for the Messiah to come. It had been centuries since the nation of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. And while a remnant of the people taken captive to Babylon had returned to the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, the only king they had known was their current one, Herod, the puppet king placed on the throne by the Roman emperor. He was actually an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. And while his title of “King of the Jews” had been given to him by the Roman Senate, his reign was never accepted by the Jews. They considered him to be a usurper to the throne who tried to gain their favor through a series of ambitious building projects, including the expansion of and improvements to the temple.

But as a pawn of the Romans, and due to his love of power, Herod placed his own personal needs ahead of the nation. So, when John the Baptist appeared on the scene preaching a message of repentance because the kingdom of God was near, the people immediately assumed something great was about to happen. Their hopes were raised that Messiah was near and their days of oppression and subjugation would soon be over.

This wild-eyed, strangely dressed preacher made an impression on his audience.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. – Mark 1:6 ESV

His bizarre attire gave him the demeanor of an Old Testament prophet and his message of repentance echoed those of his predecessors. But when he spoke of the One to come, he added a new twist to the description of the Messiah.

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:7-8 ESV

John’s sudden appearance on the scene had gotten the peoples’ attention. It had been over 400 years since they had heard from God. For four centuries, there had been no prophets speaking on behalf of God. He had gone silent. But now, with the arrival of John, it was as if God was speaking again. But John wanted his audience to know that there was something even more amazing about to take place. John’s arrival on the scene would pale in comparison to the coming of the Messiah. He would be greater, more glorious, and have a ministry that was far more significant than anything John had done.

While John could offer a physical baptism that represented or illustrated cleansing from sin. The Messiah would offer a far greater form of baptism that would actually remove all sin in preparation for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Kingdom

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:33-40 ESV

It doesn’t take long to recognize that Pilate, the Roman governor, has no clue as to the seriousness or scope of what is taking place outside his headquarters. His early morning routine has been interrupted by a contingent of angry Jewish religious leaders who are demanding the execution of one of their own people. Pilate, whose official residence was in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, has traveled to Jerusalem because of the Jewish Feast of Passover. This was one of the most well-attended of all the Jewish festivals, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. As a precaution, the Romans tended to increase their military presence in order to quell any trouble that might occur. So, Pilate was in town to ensure that the proceedings were peaceful and non-eventful. The last thing he would have wanted was a riot on his hands.

So, when the religious leaders showed up outside his door with a prisoner in tow, he was forced to give it his full attention. But it seems obvious that he saw the situation as nothing more than an internecine religious dispute that had nothing to do with Rome. He even demanded that they judge the man according to their own law. But the men who had dragged the beaten and disheveled Jesus to Pilate’s doorstep were not going to be satisfied by a sentence of ex-communication. They were seeking execution.

Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, Pilate entered his residence and had Jesus brought before him. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, Pilate asked Jesus a series of short but direct questions.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – vs. 33

“Am I a Jew?” – vs. 35

“What have you done?” – vs. 35

“So you are a king?” – vs. 36

“What is truth?” – vs. 38

Pilate’s line of questioning was directed at determining the identity of Jesus. He needed to know who this man was and what He had done to cause such an uproar among the religious leaders of Israel. Since the first question that Pilate posed had to do with kingship, it is apparent that the Jews had communicated Jesus’ claim to be the King of Jews.

Matthew records that during Jesus’ interrogation before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, the high priest had said to Him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT). And when Jesus had answered in the affirmative, His fate was sealed. They declared Him to be a blasphemer for having declared Himself to be equal with God. But knowing that the Roman governor would have no interest in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God, the Jews put their charges in terms that would get Pilate’s full attention. This man was claiming to be the King of the Jews.

One of the greatest concerns of the Romans was any form of insurrection or uprising. So, a Jew claiming to be the rightful King of Israel was a potential problem that had to be addressed quickly and effectively. But Pilate, more curious than concerned, asked Jesus to confirm the charge against Him.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

He was looking for a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. But instead, Jesus responds with a question of His own: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny His kingship. He asks Pilate whether his question is based on personal curiosity or professional protocol. Was Pilate really interested in knowing if Jesus was the King of the Jews or was he simply reiterating the charges of the Sanhedrin?

But Jesus was not really looking for a response because He already knew the answer. Pilate, as a Roman, had no interest in whether Jesus was the legitimate king of the Jews or not. In his mind, Caesar was not only the king but his boss as well. And his job was to protect Caesar’s interests in Judea. And Pilate responds to Jesus with a tone of incredulity and disdain.

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

What Pilate failed to understand was that Jesus truly was the King of the Jews. But not only that, He Pilate’s King as well. This royal prefect was staring into the face of the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was in the company of true royalty. Yes, Jesus’ face was bloodied and bruised, His clothes were disheveled, and His hands were bound, but He was no less a King.

