I Once Was Lost…

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke 17:14 ESV

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 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

Lord of the Sabbath

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:1-11 ESV

Repressive and restrictive rules and regulations had become the mainstay of the prevailing religious system of the Jews, and its gatekeepers were the scribes and Pharisees who were closely evaluating the actions of Jesus. To these men, Jesus was a loose cannon, a renegade Rabbi from the small town of Nazareth who was teaching heresy and guilty of blasphemy. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker but they were slowly gathering evidence that would prove His blatant disregard for their laws and His unacceptable association with moral reprobates and social outcasts. In their minds, Jesus was a troublemaker who refused to follow the rules and was leading the common people astray with His blasphemous offers of forgiveness for sins and the tantalizing promise of a coming kingdom.

The religious leaders had already confronted Jesus about His choice of dinner companions.

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” – Luke 5:30 ESV

They deemed Jesus as a poor judge of character. He willingly associated with the dregs of society, the very sinners who the religious leaders believed were preventing Israel from experiencing the full blessings of God. And His disciples were no better. These men were, for the most part, nothing but uneducated Galilean fishermen who were gluttonous and ignorant of the laws concerning prayer and fasting. And they had been more than willing to point out this apparent flaw in Jesus’ followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

But what these men failed to realize was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not subject to their manmade laws and decrees. As the Creator-God, He had authority over all things. The apostle John described the basis for Jesus’ exemption from the Pharisees’ repressive rules.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

And the apostle Paul would go on to explain the overarching nature of Jesus’ divine authority over everyone and everything.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

But as Jesus walked the earth, He appeared to these religious leaders as nothing more than a man who was violating their precious precepts and encouraging the uneducated peasants to do the same. He was threatening their way of life by diminishing their control over the people. Without rules, society would devolve into anarchy and chaos. These men had made a god out of the Mosaic Law. The righteous rules and regulations prescribed by God and handed down by Moses had become more important than the Law-Giver. Their strict adherence to the law had replaced their affection for God. And Jesus would later declare these very same men to be nothing more than pious-looking pretenders whose religious zeal was misplaced and whose love for God had been replaced by their lust for power and control.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

At the heart of their monolithic legal system was the Sabbath and the seemingly endless list of rules they had developed to regulate its observance. So, it was not long before Jesus found Himself at odds with the religious leaders over His lack of protocol concerning this holy day. Luke records that Jesus and His disciples were making their way through a field of grain on the Sabbath. As they did so, “his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1 ESV). According to Deuteronomy 23:25, the Mosaic Law provided a waiver that allowed anyone to pluck grain by hand.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand… – Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV

But as Luke reveals, the disciples were being watched by the Pharisees, who immediately deemed their actions as a violation of their laws concerning the Sabbath. According to their strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the disciples were guilty of harvesting, reaping, and meal preparation, which were all prohibited on the Sabbath. With legalistic zeal, they immediately confronted Jesus and His disciples, pointing out their seeming disregard for the Law.

“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” – Luke 6:3 ESV

Rather than explain the actions of His disciples, Jesus took these men to the Scriptures. He reminded them of a story involving the great king, David. The book of 1st Samuel records an incident in which David ate bread that had been dedicated to the Lord. David was the anointed king of Israel, but he and his men were on the run from the current occupant of the throne: King Saul. When they arrived at Nob, David convinced the priest to give his men the bread of the Presence, holy bread that was unlawful for them to eat. In doing so, David violated the ceremonial law but because he was the Lord’s anointed, his actions did not violate God’s moral law. Human need took precedence over the ceremonial law. Jesus would later use this same logic to justify His healing of a man on the Sabbath. He would ask the Pharisees, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” (Luke 14:5 NLT).

The Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ question because to do so would have shot a hole in the logic behind their entire legal system. They cared more for their rules than they did for the people for whom they were responsible to God. And Jesus was not about to follow their lead.

According to Jesus, what David did was acceptable to God and, therefore, the behavior of His disciples was as well. Then He added a statement that must have left the Pharisees apoplectic with rage.

“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:5 ESV

Jesus was clearly stating His divinity and authority. He was declaring His divine right to authorize the behavior of His disciples –even if it violated the Sabbath law – which it did not. As God, Jesus was the author of the Law, and He had not come to abolish or violate the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Luke follows up this story with a second occasion in which the Pharisees confront Jesus for His violation of Sabbath law. This time it involves Jesus’ decision to heal on the Sabbath, thereby doing “work” and willingly breaking the law. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on the Sabbath and in the local synagogue. And Jesus was fully aware that the entire scene was a setup, knowing that the Pharisees were waiting “to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And He did not disappoint them. Jesus purposefully called forward a man who had a withered hand and had him stand in front of the congregation gathered in the synagogue. In a sense, this man became a prop in Jesus’ lesson on the Sabbath law. With the man standing in front of Him, Jesus directed a question at the Pharisees and scribes:

“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 ESV

There was no response. The religious leaders knew that they were caught between a rock and a hard place. If they said it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath, they would come across as uncaring and unloving. If they answered in the affirmative, they would be validating the behavior of Jesus. So, they remained silent.

Luke records that Jesus looked at each of them, waiting for a response. This delay must have felt like an eternity to these men, as all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on them. But Jesus finally broke the silence by turning His attention to the man with the withered hand and stating, “Stretch out your hand” (Luke 6:10 ESV). And as soon as the man complied, his hand was immediately and miraculously restored.

But rather than responding with awe and amazement at Jesus’ supernatural display of power, the religious leaders became incensed. Luke reports that they “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV). They had just witnessed living proof that Jesus was indeed Lord of the Sabbath, but they were furious because Jesus had made them look like fools. He had made a mockery of their ceremonial laws and further enhanced His reputation among the people – and all at their expense.

Jesus had displayed His power and authority over disease, demons, and even the Sabbath. But the religious leaders were convinced that He was a menace to society who showed them no respect and had no regard for their sacred traditions. By the time they made their way back to Jerusalem with the latest reports of Jesus’ exploits, their superiors would have already made their decision to eliminate this growing threat to the nation.

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

I Am Doing a New Thing

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinåners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:27-38 ESV

Jesus’ healing of the paralytic amazed all those who witnessed it. Even the scribes and Pharisees who had come to Capernaum to investigate this trouble-making Rabbi were amazed at what they saw. But they were also infuriated by Jesus’ blatant display of blasphemy. By claiming to have the power and authority to forgive sins, Jesus was clearly placing Himself on equal standing with Jehovah. And despite His miraculous healing of the paralyzed man, the religious leaders found Jesus’ actions unconvincing and His words, unacceptable.

And it wasn’t long before these men had more evidence of Jesus’ unorthodox and unacceptable behavior. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the house where He had healed the paralytic and made His way to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He began to teach the people who had gathered to hear Him. When finished, He made His way back into town but made an unexpected stop at the business of a man named Levi (Matthew), who was a tax collector or publican. Levi would have been a prominent member of Capernaum society but would have been despised by his fellow townspeople. He was essentially an employee of the Roman government, who received a commission for collecting taxes from his own people. And it was not uncommon for publicans to use their position and the threat of Roman force to exact surcharges that they used to line their own pockets. As a result, these men were viewed as traitors by their own people and treated as the worst of sinners. He would have been considered a social outcast in Capernaum. So, when Jesus made an unscheduled stop at Levi’s booth, the people would have found His actions shocking. To make matters worse, Jesus invited this man to become one of His disciples, and to the peoples’ surprise, Levi accepted.

To celebrate his inclusion in Jesus’ company, Levi threw a party at his house. And Luke records that “there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:29 ESV). Matthew and Mark are much more specific, describing the “others” as sinners. And right in the middle of this collection of disreputable and despised moral outcasts were Jesus and His disciples. Because of His popularity, it was virtually impossible for Jesus to do anything without being seen, and this particular incident did not escape the notice of the ever-present crowd. Everywhere Jesus went, a throng of people gathered to see and hear Him, and this occasion was no different. And among those who stood outside Levi’s home were the scribes and Pharisees, who looked on with self-righteous indignation as Jesus and His disciples ate with “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10 NLT).

Somehow these men were able to get word to Jesus’ disciples, asking them, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30 ESV). This question was meant to shame the followers of Jesus, raising doubts about their spiritual discernment. As good Jews, they should have known better than to associate with people of such low moral standing. To the religious leaders, Levi and his guests were considered ceremonially unclean and, as a Rabbi, Jesus should have known that He risked moral contamination just by associating with them.

But when Jesus heard the question raised by the religious leaders, He responded with a proverbial statement that must have left them scratching their heads in confusion.

Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

Jesus was reclining at a table in the house of a notorious tax collector, sharing a meal with people who were considered the worst of sinners. But to Jesus, they were no different than the self-righteous religious leaders who were displaying their unwarranted pride and hate-fueled prejudice. Both groups were made up of sinners in need of a Savior. But the scribes and Pharisees refused to acknowledge their own insufficiencies. They deemed themselves as spiritually superior and morally pure because they were strict adherents to the Mosaic Law. But as Matthew records, Jesus saw through their facade of religious legalism and rule-keeping. Quoting from the prophet Hosea, Jesus challenged them to display the true fruit of righteousness.

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

Jesus was echoing the words of John the Baptist, spoken to the scribes and Pharisees who had come to the wilderness to watch him baptize.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to 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 3:7-10 NLT

These men were convinced that their status as God’s chosen people was secure because they were good Jews and law-abiding members of the religious elite of Israel. But both John the Baptist and Jesus pointed out that their rule-keeping was not enough. They were going to have to acknowledge their sinfulness and recognize their need for a Savior. And later on in his gospel, Luke records another encounter between Jesus and another tax collector, a man named Zacheus. Jesus would issue a call to Zacheus as well and share a meal in his home. Then He would pronounce the miracle behind Zacheus’ life-altering transformation.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 NLT

But the religious leaders remained unconvinced and unconvicted by Jesus’ comments. In fact, they simply change the subject, accusing He and His disciples of failing to live up to the standard set by John the Baptist and his followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

Their emphasis is on religious rule-keeping. There was only one official day of fasting required by the Mosaic Law and that was on the Day of Atonement. But over the years, the religious leaders of Israel had expanded the number of fast days, creating another layer of religious observance that allowed them to publicly display their righteousness before men. Jesus exposed this self-righteous hypocrisy in His sermon on the mount.

“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. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus don’t follow their example by keeping the prescribed fast days. But Jesus responds by using a series of analogies to illustrate the absurdity of their point. The guests at a wedding feast would not be expected to fast at the celebration of a wedding feast. That would be unacceptable behavior and considered offensive by the bridegroom and his family. There was a proper time for fasting and feasting. But these men failed to recognize the difference. Next, Jesus compares their methodology to using a new piece of cloth to patch a tear in an old garment. When washed, the new cloth will shrink, causing even more damage to the garment. And no one would ever consider putting new, unfermented wine in an old wineskin because as the fermentation process took place, the rapidly expanding gases would burst the old skin and waste the wine.