And Jesus affirms and clarifies the nature of His kingship by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 ESV). In a sense, Jesus assuaged any concerns Pilate might have had. Caesar had nothing to fear from Jesus or His kingdom because it was of a different kind. His kingdom was other-worldly. 

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

In His high priestly prayer, recorded in chapter 17, Jesus made a declarative statement concerning His disciples:

they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” – John 17:14-16 ESV

And now, He tells Pilate that if His kingdom was of this world, His followers would be mounting an insurrection to set their King free. But He alone stood before Pilate. There were no riots in the streets. There were no enraged followers pounding down the doors of Pilate’s residence demanding the release of their rightful King. And yet, Jesus was still affirming His kingship and His right to rule and reign.

But before Jesus could sit on His throne, He would have to hang on a cross. He had come to be “lifted up” but not on a royal dais wearing flowing robes and a jewel-encrusted crown. No, He would have His garments stripped from Him and a crown of thorns mockingly placed on His head. And just hours later, Pilate himself would command that a sign be placed above the head of Jesus as He hung on the cross. It would read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19 ESV).

Pilate, clueless as to what Jesus was talking about, simply responds: “So you are a king?” (John 18;37 ESV). He had no time or interest in discussing the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. All he wanted to know was if the charge against Jesus was accurate. Did Jesus consider Himself to be the King of Jews? And, once again, rather than answer Pilate directly, Jesus somewhat cryptically responds:

“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” – John 18:37 ESV

Jesus seems to be saying that Pilate’s use of the term “king” was laden with all kinds of misconceptions and misunderstandings. He and Pilate were talking on two different levels and the governor was incapable of understanding what Jesus was saying to him.

Pilate was stuck on the earthly topic of kingship. All he wanted to know was if Jesus was a real threat to Rome’s authority in the region. Had this obscure Rabbi from Nazareth been trying to mount an insurrection and establish Himself as the King of Israel? If so, then Pilate would have to deal with this threat quickly and effectively.

But Jesus claims that He was born into the world for a different kind of purpose. He was of the lineage and line of King David and therefore, the rightful heir to the throne. But He had come into the world to “bear witness to the truth.”

In the opening chapter of his gospel, John declared, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17 ESV). Jesus came to earth in order to declare the truth regarding God’s plan of salvation. He was the embodiment of that truth. He had later declared of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

And Jesus confirms to Pilate that, while He was a King, He had not come to earth to set up an earthly Kingdom. He had come to reveal the truth about how sinful humanity could be made right with God. And this offer of redemption and restoration was available to “everyone.”

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. – John 1:11-12 NLT

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 NLT

Pilate was standing face-to-face with the truth of God but didn’t realize it. So, he was left asking the question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38 ESV). The very “truth” that could set him free was standing right in front of him but all Pilate saw was a Jewish Rabbi bound with ropes and facing charges of insurrection.

So, he walked back out to Jesus’ accusers and announced, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:38-39 ESV). Hoping to diffuse the situation, Pilate offered what he believed to be a viable option. Since he could find no legally viable reason to put Jesus to death, he offered to release him as a gesture of goodwill. But he made the mistake of referring to Jesus as “the King of the Jews.” And this unintended slight infuriated the Sanhedrin, leading them to demand the release of a common criminal named Barabbas. They preferred a convicted felon over the Savior of the world. The one who had been declared guiltless would take the place of the guilty.

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 Men Judge God

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. John 18:12-14 ESV

The trials of Jesus begin. In a real sense, the scenes which John is about to describe portray the Son of God, the creator of all things (John 1:3), being judged by those He has made. Mortal men are going to dare to put on trial the immortal God of the universe. It brings to mind the words of the prophet, Isaiah.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
– Isaiah 45:9 ESV

And the apostle Paul picked up on this theme in his letter to the churches in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” – Romans 9:20 ESV

And yet, John is going to record for posterity the unjust and unfathomable audacity of mere men standing in judgment of the one and only Son of God. The high priest of Israel, members of the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and the puppet-king of Israel will all consider themselves worthy of determining the fate of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The irony behind all of this is how the guilty and condemned are attempting to try and convict their own Judge. Jesus had earlier warned the Jewish religious leaders that God had given Him the authority to judge.

“…the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” – John 5:22-23 NLT

But they had refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God. To them, His words were nothing more than the ravings of a madman or the twisted rhetoric of a false Messiah vainly hoping to stir up a revolution. So, when He spoke, they failed to believe what He had to say. And His warnings of future judgment went in one ear and out the other.