These men were addicted to the old ways. They were living in the past and attempting to gain favor with God by keeping the law. But Jesus had come to offer something new. As the apostle Paul would later point out, God had a different plan for redeeming sinful mankind.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of placing their hope in human effort. They were convinced that their self-righteous acts would gain them favor with God. But Jesus wanted them to know that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They were sick and desperately in need of a physician. But these men considered their way to be the preferred way. The old was better than the new. In Jesus, they saw a threat to their accepted way of life. He was throwing a wrench into the carefully crafted machinery of Judaism that they had come to know and love. In a sense, Jesus was fulfilling the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:18-19 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

Love God. Love Others.

Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod
    and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,
    and see the great tumults within her,
    and the oppressed in her midst.”
10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
    “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”

11 Therefore thus says the Lord God:

“An adversary shall surround the land
    and bring down your defenses from you,
    and your strongholds shall be plundered.”

12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,”
    declares the Lord God, the God of hosts,
14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions,
    I will punish the altars of Bethel,
and the horns of the altar shall be cut off
    and fall to the ground.
15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house,
    and the houses of ivory shall perish,
and the great houses shall come to an end,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 3:9-15 ESV

God calls on two of the foreign nations that surrounded Israel to act as witnesses to against her. He sends out an invitation to Philistia and Egypt, inviting them to gather on the hills surrounding Samaria and observe all the injustice and violence taking place within the walls of the capital city of Israel. God declares that the people of Israel no longer know how to do what is right. In Hebrew, the word that is translated as “right” is nᵊḵōḥâ, and it has to do with uprightness, integrity, or doing the right thing. Interestingly enough, it derives from another Hebrew word, nēḵaḥ, which means, “in the sight of” or “in front of.” In other words, the kind of “right” behavior they had forgotten how to do was to have been on display before others but, more importantly, before God. They had forgotten how to do what was right in God’s eyes.

Unlike the Philistines and Egyptians, who did not have the law of God, the Israelites had conveniently forgotten all that God had commanded them to do. Through the Mosaic Law, He had provided them with a very clear description of what upright behavior should look like. So, they had no excuse.

Amos mentions the acts of oppression, violence, and robbery taking place inside the walls of Samaria. These are the people of God acting in ways that are in direct violation of the law of God. Later on in his book, Amos will go into great detail describing the many acts of oppression and injustice committed by God’s chosen people – against one another.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. – Amos 5:11 NLT

You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:12 NLT

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. – Amos 8:4-6 NLT

The people of Israel had become callous and hard-hearted. They were driven by their base desires and more interested in comfort and convenience than showing compassion to one another. The rich preyed off the poor. The haves took advantage of the have-nots. Dishonesty and deception were the order of the day. And even the Philistines and Egyptians would be appalled at the unrighteous behavior of the Israelites. Even by pagan standards, the Israelites were immoral and wicked people.

Somehow, they had forgotten the words of God: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT). And centuries later, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment given by God, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

According to Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor were equal and inseparable commands. You can’t have one without the other. And the apostle John would pick up on this theme in his first epistle he wrote to believers living in the first century.

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:11 ESV

…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:10 ESV

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? – 1 John 3:17 NLT

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

To both Jesus and John, love of others was a non-negotiable requirement for those who claimed to be children of God. To declare your love for God while denying love to your brothers and sisters was not only unacceptable but illogical. And John makes that point painfully clear: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Yet the people of Israel were guilty of doing just that. And, as a result, God declared that He was going to judge them for their disobedience to His law. By failing to love one another, they were declaring their lack of love for Him. Their idolatry had transformed them into lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

The behavior of the Israelites was unacceptable to God. It violated every one of His commands concerning the righteous conduct that should have identified them as His chosen people. And centuries later, the apostle Paul would warn his young protégé, Timothy, about self-professing God followers who display this same hypocritical behavior.

…people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

God will not tolerate this kind of behavior among those who claim to be His children. So, He warned the Israelites that their actions would have consequences.

Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:11 NLT

Those who were practicing injustice would suffer the just and righteous judgment of God. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the poor would find themselves being plundered and left to live in abject poverty. Their failure to love God and love one another was going to cost them dearly. And Amos paints a rather bleak picture of the aftermath of God’s coming destruction.

“A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth
    will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear.
So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds,
    and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” – Amos 3:12 NLT

By the time God is done with them, there won’t be much left. Yahweh, the “roaring lion” of verse 4, will decimate the people of Israel, leaving only a small ragtag remnant living in the land. The rest will end up as captives in Assyria. The wealthy and well-to-do of Israel would find that the tables had turned.  The oppressors would become the oppressed. The privileged would end up as prisoners. The fat and happy would find themselves facing starvation and deep despondency.

And God makes a direct connection between their future suffering and their present sin. The fate they are about to endure will be the direct consequences of their idolatry, apostasy, and unfaithfulness. He warns them, “I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy—their winter mansions and their summer houses, too—all their palaces filled with ivory” (Amos 3:15 NLT). But He makes sure they understand that their loss will be the result of their ungodly behavior, and it all ties back to their decision to forsake Him as the one true God.

“On the very day I punish Israel for its sins,
    I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel.
The horns of the altar will be cut off
    and fall to the ground…” – Amos 3:14 NLT

God takes them back to the days when the northern kingdom of Israel began. After Solomon had ended his long reign by abandoning Yahweh for the false gods of his many foreign wives, God split his kingdom in two. The ten northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel, ruled over by Jeroboam. And this first king of the northern tribes began his reign by erecting golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel, then telling his people, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV). Those altars to Jeroboam’s false gods remained in Israel for generations. And the spirit of idolatry and apostasy that Jeroboam introduced into Israel had plagued the nation for hundreds of years. Now, God was going to do what the kings of Israel should have done years earlier. He would destroy the pagan altars and eliminate the false gods that had turned the hearts of the people away from Him.

In essence, God was going to make sure that all the idols were removed in Israel. That’s why he mentions the altars at Bethel, but also the “houses of ivory.” The people of Israel were guilty of worshiping their false gods, but they were also guilty of worshiping materialism, ease, comfort, and success. They had made gods out of their possessions. They had found comfort and significance in their social standing and all their status symbols of success. But all that was about to change.

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

Chosen But Not Immune from Judgment

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
    whose height was like the height of the cedars
    and who was as strong as the oaks;
I destroyed his fruit above
    and his roots beneath.
10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
    and led you forty years in the wilderness,
    to possess the land of the Amorite.
11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
    and some of your young men for Nazirites.
    Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.

12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
    and commanded the prophets,
    saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

13 “Behold, I will press you down in your place,
    as a cart full of sheaves presses down.
14 Flight shall perish from the swift,
    and the strong shall not retain his strength,
    nor shall the mighty save his life;
15 he who handles the bow shall not stand,
    and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself,
    nor shall he who rides the horse save his life;
16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty
    shall flee away naked in that day,”
declares the Lord. Amos 2:9-16 ESV

In the face of Israel’s ongoing unfaithfulness to Him, God reminds them that He had been constantly faithful from the very day He called them out of captivity in Egypt. Israel, the very name by which the ten northern tribes were known, was the name God had given to their patriarch, Jacob.

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 BSB

And just like their namesake, generations of Israelites had “struggled with God and with men.” But whereas Jacob had dared to wrestle with God in order to obtain a blessing from Him, the nation of Israel had chosen to go to oppose God by rejecting His divine will for them. And rather than a blessing, they would receive His judgment.

God takes the Israelites all the way back to the day that Moses sent the 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan.

Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.). – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

And when the spies returned, they gave Moses and the people a mixed report:

“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.” – Numbers 13:27-29 NLT

The land was fruitful, just as God had promised. But it was also filled with formidable enemies whose size and strength made the land unconquerable and its fruit unattainable. And the people listened to the report of the spies and refused to enter the land. Rather than trust God, they succumbed to their fears and listened to the hyperbole-filled report of the spies.

“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” – Numbers 13:32-33 NLT

Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, provided a very different assessment of the situation, encouraging the people of Israel to rely on the faithfulness and power of Yahweh.

“The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:7-9 NLT

The people respond by threatening to stone Caleb and Joshua. They want nothing to do with the land, its fruit, or the so-called giants who lived there. They would rather return to Egypt than risk certain death by entering the land of Canaan. And God was infuriated with their stubborn refusal to trust Him.

“How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? – Numbers 14:11 NLT

They had conveniently forgotten about the 12 plagues that God had poured out on the Egyptians. Their memory of His parting of the Red Sea had long ago faded. God had proven His power and faithfulness time and time again but, when they found themselves facing another new and seemingly insurmountable obstacle, they suddenly lost their ability to trust Him. And, as a result of their unwillingness to obey God and enter the land, He condemned that entire generation of Israelites.

You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me…You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you… – Numbers 14:29, 30 NLT

Four decades later, the next generation of Israelites did as God commanded and entered the land of Canaan. And Amos records that God gave them victory over the Amorites, even though “they were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks.” (Amos 2:9 NLT). During the 40 years their mothers and fathers had spent wandering through the wilderness, God was preparing this generation to take possession of their rightful inheritance. And God reminds them that He raised up godly leaders from among them, in the form of prophets and Nazirites. The prophets spoke on behalf of God and the Nazirites modeled lives that were totally dedicated to God.

But the Israelites had ended up rejecting the messages of the prophets. And they had caused the Nazirites to violate their vows of abstinence from wine. In other words, they didn’t want to hear godly words or were unwilling to tolerate godly behavior. The entire nation was guilty of compromise, complacency, and complete disregard for the call of God to live set-apart lives.

And God warned them that the burden of judgment would be so great that they would grown under the weight. The punishment that God would bring against them would be unbearable and inescapable. They could run but they wouldn’t get far. Even the strongest and bravest warriors among them would be overcome with fear, abandoning their posts and running for their lives.

“On that day the most courageous of your fighting men
    will drop their weapons and run for their lives,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 2:16 NLT

And the book of 2 Kings tells us exactly how God fulfilled this prophecy. In 722 B.C., King Shalmaneser of Assyria invaded Israel “and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria” (2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT). The fall of Israel was complete, and the author of 2 Kings explains why this devastating event took place.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

The persistent and pervasive disobedience of the people of Israel would eventually catch up with them. Their rejection of His prophets and refusal to repent from their blatant and widespread apostasy brought God’s righteous and just judgment upon them. Yes, they had been set apart by God. They enjoyed the distinction of being His chosen people. But their unique status as His prized possession required that they live in obedience to His commands. Yet, they had failed to do so and now God was letting them know that their disobedience would have dire and deadly consequences.

 

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

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

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

A Call to Commitment

54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven. 55 And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 57 The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.” 

62 Then the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the Lord. 63 Solomon offered as peace offerings to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. 64 The same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, for there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings, because the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to receive the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings.

65 So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days. 66 On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David his servant and to Israel his people. 1 Kings 8:54-66 ESV

After Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication for the temple, he turned to address the crowd of spectators who had gathered to witness this auspicious occasion. But it’s interesting to note what the author of 1 Kings leaves out of his description of this event. For some strange reason, he chose to ignore what appears to be a rather significant meteorological phenomenon. Evidently, the close of Solomon’s prayer was accompanied by an extremely powerful sign from heaven that would have been hard to miss or misinterpret. And, fortunately, the book of 2 Chronicles fills in the gaps, providing a detailed description of exactly what happened.