“The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” – John 5:26-29 NLT

Jesus had made it perfectly clear that He had God-given authority to judge, and when the right time came, He would “judge everyone.” And the result of that judgment would eternal consequences. And Jesus had boldly declared to the pious and self-righteous religious leaders, “my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT).

Immediately after describing the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, John recorded an encounter between Jesus and the crowds who had cheered His arrival into the city. In spite of the royal welcome Jesus had received, John reported that there were many who still refused to believe in Him. But he added, “Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43 NLT).

And John portrays Jesus as literally shouting at these people, in an attempt to open their eyes to the reality of who He was and why He had come. He wanted them to understand that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness. As for anyone who hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not receive My words: The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” – John 12:44-48 BSB

Here, Jesus reveals the truth that the religious leaders had missed. Yes, He had been given full authority by God to judge all men. And the day would come when He would exercise that authority. But that was not the purpose behind His incarnation. Jesus had not come to judge, but to save. In point of fact, the world had already been judged and condemned. God had passed judgment against all humanity when Adam and Eve had rebelled against Him the garden. The parents of the human race were judged guilty and condemned to live the rest of the lives separated from God’s holy presence. And, rather than enjoying eternal life and unbroken fellowship with God, their lives would be marked by spiritual isolation and end in physical death and eternal separation from God.

And Paul reports the sad fact that the sinful disposition exhibited by Adam and Eve was passed on, infecting their future offspring.

…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… – Romans 5:12 ESV

And he adds that “the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation” (Romans 5:16 ESV). But Paul wasn’t content to leave it at that. He wanted his readers to fully grasp the gravity of the situation.

…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… – Romans 5:17 ESV

…one trespass led to condemnation for all men… – Romans 5:18 ESV

…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… – Romans 5:19 ESV

What Paul is attempting to describe is the pervasive nature of the darkness that shrouded the world when Jesus arrived on the scene. All humanity stood as guilty before God because all were sinners. And all faced the same miserable fate to which God had condemned Adam and Eve: Death and eternal separation from Him.

But Jesus had come to save the world, not judge it. The whole intent behind His incarnation had been to bring salvation, not condemnation. The Light had invaded the darkness in order to bring life to those living under the condemnation of sin and death. And John opened his gospel with the sober words that describe the reception Jesus would receive.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

And now, three years later, the life-giving Light of the world was preparing to submit Himself to a series of trials officiated by men who will day stand before Him as their Judge and King. Whether they realized it or not, these “clay pots” were going to judge their Maker. And, once again, the prophet Isaiah has some strong words for those who would attempt to reverse the roles and place themselves as God’s judge.

You have turned things upside down, as if the potter were regarded as clay. Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pottery say of the potter, “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:16 BSB

Consider the absurdity of it all. Men blinded by darkness were going to judge the Light of the world. The spiritually dead were about to condemn to death the One who could give them eternal life. Those suffering from spiritual hunger were about to destroy the Bread that gives life to the world. The spiritually thirsty were preparing to crucify the only source of “living water” that could provide them with “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV).

Don’t miss the visual paradox that John describes.

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. – John 18:12 ESV

The creator of the entire universe is bound with ropes and led like an animal, or as Isaiah put it, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV). The one who “never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone” (1 Peter 2:22 NLT) is dragged from the garden like a common criminal. The “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14 ESV) and who will offer the once-for-all-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind is forced to submit Himself before a frail and flawed human high priest.

…they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. – John 18:13 ESV

According to the NET Bible study notes, “Annas had been high priest from a.d. 6 to a.d. 15 when he was deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (according to Josephus, Ant. 18.2.2 [18.34]). His five sons all eventually became high priests. The family was noted for its greed, wealth, and power.”

Annas, the father-in-law of the current high priest, was still considered the patriarch of his family and was treated with reverence and respect. Here John provides a not-so-subtle father-and-son motif. Jesus, the Son of God, is brought before Annas, the father of Caiaphas. The father is shown respect and honor by being the first to interrogate Jesus. These religious representatives of the people of Israel will gladly honor an earthly father but will treat their Heavenly Father with disrespect by refusing to accept His Son.

And John reminds his readers that it was Caiaphas, the son of Annas, and the current high priest, who had unknowingly prophesied of Jesus’ pending death.

It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. – John 18:14 ESV

John recorded this conversation back in chapter 11.

But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to gather them together into one. – John 11:49-52 BSB

Jesus may have been the one whose hands were bound, but these men were captives to the will of God. They were mere pawns in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe and would prove to be His instruments for fulfilling His divine plan of redemption. And Jesus, the Son of God, accepted His fate with an attitude of willing submission and faithful trust in His loving, all-knowing Heavenly Father.

He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. – 1 Peter 2:23 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