When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple…– 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 NLT

Solomon had been kneeling before the bronze altar that stood in the courtyard, outside the entrance to the temple. Hiram had constructed. On it, there had been placed the bodies of the sacrificial animals which had been dedicated to God. When Solomon closed his prayer,  fire came down from heaven and completely consumed the carcasses of the animals. At the same time, the glory of the Lord filled the temple, most likely in the form of a dark cloud. God had heard the prayer of Solomon and signaled His answer in a powerful and demonstrative way. By consuming the sacrifices, God deemed them to be acceptable. By filling the Holy of Holies with His Shekinah glory, He placed His seal of approval on the temple itself. And this unexpected display of power made a powerful impression on the people.

…they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying,

“He is good!
    His faithful love endures forever!” – 2 Chronicles 7:3 NLT

They were blown away by what they witnessed. And their amazement turned to shouts of praise as they reflected on God’s goodness and unfailing love. He had graciously deemed to accept their sacrifices and to grace the temple with His presence. And they were overjoyed at being able to witness this mind-blowing demonstration of HIs covenant commitment to them. Solomon put into words what the people were thinking.

“Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. – 1 Kings 8:56 NLT

Their very presence in the land was evidence of God’s faithfulness. Hundreds of years earlier, He had made a promise to Moses that He would give the people of Israel the land of Canaan as their inheritance. And that promise had been a reiteration of the one He had made to Abraham centuries before that.

Speaking to the audience gathered before him, Solomon expressed his hope that God would show Himself just as faithful to them as He had been to their ancestors. But he also declared his understanding that, besides God’s abiding presence, they would need His divine assistance to remain faithful themselves. He knew that, without God’s help, they were powerless to live in obedience to commands outlined in the Mosaic Law.

“May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us. May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 NLT

As a people, they were completely dependent upon God for all their needs. He was to be their provider, sustainer, and protector. And, as illustrated by the content of his prayer, Solomon was well aware that the people of Israel would falter and fail. Their hearts would wander. Their commitment to God would wain. There would be moments marked by disobedience and rebellion. So, he expressed his hope that God would not forget the content of his prayer.

“may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs.” – 1 Kings 8:59 NLT

He was asking that God faithfully fulfill His covenant commitment to them – in spite of them. And Solomon called the people to strongly assess their commitment to God as well.

“may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.” – 1 Kings 8:61 NLT

After the amazing display they had just witnessed, there was no reason they should ever doubt the faithfulness of God. And the proper response to such a powerful reminder would be a heartfelt commitment to remain obedient to the One who had already done so much for them. And their determination to live in faithful obedience to their good and gracious God would become a witness to the nations around them.

“Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other.” – 1 Kings 8:60 NLT

That was the bottom line. While the temple would serve as a physical manifestation of God’s glory, their lives were meant to be a visible demonstration of how sinful men could have a relationship with a holy God. They were to be witnesses to the world of God’s gracious love and, through their adherence to His commands, they were to illustrate their submission to and faith in His divine will.

Solomon’s address to the people was followed by the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep, and goats. Gallons upon gallons of blood were spilled. Countless unblemished animals were sacrificed one after the other as offerings to Yahweh. They also offered up burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of peace offerings. And this went on for days – “fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters” (1 Kings 8:65 NLT).

And when the festivities finally came to an end, “They blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad because the Lord had been good to his servant David and to his people Israel” (1 Kings 8:66 NLT)

This was a high point in the history of the Hebrew people. They had a king, just as they had always hoped for, and he was wise, powerful, and wealthy. They were living in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And now, their seven-year effort to complete the temple had culminated with God’s divine seal of approval. He had graciously renewed His covenant commitment to them, and now, all they had to do was remain faithful in return.

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

Edifice Complex

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.

The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house, and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar. 10 He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.

11 Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:1-13 ESV

David had begun the preparations for the construction of the temple long before he died. It had been his idea to build a “house” for God, but he had been denied David the honor of overseeing its actual construction. That task fell to his son and successor, Solomon. And even though David had given Solomon the plans and provided a vast amount of the building supplies necessary to start the project, it would be four years into Solomon’s reign before construction began. The sheer size and scope of the project required careful planning and the time to amass and transport all the materials David’s ambitious plans required.

Massive stones had to be quarried and moved to the building site. Lumber from Lebanon had to be cut and transported by ships from Tyre to the coastline of Israel, then carried inland to the city of Jerusalem. The site itself, located on the summit of Mount Zion, had to be leveled and prepared for the actual construction to begin. So, four years after taking the throne, after all the preparations were complete, Solomon officially launched the construction phase of the project, and the author points out that it was 480 years after the people of Israel had been released by God from their captivity in Egypt. This link back to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is significant because it provides a vivid contrast between the nation’s past and present circumstances. This temple was being built to honor the God of Israel, the same God who, nearly half a millennium earlier, had rescued their ancestors from their dire conditions in a foreign land and had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance – all in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. He had provided the people of Israel with the land of Canaan as their inheritance, and now Solomon, the son of David, was honoring his father’s wishes by building a temple worthy of such a great and gracious God.

While the author provides detailed descriptions of the temple’s size and dimensions, there is not enough information to know exactly what the temple looked like when completed. It was roughly twice the size of the Mosaic tabernacle and built of massive hand-carved limestone blocks and lumber made from cedar from the forests of Lebanon. And the completed structure was ornamented with gold. Solomon spared no expense in the construction of God’s house. It was to be a showplace, a one-of-a-kind structure meant to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even with tens of thousands of conscripted laborers working around the clock, it would take nearly eight years to complete the project.

Sometime during the course of construction, Solomon received a message from God. In the midst of his ongoing efforts to build a house for God, he was reminded that a beautiful building would not ensure the presence of God.

“Concerning this Temple you are building, if you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David. I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel.” – 1 Kings 6:12 NLT

God had made a commitment to David, promising to place one of his sons on the throne after him. And this son would fulfill David’s dream of building a temple for the Lord. But, more importantly, the Lord would place His protective hand over David’s son.

“…when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.’” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 NLT

But even David knew that this promise from God came with certain conditions. He believed God would fulfill His part of the covenant, but he also knew that his son would need to remain faithful to God. Just prior to his death, David had even warned Solomon that faithfulness would be essential if he wanted to experience God’s fruitfulness.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

Building God a house in which to dwell was not going to guarantee His presence, power, and provision. In fact, God didn’t require a dwelling place. And in the book of Acts, Luke records a powerful sermon given by Stephen to a crowd of Jews who would eventually stone him to death. In that sermon, Stephen reminded them that the temple was never meant to be a sign of God’s presence.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” – Acts 7:46-50 NLT

And Luke also records the words of the apostle Paul, spoken to a crowd of Greeks in the middle of the city of Athens.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” – Acts 17:24-25 NLT

God wasn’t standing around in heaven, waiting for Solomon to complete the temple, so He could take up occupancy. God did not need Solomon’s temple. God had made the stones and the trees used in the construction of the temple. He had created and breathed life into the men who labored to build it. And He had placed Solomon on the throne and given him the privilege of making it all happen.

But what God really wanted from Solomon was obedience. He desired a king who would live in faithful adherence to His laws and display a commitment to all His commands. Solomon’s own father understood that God was far more interested in the condition of a man’s heart than the accomplishments of his hands.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

As the temple neared completion, Solomon was given a powerful reminder that the key to his success would not be found in a building, but in his commitment to the will and the ways of God. The temple would be nothing more than a symbol of God’s presence. It would provide a daily reminder of His majesty and glory, but should never be seen as a guarantee of His pleasure with or approval of His people. As the grand edifice of the temple neared completion, it rose from the heights of Mount Zion and became the pride of the people of Israel. But, if they weren’t careful, they would end up being more impressed with the work of their hands and worshiping their creation, than obeying and revering the Creator God.

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

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

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

Fakers and Frauds

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. 

2 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 6:53-7:13 ESV

One can only imagine the conversations that took place in the boat as the disciples made their way to the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Just minutes before, they had been fighting the winds and waves of a ferocious storm when suddenly, Jesus had appeared to them, walking on the water. Not recognizing their friend and teacher, they had thought Him to be some kind of ghostly apparition. But Jesus spoke to them, entered the boat with them, and calmed the storm that surrounded them. And the rest of their trip to the region of Gennesaret must have been filled with whispered discussions about what they had just witnessed. These men, desperately trying to take in all that had happened over the last few days, were struggling to reconcile their experiences and expectations. They wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and He had given ample evidence to convince them, but they were still doubtful. Mark indicates that “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in” (Mark 6:52 NLT).

As they arrived in Gennesaret, they disembarked from their boat and were immediately engulfed by the crowds of people attempting to get to Jesus. News of their arrival spread fast and, before long, they found themselves immersed in the circus-like atmosphere that followed Jesus wherever He went.

Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. – Mark 6:56 NLT

It would appear that the people of Gennesaret had heard the rumors about the woman who was healed simply by touching the edge of Jesus’ robe. This news emboldened people to take matters into their own hands, likely resulting in Jesus being swarmed by those attempting to touch Him so they could be healed. And Jesus graciously allowed them to invade His personal space so that “all who touched him were healed.”

But there were others who wanted to lay their hands on Jesus, not to be healed but so that they might arrest Him. A contingent of Pharisees and scribes had arrived from Jerusalem and they had one purpose for their mission: Find evidence that would convict Jesus of breaking the law and justify His arrest.

The scribes and Pharisees, as experts in the Mosaic Law, were well-equipped for the task they had been given by the high priest. Their extensive knowledge of both the written and oral laws of Israel provided them with a virtual treasure trove of potential rule violations with which to convict Jesus. Surely there was some obscure law He was breaking that they could use as evidence against Him. If nothing else, they hoped to discredit Jesus by portraying Him as ignorant of God’s laws or guilty of willfully ignoring them.

So, it is no surprise that they approached Jesus and demanded that He explain the questionable behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:6 ESV

To help his readers understand what is going on, Mark provides a parenthetical explanation of Jewish purification rites.

The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles. – Mark 7:3-4 NLT

These “ancient traditions” were not part of the Mosaic Law but had been created and passed down by men. Essentially, they were add-ons or man-made additions to God’s law. And they had nothing to do with physical cleanliness or hygiene. These rules or rituals were followed in order to demonstrate and declare one’s righteousness. It was all about appearances. Jesus would later say of them:

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show.” – Matthew 23:4-5 NLT

And He would go on to level some serious accusations against these self-ascribed icons of righteousness.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

Their righteousness was nothing more than a facade, a carefully crafted image meant to obscure the true condition of their hearts. And when these men confronted Jesus about the unacceptable habits of His disciples, He responded by quoting Scripture.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8 NLT

Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures against them. Using the writings of one of their revered prophets, Jesus exposed their self-righteous indignation for what it was – nothing more than prideful pretense. They were nothing more than hypocrites and pretenders. In fact, the Greek word, hypokritēs was used to refer to an actor in a play, someone who assumed the character of another.

These men had fooled everyone into believing that they were holy and righteous. But they had made their own man-made rules more important than the commands of God. They were guilty of giving precedence to their “traditions,” even creating loopholes that allowed them to violate God’s laws.

“You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. – Mark 7:9 NLT

And Jesus provides them with specific examples.

“For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’” – Mark 7:10-11 NLT

Jesus was referring to their law of corban. This man-made law allowed someone to dedicate something as an offering to God but did not require them to relinquish possession of it. As Jesus reveals, it was nothing more than a convenient way for someone to tie up their assets so that they wouldn’t have to share them with others. This was in direct violation of God’s law. The Ten Commandments had made it clear that the Jews were to honor their parents, and in a society that lacked any kind of welfare system, this would have included the provision of financial support. But corban provided a convenient loophole. By dedicating their resources to God, a Jew could excuse themselves from assisting their needy parents. And because they were not required to immediately turn over their assets to God, they were free to use them for their own personal benefit. And Jesus exposed corban for what it was: Lawlessness.

“In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition.” – Mark 7:12-13 NLT

These men had no right to question Jesus about the behavior of His disciples. They were nothing more than whitewashed tombs. Their sanctimonious self-righteousness was little more than a show, a poorly veiled display of moral pretense and hypocrisy.

In attempting to judge Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees left themselves open to judgment. And Jesus pulled no punches. He wanted His disciples to understand that the laws of God always took precedence over any rules or regulations made by men. And Jesus came to fulfill each and every one of the laws given by His Heavenly Father. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus declared His God-ordained mission to fulfill the law of God – down to the very last detail.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-19 NLT

And because the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of ignoring God’s law by replacing it with their own, they would be least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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

Feasting, Not Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22 ESV

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each recorded the following scene as having taken place immediately after Jesus shared a meal with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:15 ESV). The timing is important because it establishes the context for what happened next. Jesus’ decision to accept an invitation to dine at the house of Levi (Matthew) had left the Jewish religious leaders disgusted. Their view of Him had reached an all-time low because He had chosen to consort with known sinners. In addition to being a blasphemer and trouble-maker, this radical Rabbi from Nazareth was a poor judge of character.

So, immediately after His dinner at Levi’s house, Jesus was confronted with a question regarding His behavior. But it came from an unexpected source. While Mark simply indicates that some “people” posed this question to Jesus, Matthew reveals that it was actually some disciples of John the Baptist.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” – Matthew 9:14 ESV

These men were confused by the behavior of Jesus and His disciples. It could be that they were just as alarmed at Jesus’ choice of dining companions, but rather than bring up what Jesus had just done, they chose to question what He and His disciples failed to do: Fast.

As good Jews, the disciples of John would have faithfully kept the various written and oral traditions of their people, and that would have included requirements regarding fasting. But according to the Mosaic Law, there was only one day set apart by God for fasting, and that was the Day of Atonement.

It will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. This is a permanent law for you. – Leviticus 16:31 NLT

But over time, the Jews had prescribed additional fast days. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the Pharisees had instituted a twice-weekly fast, and it was this fasting to which the disciples of John referred. These additional fast days were intended to be an outward demonstration of one’s dedication to God. They were visible acts of righteousness that let others know you took your religious commitments seriously. But it was just such outward displays that Jesus had warned about in His sermon on the mount.

“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. – Matthew 6:1 NLT

And Jesus had purposefully focused His attention on fasting and pointed out how this practice of self-denial had become a means for self-promotion.

“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. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

Yet, here were the disciples of John asking why Jesus and His disciples failed to honor the twice-weekly fast – as they did. By admitting that they were fasting, these men violated the warning Jesus had issued: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious.” But for them, fasting had become a sign of righteousness. It was a mark of one’s spiritual commitment.

But they failed to realize that Jesus had come to bring something new. Their attempts at self-righteousness were totally inadequate. Their outward displays of self-denial were doing nothing to elevate their standing in God’s eyes. It brings to mind the stinging rebuke that God issued against the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood. – Isaiah 1:13-15 ESV

And the apostle Paul brings up the same subject in his letter to the believers in Corinth,

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. – Colossians 2:16-17 NLT

Paul provides a much-needed insight into what is going on in Mark 2:18-22. With the coming of Jesus, all of the rules associated with Judaism were changing. The temple, the Sabbath, the feasts, and the festivals were all intended to point toward the coming of the Messiah. They were, as Paul put it, “shadows of the reality yet to come.” And as Paul makes clear, “Christ himself is that reality.”

The author of Hebrews reinforces Paul’s understanding about the purpose behind the former system of rules and regulations associated with the law.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. – Hebrews 10:1 NLT

Jesus’ arrival had ushered in a new era. The old was giving way to the new. Jesus had come to do what the law was never intended to do: Restore sinful men and women to a right relationship with God.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And Jesus drives home the point that His presence with them ruled out the need for fasting and rule-keeping. All their self-empowered efforts to earn favor with God were no longer necessary. Just as a sick person cannot make themselves well, sinners cannot make themselves spiritually whole and acceptable to a holy God. They must simply admit that they are sick and in need of a physician.

So, Jesus attempts to inform the disciples of John that their fasting was in vain. Rather than deny themselves food, they needed to recognize the presence of the Messiah and feast alongside Him. Just as the tax collectors and sinners had dined with Jesus in Levi’s house, Jesus was inviting the disciples of John to celebrate alongside Him. And He used the metaphor of a wedding feast to illustrate His point.

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. – Mark 2:19 ESV

The scene of wedding guests fasting and mourning while attending the festivities was meant to be ludicrous. Fasting would have been the farthest thing from their minds. And Jesus wanted these men to know that His presence among them was intended to be cause for celebration. Their long-awaited Messiah had finally come, and He was bringing “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). And as the angels told the shepherds in the field on the night of Jesus’ birth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 ESV).

The Messiah (the bridegroom) had come and that was cause for celebration. But Jesus indicates that a time of mourning would come soon enough because He would one day leave them.

“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” – Mark 2:20 ESV

With this somewhat cryptic statement, Jesus made reference to His coming death. While this foreshadowing of His coming death would have escaped those in His audience, it was meant to reinforce His call to celebrate His presence. He had come and it should have been a time of joy and feasting. But the Jews were busy grumbling, doubting, and disbelieving.

Then Jesus reinforces the radically new nature of the days in which they lived. He was disrupting the status quo. He was turning everything on its head and introducing a whole new means for sinful mankind to be restored to God. And His arrival was not intended to be an add-on to the old way of going things. It wasn’t going to be the law + Jesus. Don’t miss what He said in His sermon on the mount.

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

He had come to fulfill all that the law required. And in doing so, He was eliminating the any requirement that men keep the law in an effort to assuage the anger of a just and righteous God. Jesus was going to satisfy God with the sacrifice of His own life.

To drive home His point, Jesus used the analogy of using a new piece of unshrunk cloth to sew a patch onto an old garment. They would be incompatible and prove to be unsuccessful in solving the problem being addressed. And it would make no sense to store new wine in an old wineskin because the fermentation of the new wine would cause the old wineskin to burst.

Jesus had come to do a new thing. And while the way He lived His life seemed to be inconsistent and incompatible with what the Jews had come to know, He was introducing “new cloth” and “new wine” – a new way that was meant to bring new hope to a lost and dying world. And the apostle Paul would have us rejoice in the fact that old has been replaced with the new – all because of Jesus.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 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

It Pays To Listen

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50 ESV

In this passage, John describes Jesus as crying out. He literally shouted, as if to ensure that everyone within the sound of His voice would not only hear what He had to say but understand its importance. The reason for raising His voice seems clear. Jesus is explaining the dramatic consequences that come with belief in Him. Earlier, in His late-night encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus had explained some of the other outcomes of expressing belief in Him.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

“…whoever believes in him [God’s Son] should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” – John 3:18 ESV

Later in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus spoken to the crowd who had experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” – John 6:47 ESV

And sometime later, on the final day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus declared another benefit or consequence of believing in Him.

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” – John 7:38 ESV

On another occasion, after having arrived in Bethany and hearing the news that His friend Lazarus had died, Jesus informed 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

Belief in Jesus comes with some fairly significant benefits: Eternal life, freedom from judgment, release from death’s grip, and complete spiritual satisfaction and sustenance.

But now, with His voice raised for added emphasis, Jesus announces another vital consequence that accompanies belief in Him: Access to God.

“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. – John 12:44-45 NLT

With this emphatic statement, Jesus stresses His unity with the Father. He wants His audience to know that to believe in Him is really an expression of belief in God because He had been sent by God. And, by inference, a failure to believe in Jesus would be nothing less than a refusal to believe in the one who sent Him. Jesus was not operating on His own initiative. He was on a divine mission, sanctioned by God Himself.

It’s important to note that John placed this statement from Jesus immediately after his notation about those who believed.

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

Their belief was mixed with timidity and fear – primarily a fear of man. But, as John’s careful ordering of events suggests, there was much more going on than meets the eye. These people had failed to understand the vital link between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. While they believed Jesus to be someone of great significance, possibly even the Messiah, they were less convinced of the indisputable reality of Jesus’ deity and unrivaled unity with God. To believe in Him was to believe in God. To see Him was to see God. Jesus was boldly declaring His identity as the Son of God.

Just days later, Jesus would respond to a request from Phillip, one of His own disciples.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:8-11 NLT

This link between God the Son and God the Father was to be a vital element of their belief. Believing Jesus to be a supernaturally gifted man who had been sent by God was not enough. Even believing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah promised by God was insufficient. Jesus was differentiating Himself from everyone else. He was not merely a well-spoken Rabbi. He was much more than a miracle-working teacher from Nazareth. And, even in His role as Messiah, He was far more than they could have ever imagined. He was the Son of God and the light of the world.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” – John 12:46 NLT

What these people needed to understand was that they were living in spiritual darkness, completely separated from God because of their sin. Their attempts to satisfy God through law-keeping had been completely unsuccessful and could do nothing to mitigate their state of condemnation and spiritual separation from God.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

Jesus was simply reiterating what John stated in the opening verses of his gospel.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:4-5 NLT

In the natural realm, darkness is an absence of light. But the same thing is true of the spiritual realm. To live in darkness is to live apart from the light of God. It is to experience an absence of His presence, provision, and power. Much later in life, John would discuss this important reality in a letter he wrote to believers living in the late-1st-Century.

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1: 5-7 NLT

And Jesus was saying it was impossible to have fellowship with the Father without understanding that He was the Father’s Son. He was the very light of God illuminating the darkness of men’s lives and revealing the glory of the Father. Through belief in Him, sinful men and women could experience the joy of walking in the light of God’s glorious presence.

As the light of God, Jesus did not come to expose the sins of men, but to cleanse and forgive them. As He has stated before, His mission was not to judge the world but to provide salvation. But there would be dire consequences for those who refused to walk in the light. They would remain in spiritual darkness, condemned by their sin, and facing a future day of judgment that would result in eternal separation from God the Father.

“I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:47-48 NLT

Again, Jesus is simply expanding on the message He delivered to Nicodemus.

“…anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT

Notice what Jesus said. Those who refuse to believe in Him are really refusing to believe in “God’s one and only Son.” They are rejecting the Son of God. They are turning their backs on the light of God and, in so doing, they are expressing their love for the darkness. And Jesus closes out His short but vital discourse with a reminder that His words were not His own. He was acting as the mouthpiece for God. All that He has said was directly from the lips from His Father in heaven.

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

So, in other words, it would pay to listen to what He had to say. These were not the words of a mere man. They were the very words of God Almighty and they came from the lips of His one and only Son.

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